I’ve been teaching online at our CC now for a number of years.  I decided, a few years ago, that some of our courses could be adapted to the online environment while others were best left as face-to-face courses.  The courses we teach online are: 


Earth’s Atmosphere & Oceans – An introductory Earth science course for nonscience majors covering weather, climate, and some physical oceanography.

Weather & Climate – A lab course for science majors

Geology of the National Parks – An introductory course for nonscience majors.


These seem to work OK because there are so many online resources we can tap into for them.  If we actually lived closer to some national parks, I probably would not offer this course online since we’d go visit them!


Other classes we don’t offer online, nor do I plan to, include:


Planet Earth – Introductory geology for nonscience majors

History of Life – Introductory course for nonscience majors

Physical & Historical Geology – Lab courses for majors

Geology of NY State – Course for majors (has geology prerequisite)


That’s because in those courses, we examine rocks, fossils, and minerals; work with maps; and take local and weekend field trips.  I strongly believe that looking at an image of biotite on the computer is not the same as holding a piece in your hands (and peeling it apart).  Minerals and rocks and textures, sounds (tap a shale and a slate), and even smells that can’t be conveyed in an online environment.  Teaching students to read maps online is sometimes an exercise in frustration (I have enough problems in the Weather & Climate class where students have to interpret maps with isobars, isotherms, etc.  And there’s simply no online replacement for the experience of placing your nose against the outcrop and looking at real rocks.


As to the student misconceptions, it is my experience as well that students often believe online classes to be easier or self-paced and they’re neither.  Online classes require more reading, writing, and time than a face-to-face class.  I have an extensive syllabus which explains “the facts of life” to the students and have strict weekly deadlines for assignment submissions but still have a high attrition rate due to students falling too far behind.


As for my side, I find online courses far more time-consuming to teach and grade (I don’t use automatically graded assessments).  Given the heavy CC teaching load, I often wish I never got into online education!  Our administration, however, loves it and sees it as a cash cow.


- Steve.


Steven H. Schimmrich, Professor & Department Chair

Math, Physical Sciences, Engineering, & Technology

SUNY Ulster County Community College, 491 Cottekill Road

Stone Ridge, NY 12484      845-687-7683; FAX 845-687-5083

Education is the progressive discovery of our own ignorance


>>> Frank Granshaw <[log in to unmask]> 02/25/10 10:16 AM >>>

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.



Frank G.


Frank D. Granshaw

Earth Science Instructor

Portland Community College

Sylvania Campus

Portland, OR