As with any graduate program within the realm of geological and geotechnical engineering, there is a unique requirement to conduct field exercises to expose the students to the geology, reallife projects, experiences and working conditions with a view to reinforcing concepts that have been introduced in the traditional university classroom environment. Not only do the students benefit from such hands-on experiences, but the construction companies and contractors also benefit by positively influencing the students through the showcasing of their profession. To this end, an international field course involving four universities was conducted from Monday, December 7 to Sunday, December 13, 2015. This graduate course is run annually by Paul Marinos (pastpresident, International Association of Engineering Geologists [IAEG]) at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). This year, as in previous years, the course was planned, organised and conducted in collaboration with the Civil Engineering Department at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering Department at Queen’s University, NTUA and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH). An active, Canada-Greece inter-university collaboration in this regard has been established between these universities spanning more than 12 years. Organisers and instructors for the Canadian Universities were Nicholas Vlachopoulos, RMC/Queen’s, and Mark Diederichs, Queen’s University. Eight graduate students from RMC-Queen’s Canada participated in the course. This ‘Canadian Contingent’ was accompanied by eight graduate students from the graduate program of the Geology Department at AUTH, and 21 graduate students from the graduate program of the Schools of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering and Civil Engineering from the NTUA. Vassilios Marinos, assistant professor at AUTH also contributed with his expertise during the course.

The course involved circumnavigating Greece and visiting tunnelling sites (primarily road, rail, and mines) throughout the country. Greece is a country born of intense tectonic processes; being at the boundary of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. Highly-deformed and altered sediments and low grade metamorphic rock masses dominate the near surface environment creating a variety of technical challenges for tunnelling and slope stability related to modern infrastructure. The students certainly witnessed these issues first-hand. The underground construction works were conducted in limestones, clays, gneiss, molassic rocks, flysch, phyllites, ophiolites, basement schists and fault zones. The tunnels were at various stages of construction and the graduate-student work along the way included geological model construction, seismic hazard prediction, ground classification and tunnel design with student presentations in the evenings among other deliverables.

There are certainly many active or recently completed tunnelling sites in Greece at the moment. Sites on this course included: Kakia Skala Road and Rail Tunnels; the Corinth Canal; Panagopoula Road Tunnel of Corinth-Patras Highway; Klokova Tunnel of the Ionian Highway; Gkiona Hydraulic Tunnel of Mornos-Athens; Kallidromo Rail Tunnel; Platamonas Tempi Road Tunnel; Thessaloniki Subway Tunnel, Euclid Station and Kalamaria Extension and TBMs; Hellas Gold Mine sites in Chalkidiki, Skoureies and Olympiada; Tunnels of Egnatia Odos; multiple tunnels (20+), Sigma3, Anilio, Metsovo, Anthochori tunnels; as well as the ‘Great Cut’ embankment; Crystallopigi Tunnels; multiple outcrops and rockmass characterization; Achellos diversion project by DEH (dams and power houses, tunnels); and Meteora Conglomerate formations.

Throughout the course, the graduate students were able to see the various challenges when tunnelling through materials with varying strengths and properties and in regions with inherent landslide as well as seismic risks. Of note, was the fact that the students had the unique chance to visit the Olympia and Skouries mine sites in Chalkidiki (another Canadian Connection as Eldorado Gold Corporation is a Canada-based, intermediate, gold mining company). The mines are rich in copper, gold, silver, and zinc in both surface and subsurface deposits. Greece has not played a significant role in the mining of such commodities for decades and as such, there are many unique challenges associated with the development of this site on a technical, social, and environmental level. It was an excellent opportunity for the student to witness how design and construction practices in mining differ from conventional highway or rail tunnels as well as the significant focus on worker safety and the environment.

A major contributor to the feasibility and success of such field courses is the buy-in and significant financial support provided by the tunnelling companies and contractors. Without such support and access to the underground works, these sorts of ventures would not be practicable. The companies see the need to help educate and expose the next generation of geological engineers or geoscientists to such sites. The direct access by the students to site engineers, workers and employees at all levels adds much value to the overall experience and compliment fully the objectives of the course.

