GEOLOGY BEHIND THE COMPUTER: ADVANCES IN GEOSCIENCE EDUCATION WITHIN DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMS
Our attempts to increase hands-on activities in online classrooms included customized mineral, rock, and fossil kits that we developed and mailed to individual learners, to be incorporated in classroom activities. We also determined that “traditional” geoscience field excursions are best substituted with virtual field investigations (through free Google Earth software) and self-directed research investigations that students conduct in their local areas. Online students responded positively to both investigation types, and demonstrated mastery of geological content and application skills through their research projects.
Another online constraint we addressed is the lack of community and collaborative learning. We incorporated group discussions of current controversial issues, as well as peer-teaching requirements within online forums. Although real-time sessions are possible, our research indicated that asynchronous discussion forums were superior for our online students because of the time constraints; many students reported difficulties attending scheduled learning events or office hour forums.
Advances in online teaching methods have been accompanied by additional online resources, search engines, and posted research materials. We capitalize upon online data sets and active monitoring websites so that students can collect, analyze, and interpret data from geologic events.
Technological advances allow us to effectively teach geoscience content in online environments. Although the tools and activities differ from traditional classroom settings, instructors do not encounter substantial course-management issues. We propose that online geoscience learning IS effective, but dependent upon the quality of the online instructional delivery.