GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 175-4
Presentation Time: 2:20 PM


SHROAT-LEWIS, Rene, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2801 S. University Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72204

In March 2020, faculty and students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock were in the 9th week of the spring academic semester, traditionally a time of peak research and creative activity. Within three short days, because of growing concern over the Covid-19 pandemic, the university pivoted to an online environment, challenging both faculty and students to deliver and learn content in a new way. This sudden transition to online learning resulted in high stress levels and mental congestion related to financial concerns, at-home distractions, academic deadlines, and a lack of face-to-face peer interaction. To help students escape the stress of online classes and isolation, I employed an unconventional teaching approach for 17 students in the Historical Geology course who were assigned a creative opportunity to present their final project titled “My Favorite Dead Thing.”

The use of essays and research papers has long been a preferred method of assessment in a variety of courses; however, they generally follow specified formats that do not allow for much creativity, and often end up being unimaginative summaries of the materials explored in class. An alternative to this type of assessment is the UnEssay, which gives students an opportunity to creatively interact with course themes, conduct research on their selected topic, and demonstrate their understanding in any manner that is meaningful to them. For example, students can write a poem, draw a comic, or compose a song about some aspect of the material. Any sort of submission can work, so long as the message is communicated effectively and is in line with the content and ideas presented in the course. This type of assignment allows for higher-order thinking wherein students expand upon their knowledge of a given topic, gain skills in finding information, critically appraise a variety of information sources, and practice communication skills to effectively and concisely convey information and ideas. The UnEssay submissions far exceeded expectations and demonstrated a high level of engagement with course material. Here, I will share the experience from multiple perspectives: the instructor’s, and firsthand reflections from the students.