The authors’ experience in Canada has been that access to underground works of this nature are quite limited due (primarily) to liability considerations. The authors would welcome the opportunity to conduct such field courses in Canada in cooperation with tunnelling companies that would involve multiple and a diverse array of sites.


The field course was reviewed with current higher education research in mind and complemented with blended learning components (i.e., on-site instruction combined with on-line communication and critique of retained information) in order to enhance the instructional environment and provide a record of the field course’s activities and lessons learned for future courses. What makes fieldwork so valuable to learning geoscience?

Pyle (2009) identifies the main goals of field courses as a) synthesis and application of knowledge; b) acquiring the field skills and techniques typically required for an entry-level, professional geologist; c) enculturation into the values and ethics of practicing geoscience; and d) exposing students to the variety of geologic phenomena they may encounter. Similarly, Mogk and Goodwin (2012) review arguments based on “practitioner’s wisdom” claiming that field education yields improvements in students’ knowledge and problemsolving skills, enhances students’ ability to reflect on their own thinking (metacognition), generates positive feelings that lead to enhanced learning, offers direct and immersive experiences of geologic phenomena, and introduces students to professional practice” (Petcovic, Stokes & Caulkins, 2014).

Specifically, blended learning components of the field course involved: a) a pre-field exercise self-assessment, b) daily online journals posted on the course’s website by the students tied to the information that was presented each day of the field exercise, c) critiques of online journals among peers, and d) a post-field exercise self-assessment (Table 1).

Much academic debate has been dedicated to determining the necessary balance of methods and tools to be included in a geological sciences and geoengineering program. Consideration of several factors is warranted, the most prevalent of these factors being the current state of industry and their requirements, technological advancements, sustainability education as well as instructional methods informed by ongoing education research. The re-design of the course to include the use of blended (onsite/ online) learning as well as synchronous/ asynchronous interactions was conducted with a view to enhancing the learning outcomes of the geological and geotechnical field exercises.

By using existing technology and pedagogy in field training, we sought to: a) Identify the diverse learning needs of the students and connect them to the learning outcomes of the field course, b) investigate the value of the field exercise specifically for each student with a view to informing the design of future field exercises with a learner-centred approach, and c) allow for the production of studentgenerated teaching material (discussion forum posts, student reflections, videos, photos) that would capture the field exercise activities through the eyes of the learners.

The results of the pilot study were in agreement with other researchers in the sustainable education realm in the sense that geological field training may also be in need of “a redesigned educational paradigm that is in essence relational, engaged, ethically oriented, and locally and globally relevant.” (Stirling, 2001). By combining: a) specialised technical information provided by experts in the field, b) assignments promoting student reflection on their actual learning during their participation in technical tours and onsite field exercises, and d) synchronous/asynchronous peer collaboration and online critiquing and archiving of information, the authors set the framework for sustainable field training in geosciences/geoengineering. Not only was this field course a memorable one from a technical perspective, but it was also an experience that the students will remember as a cultural exchange. For the duration of the visit, the generosity as well as warm culture of the Greek people was a highlight, as at no moment was there a lack of hospitality or kindness. A common takeaway was about embracing culture of the Greeks who have a passion for learning, teaching, and expanding their knowledge base. This was highlighted by the fact that due to the enthusiasm of Greek GeoProfessionals (in particular, Hydro Greece staff that travelled more than 200km to provide students access to an underground power generation cavern). In this respect, there was no evidence of any crisis in Greece. The Canadian Contingent enjoyed learning about the Greek culture, and feasting in their delicious and varied cuisine. This field course helped all those that were privileged to take part in it to grow personally and take a little bit of Greece back to Canada with them; as Paul Marinos himself put it, “You are now all Greek!”

This type of international collaboration between these institutions that has spanned more than a decade has won high praise from the Embassy of Canada to the Hellenic Republic, specifically, from ambassador Keith Morrill himself. We look forward to future venues and collaborations with a view to improving such experiences for our graduate students – in a sustainable fashion.