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Kerguelen Plateau, Southern Indian Ocean: Geologic History of A Large Igneous Province

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Amanda Palmer Julson Blinn College
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This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Multi-stage activity that introduces undergraduate non-science majors to Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) operations and data. Involves Internet research, in-class discussion of scientific problems, and examination of online ODP data from two drilling cruises. The activity culminates with a Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) writing assignment summarizing the drilling results.
GSA Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 3.2MB Oct31 03)

Learning Goals


Higher Order Thinking Skills:

Articulation of scientific problems; interpretation of core data; synthesis of information; evaluation of technical writing.

Other Skills:

Becoming familiar with nautical terminology and the nature of marine operations; HTML coding and other computer skills (file management, web navigation).


Instructional Level:

Undergraduate entry level or higher. The activity was run as part of a freshman-level Historical Geology course, but with minor adaptations would be suitable for upper level undergraduate or graduate courses (i.e., Marine Geology).

Skills Needed:

In addition to basic computer skills (i.e., keyboarding), students need to be able to navigate the Internet. The activity was developed using Web-CT (classroom management software) to facilitate information transfer and communication, and Calibrated Peer Review to conduct the writing assignment. Both software packages are user-friendly and easy to learn, but the activity could easily be adapted for use without them.

Role of Activity in a Course:

The activity supplemented classroom learning, integrating major themes of the course and providing hands-on experience with a real data set. Depending on the stage of the activity, lecture or lab time was devoted each period over a span of several weeks.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:

Desktop computers with Internet access. Apart from a web browser, the software applications (Web-CT and Calibrated Peer Review, or CPR) are optional, and materials could be delivered through other media if either software package were unavailable. Web-CT and similar applications are available through institutional licenses. CPR is available without cost but training and an institutional administrator are required.

An ODP video was shown as part of the activity, but this is an optional enhancement.

Logistical Challenges:

Students must have computer access for the out-of-class parts of the activity, either at home or at an institutional computer center. Hard copies of the ODP data were provided for in-class use, although this could be done entirely online if computers were available for each lab group.

Although some obstacles are to be expected with students encountering unfamiliar technology, the nature of the activity is to ease students past these; a greater problem is encountered where students come to class unprepared (having failed to complete take-home parts of the assignment).

The activity would probably be most successful if conducted by an instructor with ODP or other marine geological experience.


Evaluation Goals:

The greater goal in conducting this activity is to acquaint the students with real-world science.

The goals specific to the activity involve learning how geologists gather data to reconstruct the geological history of a region and address fundamental geological problems.

By completing this activity, students should learn how to articulate major concepts in geology related to plate tectonics, geological time, sedimentology, and paleontology, among others.

Evaluation Techniques:

A pre- and post-test is conducted in the course to assess overall learning. Individual stages of the assignment were assessed using Web-CT quizzes. Questions related to the assignment were included on exams (including essay questions and part of the lab practical). The culminating phase, the CPR writing assignment was assessed using the CPR protocol (which scores participants separately for text entry, calibration, and review).


In the past two decades an enormous amount of data has been accumulated by the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). ODP is an international partnership of scientists and research institutions organized to study the evolution and structure of the Earth. It is funded principally by the US National Science Foundation, with substantial contributions from its international partners. The Joint Oceanographic Institutions manages the program. Texas A & M University is responsible for science operations, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University is responsible for logging services.

Much of ODP's data are accessible on the ODP webpage. These include detailed descriptions of every site and every core that has been drilled since 1997. Each of these sites were designed to address specific questions in geology.

Our assignment involves reconstructing the geologic history of a Large Igneous Province, the Kerguelen Plateau, Southern Indian Ocean (Legs 120 and 183). Students are shown how to approach the data on ODP's website and then write a geologic history based on those data.

We chose to use Calibrated Peer Review (CPR)TM assignments as a way to focus introductory undergraduate student's web-based research so as to not overwhelm them with the data but at the same time utilize the valuable resource from ODP. CPR (more info) is a web-based technical writing and critical thinking instructional tool. CPR was recently developed under an NSF systemic reform initiative in Chemistry (DUE 95-55-605) at UCLA, and is maintained on their servers. It is currently supported by the University of California, and is shared at no cost to colleges and universities.

In CPR assignments, students submit short essays, then read and evaluate examples of well-, moderately and poorly written essays to calibrate their scoring. Their overall assignment grade combines the scores for the student's essay with the results of their calibrations, their assessment of peers' essays, and self-assessment. CPR thus follows the model of actual scientific writing: anonymous peer review. Furthermore, it addresses a problem facing college faculty across the nation: how to assess critical thinking and technical writing skills without requiring additional grading resources.

The high quality of student essays and the students' outstanding performance on exam questions related to the assignment indicate the the activity accomplished its learning goals. Furthermore, many students expressed interest in learning more about the Ocean Drilling Program and oceanography in general. Finally, students found the activity enjoyable and said that it helped to de-mystify science for them.

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