Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Using a Mock Trial to Educate, Motivate, and Challenge Students in an Upper Level General Education Geoscience Course




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Incorporating a mock trial as an integral part of a course can be a successful way to engage students in investigating and researching an issue. The mock trial format satisfied general education goals by forcing students to view ideas from multiple perspectives, work together as a group, creatively locate, evaluate and use information, and engage in effective communication. An abundance of information, limited trial time and an uninformed jury required careful research and choreography of testimony for the trial. The trial itself was billed as the culminating experience of the course, and peer pressure motivated students to do their best. In my course the mock trial provided the framework for the entire course and rationale for most assignments completed during the course. I taught four sections of Geo 300, an upper level general education class that was centered on the actual events portrayed in the book "A Civil Action" by Jonathan Harr that examines the legal struggle of families in Woburn, Massachusetts who sued corporations alleging that improperly handled chemicals had contaminated groundwater and caused health problems. The mock trial focused on the technical aspects of the case, in particular whether contaminants travelled from the plaintiffs' property and were captured by city water supply wells. Each group prepared their own case, including trial strategy, witness questions and also constructed geologic cross-sections, groundwater flow and contaminant plume maps as exhibits for their expert witnesses. The mock trial was an effective method to highlight the uncertainties and challenges in making environmental decisions.

Conference Name

Annual Meeting of the Geological Association of America

Conference Location

Minneapolis MN

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