In normal years, I take my second year's students into the field in autumn, to look at glacial striations. I tend to have some 50 of them. Last year I didn't think that would be feasible, so I had done the whole thing online. That had been rather unsatisfactory, as it isn't the real thing, and to make things worse: by the time the students got their teeth into the assignment I had designed, I was off sick and couldn't help them with it. But this year I had faith we could go in person again! And that turned out to be true.
The Friday before we had been in the field as well; we had had an amazing day. It might have been in the middle of October, but I had at some point stripped down to a tank top. But for this trip we would not be so lucky; I had seen the forecast, and it was wall-to-wall rain. Not ideal! But these striations we are looking for are waterproof. And so should our clothes be.
It would be first time in a long while I would be in the field with my friend and colleague Lynda again. She had been quite careful during the pandemic! But she was comfortable with teaching on this trip. And I gave her a ride from campus. The students would travel by coach.
I had had a fair number of students email me to say that they didn't think they were medically up for it. Luckily we have a lot of online material so they can still participate in the assignment! A pity they had to miss it, but maybe they didn't think that way, with the weather in mind.
We got to Pen-y-Pass, where I handed out clipboards with datasheets, and compasses. Then we started to walk up. It was wet and windy but beautiful! And the students I was walking with kept their spirits high.
Not all students were equally fast; when I got to the top I found a sheltered space and waited for everyone to arrive. When we were all there I tried to keep it brief. We were all getting soaked! And I knew that they still had the online material as backup. But one thing I really wanted to do was go past a few outcrops, and decide with all the students whether what they saw there were striations or not. The bane of this field trip is students mistaking other features for striations, and then measuring these, resulting in usable data. I hoped this would be the first year where that could be avoided!
When I was satisfied all students got the brief I let them disperse and gather the data we needed. I didn't intend to stay any longer than necessary. My waterproofs were keeping up, but that didn't hold for everyone. We also had the first aider walk two students back down who had managed to make their way up, but now felt their health wasn't actually good enough to stay around. I also am first aid trained so the students were never without medical backup.
The students were being quite executive. And they managed to document the data in spite of the datasheets becoming useless in seconds. They were also not excessively spread out. I could see why! So earlier than normal we were all done and we could walk back down. I had made sure I had the contact details of the coach drivers, so if I would find a way of having signal I could phone them and ask them to pick us up earlier. And the good thing would be that we could wait in the café on the pass. There are worse things after half a day in the pouring rain than having a hot chocolate!
In the end we solved the problem of the signal (or lack thereof) by having the first aider drive down to town and phone the coach drivers from there. It worked!
I am confident this year we will have good data. I hope the assignment will be done well! And at least this day in the field will be memorable…