Paper No. 12
Presentation Time: 4:35 PM


CLARY, Renee M., Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University, 108 Hilbun Hall, P.O. Box 5448, Mississippi State, MS 39762 and WANDERSEE, James H., Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice, Louisiana State University, 223 F Peabody Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803,

Geologists often claim that our science is best taught in the field, but classroom field excursions can be problematic in online classrooms with geographically dispersed students. In order to address a lack of active and field-based learning in distance learning classrooms, we developed and refined laboratory and field investigations that required students to move beyond the confines of their computers and conduct research in their local areas. Through several online courses (N = 6) over multiple semesters (N = 16), we implemented assignments that required students to plan and conduct local research investigations.

Our online paleontology courses involved student location, collection, and identification of local fossil specimens in order to reconstruct past regional paleoenvironments. Conversely, in an online tectonics course, students located, collected, and submitted a naturally deposited sand sample. We provided photomicrographs of the sand samples to students, and the sand became a portal for the reconstruction of local geologic and tectonic history.

Not all projects in online classrooms involved field collection. In an investigation into dinosaur trackways, students relied on local volunteers to document the stride lengths and speeds of humans using both their preferred and maximal gaits. All students uploaded data to our course website. From a composite spreadsheet, the class produced a graph of relative stride length versus dimensionless speed using Alexander’s formula. Students were then required to create and document their own public trackway display.

Through multiple semesters and various courses, we observed that students’ average performance on local field investigations and project assignments was superior to other course assessments. Several results were significant, and we propose that self-directed local field assignments maximize learning gains for our students. Anonymous end-of-semester surveys also revealed positive reflection and student enjoyment toward these self-directed projects and field assignments. Therefore, we encourage online instructors to implement autonomous projects within students’ local areas. Through the use of detailed checklists and rubrics, student products can be assessed within reasonable instructor time commitments.