I have addressed these issues several ways in a 9-week intro-level natural
In the first week, the students must develop and submit a personal plan for
successful completion of the course. This is the first assignment in every
on-line course I teach, it makes the students consider the course
requirements and their plans for meeting them. It also allows me to see
what their expectations are and respond to them. The first week also
includes an extended discussion of how hazards are studied.
During weeks 2-4 and 6-8, we address a different hazard each week.
Students need to answer (with an explanation) these questions (or
variations): Would you be willing to live in an area subject to this
hazard? What level of risk from this hazard would be acceptable to you?
What should a community do to prepare for this hazard?
Students discuss this in an asynchronous on-line discussion. The class is
divided into groups of six-eight. The discussion is graded, posts must add
substantively to the discussion, posts must be made on at least three
different days (more than the minimum results in additional points). At
the end of the week, each student must submit her/his own response to the
question as graded homework.
The discussion and homework engage the students because the questions are
personal. The students use the text, on-line resource links, and the
discussion with other students to develop their own answer. They try to
explain and justify their answers to the group and answers typically change
over the course of a week as students discuss the material. I provide
feedback & grades for each week?s work within one or two days for the first
couple of weeks so they understand my expectations and can correct areas
where they are deficient. The assignments are parallel for the same
In week 5 and week 9, students submit term papers describing how one hazard
impacts the area where they live (or would like to live). The students
must use their knowledge from the class and collect information from local
resources. This challenges the students and also provides practical
experience they can use in the future. The week 5 project can be revised
and resubmitted prior to the conclusion of the course for a revised grade.
(I grade very strictly, so this gives them a chance to make up for deficits
The course also meets twice each week in 2nd Life, an on-line virtual world
where we meet in a virtual classroom. On Monday, I provide a brief
introduction to the week?s topic with powerpoint slides and time for
questions. In Friday, we meet again for questions. The 2nd Life meetings
are optional, but most students attend. The meetings provide bookends for
the week and allow questions to be answered real-time; this allows me to
clear up confusion without the time delay of e-mail or the discussion
thread. The 2nd Life environment has more of a classroom feel and the
students respond well. 2nd Life also has virtual experiences (including a
tsunami created by NOAA), a place for office hours and study sessions, and
a place for displays of student work (also a requirement for this course).
The course develops a rhythm and the discussions in most groups have been
excellent. There are always a few students and sometimes a group that does
not develop well. Individual students, I try to contact to see if there is
a problem. If it is a whole group, I may break up the group and put the
members into other groups.
I presented a talk on this class at GSA last fall. The PowerPoint slides
can be found at: http://www2.ivcc.edu/phillips/talks/map-prof.htm
The course materials can be found at:
(Note: The class was 8 weeks, but will be nine the next time I teach it. I
felt the mid-term project need to have it?s own week because of the effort
required to collect the information.)
The students must also attend an orientation session in 2nd Life prior to
the beginning of the course to sort out any hardware or software issues.
Geology Professor, Illinois Valley CC
Adjunct Geology Instructor, Illinois State Univ.