GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 284-2
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM


OLCOTT MARSHALL, Alison1, BITTING, Kelsey S.2 and SMITH, Matthew C.1, (1)Department of Geology, University of Kansas, Lindley Hall Rm 120, Lawrence, KS 66045, (2)Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Ave., 215 Snell Library, Boston, MA 02115,

At the University of Kansas, all undergraduate students are required to take a natural science course regardless of their major. Given that this class is often the only college-level science class a student will ever take, and that two of the most pressing issues facing humanity right now—climate change and the prospect of human-caused mass extinctions—can best be understood through a geological lens, we decided to redevelop “Geol 121: Life Through Time from DNA to Dinosaurs,” an introductory paleontology class for non-majors, according to recent findings in cognitive science. Traditionally, this course has been lecture-based, and student learning was gauged by memorizing details about when various animals originated and went extinct through geological time. During the redesign process, we established three primary goals shaped by a social constructivist perspectives, theoretical frameworks of motivation and transfer, and empirical research on the role of practice and feedback: (1) students would actively explore and discover knowledge themselves, rather than passively receiving it, (2) summative assessments would be replaced with formative assessments and opportunities for metacognitive reflection, and (3) geological and paleontological information would be interwoven with the interconnected issues of human-driven extinctions and climate change. The assessment data reveal that by teaching through these complex, controversial and current issues, allowing students to activate and build upon prior knowledge, and challenging students to directly engage with the science, that there has been an increase in student engagement, a decreased drop/fail/withdraw rate, and improved learning outcomes in conceptual understanding and the ability to find, critically analyze and communicate information.