The News Hour
An activity that I successfully used twice in teaching Active Tectonics is one I call "The News Hour," patterned after the PBS New Hour. I generated the idea out of concern that active tectonics sets of class readings are so broad, diverse, and and voluminous that it can be intimidating both for students and faculty to think about how best to prepare for a given class. I concluded that one way to achieve context is to set up a brief dialogue that removes 'geospeak' and centers a focus on societal implications of active tectonic phenomena.
ACTIVE TECTONICS, SOCIETY, EARTHQUAKES, MEDIA
Active tectonics course for seniors and graduate students
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
Reading of journal articles and review of key web sites pertinent to locale and circumstances being discussed.
How the activity is situated in the course
Stand alone exercise
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Reducing the technical language of structural geology, plate tectonics, and active tectonics to language that will work for the media and the general public. Addressing the 'mitigation' applications that relate to active tectonics. Pressing the point that active tectonic is extraordinarily relevant to society, and professionals in the discipline will find themselves from time to time speaking into a microphone, looking into a camera, responding on short notice to questions regarding some aspect of an event or natural disaster.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Effective communication, critical reading, judgement in scientific exchange
Other skills goals for this activity
Nowhere in the normal curriculum do we ever prepare our students for talking with the public in ways that can be easily understood. Experience and practice of this sort is especially useful given the stressful circumstances within which geoscientists in active tectonics/seismology/etc are called upon to respond to pressing questions.
Description and Teaching Materials
The first time I used this approach I issued no advanced warning, in
part because the idea came into my head just the night before class. I
simply initiated the activity the moment I came into class. Students
(just 7 of them) had been asked to read assigned articles on active
tectonics of Hawaii. The focus of the readings was mainly the east end
of the Island of Hawaii, where active faulting and foundering are taking
place. The literature for these phenomena is robust, covering
landslides, 'run-ups,' GPS-based evaluation of fault slip, geophysical
evaluation of magma ascent, earthquake seismology, bathymetry,
reflection seismology, and numerical modeling. The 'News Hour Approach'
brought things together in a novel way. I quickly assigned two students
to be commentators for a 20-minute news segment on Hawaii. They were
to set the stage by elaborating on the fact that residents of Hawaii had
been hearing reports on earthquake and landslide activity, as well as
rumors that the land could disappear into the sea. Citizens were trying
to figure out how concerned they should be. I tried to make clear to
the 'commentators' that a cornerstone of the News Hour is that all
acronyms and specialty jargon are always disassembled by the
commentators. I then assigned the remaining students to roles as
scientific 'experts,' discipline by discipline. Then we began, with no
time for additional preparation.
The commentators jumped right in and began asking questions. The
experts drew upon their knowledge from reading as best they could, and
often quite impressively. When the 20 minute session ended, we then did
a retrospective, talking through what we had said, discussed what we
had felt, what we would do differently, what we do the same, etc. To my
astonishment the retrospective lasted 90 minutes. Both broad and
specific lessons were learned.
The second time I taught Active Tectonics, I tried the same thing, in a
larger class (25 students) and with two topics, one of which again was
Hawaii, the other Salt Lake City and living on the Wasatch fault. In
this instance I brought in a video camera and we 'filmed' the panels.
Students were given an advanced 'heads up' in this case, and volunteered
for roles. In the Wasatch exercise, one of the students chose to be an
'expert' on disabilities, and examined in advance the literature that
deals with evacuation of men and women from nursing homes, hospitals,
Teaching Notes and Tips
Have the students take time to view PBS News Hour, to gain a sense for how effectively the commentators interview experts in a way that is objective, factual, non-political, and focused on relevant contemporary issues.
Have students get in touch with their own interests, skills, even passions in selecting their respective roles in the role playing.
I have not employed this as a graded exercise. However, I do gain an immediate sense of a students preparation and creativity.
References and Resources
This is a case where prescribed TV viewing is helpful. Furthermore, consider inviting to class professionals representing journalism and media arts. For university settings, faculty in Journalism are ideal. Alternatively, invite professionals (e.g., reporters, editors) from the local media.