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

Paper No. 13
Presentation Time: 5:00 PM


HEISE, Elizabeth, Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, Univ of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville, TX 78520 and PALMER-JULSON, Amanda, Division of Natural Sciences, Blinn College, P.O. Box 6030, Bryan, TX 77805, elizabeth.heise@utb.edu

One of the drawbacks of Distance Learning, particularly for nontraditional students, is isolation and lack of peer-teaching opportunities. We have implemented several approaches in our Internet Physical Geology course to address these problems. Our goal is to deliver a learning experience to our Distance Learning students similar to that offered in our on-campus classes. The challenge for student success has been providing the sense of community to keep students engaged in learning. Chat sessions have provided a means of explaining course materials to many students at the same time. A secondary effect is the students build a learning community to work together even though they are not face-to-face. This helps with both student comprehension and retention.

We have been teaching Physical Geology online at Blinn College since 2002. Blinn College uses Web-CT course management software for Internet courses. Our course content is completely self-developed, with ease of navigation a priority. We have created an online lab for this course that incorporates rocks that we loan to the students and exercises that mirror traditional in-class exercises and a number of web-based activities involving local geology and natural resources and regional environmental issues; these have been well received by students.

Distance Learning by nature involves a large degree of self-teaching. However, we knew from classroom experience that much of the material would be daunting for most students without additional instructor support. We hold weekly chat sessions either with WebCT Chat or Elluminate vClass web-based software (www.elluminate.com) to bridge this communication gap. Students can use their computer's audio capabilities to converse with the instructor and with one another; text messaging and a whiteboard are also available. The software is supported by both Macintosh and PC platforms and is accessible by dial-up as well as high-speed connections. This tool has been invaluable in providing our Distance Learning students with a lab experience incorporating active learning and peer teaching.

Students chat with each other as well as with the instructor. They work through the exercises and clear up misconceptions. This method of communicating with the students has proved to be instrumental in the success of the online geology program.