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

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


FURLONG, Kevin P. and AMMON, Charles J., Geosciences, Penn State Univ, 542 Deike Building, University Park, PA 16802, kevin@geodyn.psu.edu

Although it is generally accepted that hands-on or active learning is an effective route to learning in the sciences, the reality at large universities is that introductory and general education classes by necessity have large enrollments and limited TA support. A standard approach has been to couple large lecture classes with smaller enrollment laboratory sections, but this approach is not sustainable with limited TA resources and the desired increase in enrollment in introductory/general-education earth science courses. In Earth 101 – “Natural Disasters: Hollywood versus Reality” we have tried to maintain a strong active learning component in a lecture classroom with 150 – 175 students. We have developed a suite of class activities linked to specific natural hazards (and usually to movie excerpts) that employ a combination of collaboration, discovery learning, calculation, role-playing, and synthesis. These range for example from compressed real-time simulations of hurricanes (i.e. the 4-5 day long event is compressed into one 90 minute class time), through tsunami analyses (developing a suitable alert system for a realistic event scenario), to town meetings that explore longer-term, but inevitable, hazards such as lahar or landslides. In all cases in developing these learning modules, we attempt to keep a focus on one desired learning outcome – e.g. quantitatively analyzing a data set to reach a conclusion but we use real world examples and essentially un-laundered data. The learning outcomes are usually (intentionally) not obvious, but rather are embedded in the activity. The reality (for us) is that although many of these modules are effective, not all are rousing learning successes. Some of the characteristics that seem to lead to success are timeliness - e.g. tsunami warning calculations following the Sumatra earthquake in a January 2005 class), uniqueness - that is the same exercise was not done by their friends in the class last year, and importance – if they see a real application they become more engaged. The range of topics in this course allow us some flexibility to react to real-time events, and as a result we can exploit such current activity to make real fundamental science issues.