Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just Curious: Specialized Vehicles for Teaching in the Field?

I'm thinking of shooting the moon and applying for a grant to purchase a rolling laboratory for field trips, and I'm having a hard time choosing which way to go with this. It's pie-in-the-sky in all likelihood, but what would you do if you could design a vehicle to enhance teaching of earth science in the field?

I'm thinking of a utility vehicle or even a small van-sized RV that could handle fairly tough road conditions (gravel roads at least) that is outfitted with a satellite link and wi-fi router that could provide internet access in isolated campsites, as well as a printer and scanner. We've thought of the most rudimentary RV type of vehicle because a toilet and inside or outside shower can be a godsend in some circumstances (like when someone gets sick). Fridge and small stove maybe.

One very expensive option is a Jeep-based unit from a Colorado company that is an absolutely stripped RV (fridge, bath, shower and queen-sized bed...really!) that can go on literally any road. I like that the electricity is provided by the engine and a roof-mounted solar array. It gets reasonably good mileage, too. Made by special order. And very expensive. Did I say that already?

On the other hand, Roadtrek offers a complete (and very comfy, but you didn't read that) RV that is packed into a van chassis that is no longer or wider than an 8 passenger van. It has all the stuff already listed plus a lot more storage space. But I look at it and think, "wow, six students could work at once on projects on their computers and desk surfaces!" but I have this uncomfortable feeling that a grant evaluator would think "this professor wants a nice place to sleep" (not true, I like sleeping under the stars). This option is actually about $30,000 cheaper than the Jeep.
These might be over the top, so perhaps a truck with utility cabinets, camper shell and an electronic array under the seats in the cab? No place to work, no printers, etc., but a lot cheaper.

Does anyone have anything like this? Have you ever thought about it and what you could do with such a resource? I would love some feedback about the teaching possibilities of something like this. For those who are new to Geotripper, I teach geology at a community college, and usually deal with introductory-level geology students.


Randy Adsit said...

A few comments in random order:
* If you're brainstorming, why not include a mobile thin section lab? Or at least a rock saw and stains, so you can distinguish feldspars in the field.
* Most scanners and printers don't do well with lots of shaking and vibration. Instead of a scanner, you might just want a stand that can hold your camera above a sheet of paper.
* Part of the field experience is getting away from our electronic masters for a few hours or days. Do you really need a mobile wifi connection?
* Perhaps you should consider two regular vans rather than one fancy field vehicle. Then you could donate one of the vans to East L.A. College! I'd be happy to come up to Modesto and drive it back here. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Garry, I saw a government van the other day in the Tehachapi area that was a 4x4 what looked like a doppler radar lots of antennas and who knows what else. I was going to take a picture but the people inside did not look like they had much of a sence of humor.
Doug N

Anonymous said...

Sportsmobile can make what you want. They do the 4x4 van conversion and can put anything inside that you want. Not far from you either - pay them a visit.