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Assessing Interactive Lectures

Assessment is often viewed as a process that takes time from teaching but since most students are grade concious and will focus on learning what will be assessed, the process of formative assessment can be a powerful driver for enhancing content understanding among introductory geoscience students. Using long-term formative assessment strategies, such as mapping plate boundaries using interactive lectures, can deepen content understandings and engage students in how data is used in the geosciences. Additional assessment strategies of interactive lectures are provided in the resource list at the bottom of this page.

Using Formative Assessment to Drive Learning

Black and William'(1998) paper "Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment" (Phi Delta Kappan, October 1998) points out that high quality formative assessment has a powerful impact on student learning, and that formative assessment is particularly effective for students who have not done well in school, narrowing the gap between low and high achievers while raising overall achievement. Allowing students to build their scientific understandings by interpreting data sets will strengthen their ability to use scientific data and provide the instructor with an array of opportunities to use the data sets in formative assessment. For example,

  • The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program maintains a website that lists earthquakes that have occurred worldwide during the past several days. Visit the site, print the page and make a transparency of the week's earthquakes.
  • Ask students to plot the longitude and latitude of the earthquakes on a physiographic chart.
  • Make a new overhead transparency of the new data once each week, as more recent earthquakes replace older ones on the list

At the end of several weeks, students will see that most, but not all earthquakes they have plotted are at the edges of the tectonic plates. You can increase the complexity of the interactive lecture activity by asking students to also plot depth of the earthquakes using pens of different color. Use an arbitrary depth such as 5 kilometers to differentiate between "shallow" and "deep" earthquakes. Then, prior to teaching plate tectonic concepts (e.g. the relative thicknesses of oceanic versus continental crust) the instructor can refer students to their physiographic charts to determine what the data suggests in terms of the relative thicknesses of continental versus oceanic crust.

More Examples

Minute Papers/ConcepTests- The example provided above is not the only way to assess interactive lectures. Other strategies that increase the interaction between students and the instructor are Minute Papers (more info) and ConcepTests (more info) . Student may either work together to answer these questions, or individual responses may be graded. Whatever method is chosen, long term incremental assesssment of interactive lectures will make it more likely that students will have had repeated opportunities to interact with and learn essential geoscience concepts.


  • Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning through Technology and Curriculum Design. Edelson et al., 1999 The authors explore the challenges of implementing inquiry-based learning through a program of research on the use of scientific visualization technologies to support inquiry-based learning in the geosciences. (citation and description)
  • Learning-for-Use: A Framework for the Design of Technology-Supported Inquiry Activities. Edelson, 2001 This article discusses a way to integrate the teaching of content with the teaching of process, which have in the past been seen as competing priorities. General guidelines are presented for the design of inquiry activities that support content learning taking advantage of modern technologies. (citation and description)
  • Effects of Student-Generated Diagrams versus Student-Generated Summaries on Conceptual Understanding of Causal and Dynamic Knowledge in Plate Tectonics. Gobert and Clement, 1999 This article examines the beneficial effects of student-generated diagrams as assessment tools versus student-generated summaries on conceptual understanding on the topic of plate tectonics. (citation and description)
  • Pre-/Post-Knowledge Assessment of an Earth Science Course for Elementary/Middle School Education Majors. Gosselin and Maklem-Hurst, 2002 This article describes a course for elementary and middle school education majors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The authors of the study developed an assessment instrument that allowed them to determine the success of this class in improving the content knowledge of the students and showed an average gain of 30%. (citation and description)
  • Assessment and Active Learning Strategies for Introductory Geology Courses. McConnell et al. (2003) This article describes several techniques to promote active learning in the classroom and compares classes taught using these with those using traditional lectures. General education Earth Science classes was evaluated using formative assessment exercises conducted by students in groups. (Full Text Online)
  • Active-Learning Methods to Improve Student Performance and Scientific Interest in a Large Introductory Oceanography Class. Yuretich et al., 2001 This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education provides information about a study that was conducted at the University of Massachusetts. A 600-student oceanography class was transformed by modifying lectures to include cooperative learning via interactive in-class exercises and directed discussion. Assessments were redesigned as "two-stage" exams with a significant collaborative component. Results of the student surveys, course evaluations, and exam performance demonstrate that learning of the subject under these conditions has improved. (Full Text Online)
  • Innovation in Large Lectures - Teaching for Active Learning. [Ebert-May, Brewer and Allred, 1997] This article from BioScience discusses studies conducted by Northern Arizona University and the University of Montana that were designed to improve biological literacy among education majors. The study highlights the importance of active, inquiry-based learning. (citation and description)
  • The Use of a Mock Environment Summit to Support Learning about Global Climate Change. [Gautier and Rebich, 2005] This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education discusses why a learner-centered environment is particularly suitable for earth system science learning, and how it provides students with motivation and the opportunity to understand this complex area of scientific inquiry. Through a course that explores global change from both and earth science and human perspective, students use role playing, writings, class discussions, and presentations to develop and negotiate a mock international environmental agreement. Rubrics are used both to assess student learning and to provide feedback to students about their work. (citation and description)
  • Scientific Teaching. [Handelsman et al., 2004] This article from Science offers a guide to learning how to do scientific teaching. The guide discusses the need for active learning strategies to engage students in the process of science as well as the use teaching methods that have been systematically tested and shown to reach a diverse audience of students. Topics include implementing changes in lectures, students as scientists, and how universities can promote change. (citation and description)
  • Research Methodologies in Science Education: Mental Models and Cognition in Education. [Libarkin, Beilfuss and Kurdziel, 2003] This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education identifies and discusses four types of cognitive models: naïve, unstable, and conceptual mental models, and conceptual frameworks. The author includes illustrations to show these different types of cognitive models. (Full Text Online)
  • The Two Paradigms of Education and the Peer Review of Teaching. [McManus, 2001] This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education provides information about two models of education, the Teaching-Centered Paradigm and the Learning-Centered Paradigm. The paper examines how to align the appropriate tools for peer review with the teaching implications of paradigm choice. (Full Text Online)
  • Active Learning in Secondary and College Science Classrooms: A Working Model for Helping the Learner to Learn. [Michael and Modell, 2003] This book by Joel Michael and Harold Modell is designed for professionals interested an active learning approach to teaching students. The main topics covered in this book are how to build the foundation for active learning, roles for the teacher in creating an active learning environment and creating active learning environments. (citation and description)
  • Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education. [Palomba and Banta, 1999] This book by Catherine Palomba and Trudy Banta is a step-by-step guide that provides the most current practices for developing assessment programs on college and university campuses. Each chapter of the book addresses a specific aspect of assessment and is designed to walk users through various steps of the assessment process. The authors describe effective assessment programs and offer a thorough review of the most up-to-date practices in the field. (citation and description)
  • The Case for a Cooperative Studio Classroom: Teaching Petrology in a Different Way. [Perkins, 2005] This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education discusses the effects on student learning when a petrology course is changed from a lab-lecture format to one that emphasizes studio and cooperative learning. Changes were instigated in order to emphasize the development higher order thinking skills rather than traditional knowledge-based learning. The article illustrates assessment stratgies by comparing a cooperative studio classroom with a more traditional one. After one semester, an assessment revealed that students like this format and believe they learn more than in a traditional course setting. (Full Text Online)
  • Studio vs. Interactive Lecture Demonstration--Effects on Student Learning. [Roy, 2003] This article from Bioscene compares two methods of teaching a course in genetics and evolution. The first method is studio teaching involving teamwork by students, hands-on exercises, and minimal lecturing. The second is an interactive lecture demonstration method. The study uses pre- and post-testing of basic concepts to evaluate the effectiveness of each method. (citation and description)
  • A Data Rich Exercise for Discovering Plate Boundary Processes. [Sawyer et al., 2005] This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education describes a classroom exercise based on four world maps containing earthquake, volcano, topographical and seafloor age data. Students participate in this exercise by using a "jigsaw" approach, in which they break into four groups and become specialists on one of the map types. After being organized into new groups with one specialist from each map represented, the groups present their data from the class. This exercise (assessment tool) has shown that students come away with knowledge of the key features of each type of plate boundary and a sense of why it looks the way it does. (Full Text Online)
  • A Student-Centered Project for Earth System History. [Teed, 2005] This article in the Journal of Geoscience Education describes a project in which students play the role of class lecturer. The purpose of the exercise is to reduce instructor lecture time and increase student involvement in learning about earth system history. Each student researches a specific era of geologic history and then presents their findings to the class, as well as providing a written summary and bibliography of resources used in their research. Rubrics for assessing the student presentations are included in the article. (Full Text Online)
  • Workshop Biology: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Active Learning in an Introductory Biology Course. [Udovic et al., 2002] This article in BioScience describes the University of Oregonís Workshop Biology. The program was created to engage students in open-ended, interactive activities and projects designed to develop their understanding of essential biological concepts, the process of scientific discovery, and their critical thinking skills. Workshop students displayed more improvement in conceptual learning and understanding of scientific reasoning, a greater appreciation of science and its role in their lives, and greater motivation and involvement in learning activities than did students in a comparison course taught in a more traditional, passive style. (citation and description)