2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:20 AM


BRANLUND, Joy, Earth Science, Southwestern Illinois College, 4950 Maryville Road, Granite City, IL 62040, Joy.Branlund@swic.edu

In spring 2009, I decided to ditch the textbook used in Physical Geology and instead use a collection of short writings (philosophy, journals, fiction, poetry) called Language of the Earth (LOE) as the reading material. I did this because the traditional textbook is expensive and overladen with detail and technical jargon. I felt that LOE could benefit learning because it imbeds concepts in a context, a place and/or story, and presents a diversity of voices. In this small (<24 students) introductory class, classroom time is spent on labs, group activities, an mini-lectures. Previously, students were required to learn basic concepts by reading the textbook with a directed study guide. After adoption of LOE, students read one or more selections to prepare for class. As a motivator, students answered 1-3 short questions about the reading and submitted them for completion points. The readings provided context for the day's activities, and were intertwined with either the mini-lecture or group activity. Not having a textbook required additional lecture to cover basic course material. Also, at least one group activity was added specifically to accompany the LOE readings. During the first semester of this experiment, added lecture and activities led to time-management problems that required condensing some late-covered topics. To correct this, more course content can be provided via handouts or online, and students can be expected to acquire some basic knowledge before class. Based on limited data, the use of LOE positively impacted student interest, but had no impact on student learning. On final course evaluations, 66% of students found the reading assignments interesting, and the same number claimed that reading assignments helped them understand the material. 45% would have liked access to a traditional text. Students in the LOE class had lower grades on the final project than those who used a textbook. The difference, although not statistically significant, can be explained two ways. Because students can use notes and the textbook on the final project, lower grades may reflect fewer resources. They also maybe due to time-management issues previously mentioned. Ditching the textbook did not impact course grades or improvement on standardized posttests.