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The Content Dilemma - breadth vs. depth  

I am posing this question about content because it was one of the first questions I had to ask myself when designing a course and I am very curious about your thoughts. The literature on teaching online courses (that is non-science courses) seems to have the mantra "less is more". Give them less content, but go over it well. However, in a course for majors or a course that is a prereq for other upper division courses how can you do this?

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I am torn between these 2 things. I find myself spending lots of time on rock and mineral identification in my physical geology course (mostly non-science majors, so I don't really have to make sure that I cover specific material). I cover it pretty well and spend quite a bit of the semester on it. However, I always find myself (at the end of the semester) wishing I had time to cover more of the other chapters in the text just to expose them on all of the many facets geology has to offer as a field. So... I guess I cannot answer your question, but say that I too (I am sure many do) struggle with this dilemma.

3602:12773

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I too struggle with this problem. The class I'm teaching this summer is not a prereq for anything, and I try not to emphasize the jargon but instead get them talking about how geology applies to situations they may be interested in. As a result, we spend extra time on something like coastal erosion (we're right next to Lake Erie) and less time on deserts (which most know nothing about). The first majors course our students take is Earth Materials. The instructor for that says he assumes students coming into his class know nothing about rocks and minerals (that's been his experience), so he teaches the class as if there were no prereqs.

3602:12797

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I actually created my online course before I taught it face to face. The first time I taught the course face to face, it was not humanly possible to keep up with the pace I had imposed for the online students. Since this is a non-majors course and it is not a pre-req for anything, I have switched to the "essentials" version of the textbook, and the content is much more manageable now.

3602:12820

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I am generally unhappy with the amount of time my department spends on rocks and minerals in our f2f classes/labs here. It's practically half the semester!

I can't really abide that for my online class. I am thinking of only teaching rock-forming minerals and basic 3 rocks in a plate-tectonics/depositional environments framework.

I need to devise an online mechanism to deliver this content. Someday soon, I'll post it for review by you all.

3602:12823

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I spend a large portion on the rock cycle that includes tectonics, minerals, rocks, deformation, soils, etc. I also do geologic time, groundwater and streams (we have a stream on the edge of campus and 2 major rivers that meet just south of town). I do not get to things like coasts, deserts, climate change, glaciers (I have a couple of semesters finished early and got to include this). I remember covering a lot of different topics in my intro class as a student, but not in detail. I guess I chose to do more detail and less topics. I still don't know which way is best though.

3602:12832

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As you all have said, this issue of breadth versus depth is a difficult one in both online and face-to-face courses. And I don't think it's helped by the fact that so many textbooks nowadays seem to take the 'more is better' approach (perhaps, in part, to justify their costs). At any rate, my decision has been to choose a text that I feel covers the basics well and then give my students a set of learning objectives for each section that we're going to discuss to help them focus their studying on the topics I think are most important. I remind them that they are welcome to study other topics and bring them up for class discussion, but that as a group we will only be responsible for the topics linked to the objectives. I think most people feel this is fair, and it helps them navigate the tremendous amount of information we explore in any science course.

3602:12849

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I believe, especially in science classes, is to go for "the experience." Have students participate in research, to learn how to investigate and discover. We can never cover, in ftf or online classes, all of the material.

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