• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


KIRK, Karin B., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057,

While online course design is rooted in the same pedagogic principles of face-to-face teaching, there are additional considerations for creating a successful online course. An important characteristic of online course design is that every element of the course is designed, completed and posted before the semester begins. This allows for a design process that encourages a proactive, deliberative approach to creating an effective course.

Drawing on ideas from the 2010 On the Cutting Edge workshop, Teaching Geoscience Online, the literature, and our experience in teaching and website design, we have developed a new section for the Cutting Edge online teaching website that focuses on course design. The web pages support the following key aspects of designing online courses.

The initial design for any course begins with determining the goals of the course and selecting content and assignments that will help students achieve those goals. Then the course layout, pacing, content delivery and assessment can all be tailored for online delivery. Lectures are generally absent or minimal in an online course, but there are many means to deliver content, such as readings, narrated slideshows, animations, short documentary videos, interactive simulations, and discussion postings. By employing a variety of methods the content can appeal to a broad range of learning styles.

Online assignments present the worrisome potential for cheating or pasting in answers. This can be averted by designing assignments that minimize opportunities for cheating and require individualized answers, such as activities that are data-driven, place-based or are case studies. Discussion threads provide opportunities for students to compose their thoughts and questions, comment on each other's work, or work in teams.

The web offers a uniquely rich and useful medium for learning. The same principles that make any web environment engaging can be applied to online courses. Course pages can offer assemblages of text, imagery, video, animations, and relevant links. As the course progresses, new material can be added, including an image of the week, polls, segues between course topics, reminders and announcements, and anecdotes about the current topics in the course.

The Teaching Geoscience Online website is found at

Meeting Home page GSA Home Page