This course is GEOL 1010 Introduction to Physical Geology. Intro Physical Geology, 1000 level, mostly freshman non-science majors, satisfies basic science requirement, ~170 students, clickers used daily
What did I do?
Target of improvement/evidence: interest in and/or appreciation of science/Earth science. Understanding of range and connections among subdisciplines of Earth science. Confidence in making observations/predictions that lead to interpretations. Communication among peers about scientific ideas.
Pre-course assessment/survey: In order to initially assess students awareness of physical geography (not the goal of my course but some knowledge of it would go a long way toward understanding geologic processes), I handed out unlabeled maps of North America (1st class day) and the world (2nd class day) and asked students to take 5 min. and label as much as they could.
First day: Blank map of North America and adjacent oceans/islands showing only coastal outlines. In about 5 minutes, locate/label as much as you can of major physiographic features. For example: your hometown, state of Colorado, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Canada, Mexico, the Appalachian Mountains, Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon, Mississippi River, the Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Mexico, the Equator, the 40th Parallel, San Andreas Fault, etc. AND ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: Of the items you have labeled, what are you most curious about OR what do you hope to learn more about in this course? During the next class period, I showed a slide summarizing the most common student questions or geographic curiosities identified and pointed out which ones we would address in this course.
Second Day: Unlabeled map of the world showing topography of continents and bathymetry (depth) of oceans. In about 5 minutes, locate/label as much as you can of major continents, oceans, mountain ranges, faults, the general locations of historical earthquakes (San Francisco, 1906; Alaska 1964; Sumatra 2004), major rivers, famous volcanoes, etc. AND ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: On the map, whether you have labeled something here or not, indicate on the map what are you most curious about OR what do you hope to learn more about in this course? During the next class period, I showed a slide summarizing the most common student questions or geographic curiosities identified and pointed out which ones we would address in this course.
I periodically returned to these maps during the course in a variety of contexts. During the lectures, we used case studies from many of these geographic areas to illustrate key geological concepts. I hope that having done this exercise at the beginning of the course helped some of the students retain those concepts a little bit better.
New “In-class activities”: We have a number of previously developed “in-class” activities that are hands-on, but the majority of these are currently on relatively isolated topics. With the help of a Science Teaching Fellow, we developed two new “follow-up” in-class activities that addressed new topics but that also either returned to an earlier activity (for continuity) or attempted to draw a connection between the new course material and topics covered earlier in the course.
Online Discussion: I set up a voluntary online discussion forum through CU-Learn. My goal was to give students the opportunity to comment on connections among topics we covered in the course and places they have recently visited or geologic events that have received some recent news coverage. I encouraged its use by offering extra credit (a fixed number of “clicker points” for at least one post). I used “Topics” that encompassed the subject matter covered in the course over a 2-3 week period and left the thread open for that period. At the end of that period, I closed off access to that topic (students could still read the thread, but not add new posts), and started a new for the next 2-3 weeks. In all, there were 7 topical threads throughout the semester.
I do think this helped me to focus some of my course material a bit better and to not assume that students are as familiar with a particular geographic region as I am. I used “my” labeled version of the pre-course maps to show them where a particular case study was located.
New “In-class activities”
Although there is some variation in grading, the hand-in worksheets from these activities are largely graded for participation as opposed to accuracy of results (most students get 90, 95, or 100 out of 100). But I used some of the problem sets and questions again later in the course on mid-term and final exams.
About 30-40% of the students chose to participate. Although this is a little lower than I expected, I am very happy with the content of the posts and enthusiasm shown by those who did participate. I will do this again the next time I teach the course.
For those that participated, I think the online discussion worked the way I wanted it to. Many comments were related to one of the several geologic “events” that occurred during the semester and its relationship to the subject covered in class (e.g., Haiti and Chili earthquakes, lack of a significant tsunami from Chili earthquake, flooding of Cumberland River in Nashville). Some posts were related to a past experience that a student had and that had come to mind during a lecture. They might have a question to pose to the discussion group or just want to comment about how they were thinking differently about a region they visited previously.
What did you learn? What’s next?
I will use the pre-course map assessment in this course again and will continue to search for more ways to re-visit it later in the course.
I will definitely use the voluntary online discussion forum in CU-Learn for this class in the future, and I think I will use it in another advanced (3000 level) course. I will pass on this positive experience to other colleagues.
RESOURCES: syllabus, map assessments, CU Learn website including discussion board, various animations, pre-designed activities