2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 2:45 PM


SCHWIMMER, Reed A. and HUSCH, Jonathan M., Geological and Marine Sciences, Rider University, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648, rschwimmer@rider.edu

Oceanography and environmental geology classes are both large-section (~100 students) courses designed for non-majors fulfilling a science-core requirement. Motivating non-majors in a large, lecture-style classroom environment is a challenge, although one that can be met successfully through the utilization of a variety of curricular and pedagogical strategies in which a "backward design" is adopted. With this design, a course is structured around what you want the students to achieve (student-centered), rather than the sequence of chapters in the text (teacher-centered).

The oceanography course is structured to enable students to define, analyze, and interpret the interrelated physical and biological processes that govern various scientific concepts. Teaching strategies include classroom demonstrations that allow students to collect data; "take-home" exercises where these data are interpreted; weekly concept questions; and daily one-question quizzes. There are no formal exams for this course. In contrast, the environmental geology course is structured to allow students to understand and appreciate how natural processes impact their lives at a variety of levels, and how human activities impact natural processes. Teaching strategies for environmental geology differ substantially from those above, and include scratch-off multiple-choice exams that provide students with immediate results, and the posting of course lecture notes on the web accessible via an interactive course syllabus. Also used are written pop quizzes and student-initiated review sessions, which act like the “minute paper” CAT and the “muddiest point” CAT of Angelo and Cross (1993), respectively.

Despite the different goals and approaches, and based on student course evaluations and classroom performance, both courses succeed in motivating students to learn and to participate in class discussions and activities. Our conclusion is that there are many strategies to enhance classroom learning; no single method is appropriate for all situations. Which methods are most effective differ depending on the instructor, subject matter, class size, course meeting schedule, etc. Therefore, it is less important as to what specifically is done to motivate active-student learning than it is to simply do something.