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On Feb 25, 2010, at 12:07 PM, Dawes, Ralph wrote:

Hi Frank,
In the Geology of the Pacific Northwest class I teach online, we havenít been having the problems you describe. It seems like there may be several keys to this.
 
One key may be how I respond to the students frequently on all discussions and assignments with in-depth feedback, in which I try to consistently refer to the expected outcomes and standards for each assignment or discussion, and provide encouragement to help the students keep building toward achievement of those standards.
 
Another key is recognizing and acknowledging the students for who they are and having them share their life experiences. This is done with some of the more interesting guided discussion topics, which bring out their encounters with geology, experiences with earthquakes and volcanoes or floods (or stories of such encounters they heard from relatives or friends), beautiful geological places they have visited, and so on -- life experiences that are meaningful to them and which help them get to know each other.
 
Another thing we have the students do is a field project much like what Rob Thomas mentions, with their results shared with each other via pictures and summaries of their geologic interpretations of their field sites.
 
The students in PNW Geology online also work with real rocks and geologic maps from a lab kit they buy. The rocks and maps provide a basis for several intensive, discussion rich exercises, including examples and diagrams modeling what the student will be doing themselves to interpret structures on the geologic map, or the rocks in terms of the rock cycle. They also engage in social learning by discussing their rocks in groups after attempting to identifying the rocks once to see how they did, and then they get to try again. I like it when they start sending pictures of their rocks around and talking (writing) about them on the basis of the pictures, though that does not always happen.
 
On the whole, the results have been about as good as, or sometimes better than, my in-person PNW Geology class.
 
--Ralph
 
 
Ralph Dawes, Ph.D. 
Earth Sciences
Wenatchee Valley College 
1300 Fifth Street 
Wenatchee, WA 98801 
(509) 682-6754 
[log in to unmask]
 
 
 
 
From: Frank Granshaw [mailto:[log in to unmask]] 
Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:16 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: On-line earth science courses: Experiences and research
 
Hello everyone...
 
For the past four years I have been attempting to develop a fully on-line earth science sequence for  non-science majors.  In our system we call it the general science sequence.  At the end of this year I will be "retiring" from teaching distance courses and making the recommendation that we stay with a hybrid sequence (on-campus lab) rather than attempt to go fully on-line.  As a point of closure I would be most interested in hearing from some of you that have been involved in similar efforts.  In particular I would appreciate hearing about how you have dealt with the following issues or if you know of research dealing with these issues.
 
  • Encouraging inquiry and problem solving in on-line environments - My experience has been that the on-line experience is a highly scripted one that doesn't lend itself easily to the kinds of flexibility and open-endedness that is a hallmark of inquiry-based instruction.  This scriptedness also makes teaching earth science on-line somewhat problematic, since the earth sciences are a bit "messier" than math, physics, chemistry, or accounting.
  • Providing the kind of near instantaneous, social trouble shooting that is part of an on-campus course -  The asynchronous aspect tends to slow down many activities quite significantly.  We have tried video-conferencing options such as Elluminate, but this adds a level of technical complication for students who are still struggling with basic technical tasks such as sending an attachment to an email.
  • Coping with student expectations about distance courses -  I sense there is a certain amount of scuttlebutt amongst students (and maybe even advise from college counselors) that if you are looking for an easy way to fill a requirement take an on-line course.  Students seem to arrive in our courses with the illusion that they will be spending far less time completing an on-line course than they will its on-campus equivalent.  They also seem to arrive with the impression that the experience will be a canned, "work-at-your own pace" experience.
  • Coping with student frustrations - For much of the past four years, we've spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to deal with the many frustrations students have expressed on-line.  While many of these frustrations are rooted in the all-to-common technical difficulties that come with teaching on-line, my own hypothesis is that many more of these frustrations stem from students finding on-line science different from their expectations, trying to work alone without the support of instructors and other students, and their own discomfort with science (e.g. "Science isn't my thing").  Add to this the anonymity of email communication and you often get students expressing themselves in ways that they would not do in a face-to-face encounter.  
 
Again, I am quite interested in hearing from any of you who have had experience with these issues or know of research dealing with them, especially as I make my recommendations to our DL folks and the instructors who will inherit these courses.
 
Cheers
Frank G.
 
Frank D. Granshaw
Earth Science Instructor
Portland Community College
Sylvania Campus
Portland, OR 
503-977-8236