Initial Publication Date: January 16, 2007

Lensyl Urbano

Department of Geosciences, University of Memphis

Lensyl Urbano

What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

I am most interested in learning about methods of measuring changes in students' affective response in classes for non-majors. This is particularly important to me because of my interest in developing technology and persistent (across semesters) collaborative learning techniques for use in my large undergraduate classes.

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

I teach large (150 student) introductory Earth Science classes to a diverse student population (~40% minority). I recently reworked our introductory Physical Geology/Geography classes into a new lecture and laboratory course emphasizing enquiry-based learning. I have also used and developed technology that allows students to create multimedia projects (e.g. the MovieClassroom) and have been testing the efficacy of these student-produced learning materials at enhancing learning in their peers in subsequent semesters. Affective responses are a key part of these investigations.

Essay: Voices and language

I grew up on a small island in the Caribbean, completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in New York and Minnesota, and now teach at a school in the southern US. Because I grew up speaking English, it took me a while to realize that I do not speak the same language as my students. Much of my teaching philosophy and method has been driven by the need to overcome this divide, particularly by allowing and facilitating students' creation of educational media (text, audio narration and video) for my classes. It has been students' response to seeing and especially hearing the voices of their peers enunciating scientific concepts that has lead me to realize the potential power of peer-produced media in tapping the affective domain.

Quite apart from cadences of speech, language is full of the cultural constructs and idioms that can assign different meanings to the same words. From this perspective, teaching introductory Geoscience classes involves introducing students to the language and culture of science, and the challenge becomes finding a shared semiotic space where students and instructor can communicate effectively. To get there effectively students need to learn some of the language of science and instructors need to learn some of the language of the students. But in the large (150 students) introductory classes I teach, students come from diverse backgrounds and there are a multitude of cultural groups with their own variants on language (call them literacy groups). It is by harnessing this diversity that collaborative projects work so well. Student group discussions expose each individual to multiple perspectives on the topic, which for less experienced students increases the probability that each individual is exposed to the concept with idioms they understand, and exposes each individual to multiple perspectives that broaden their range of language.

Yet why restrict the benefits of collaborative learning to ad-hoc groupings that last a classroom session or even a semester? If multiple uses of language aids learning, why not record those uses and make them available to peers? This is a major part of my teaching philosophy. To this end I have used Wiki style websites for students to write and narrate (audio) their term projects, and developed technology (e.g. the MovieClassroom) to facilitate students' creation of educational movies. For all of these projects, students are told that their grade depends partly on the specific utility of their project to help other students learn the material. There are significant educational benefits that accrue to the students creating and explaining geoscience concepts. However, most pertinent to this application are the potential benefits for users of this material.

As students have produced reliable material, I have been incorporating them in lectures and readings. Short movies shown in class have elicited the most interesting response. A large majority of students say they would like to see more of these during class (primarily because it provides a good break) and posted to the website (so they can view them again). However, there are significant differences in their perceptions of the movies' educational utility, as well as, their "entertainment value". I am currently trying to design surveys to determine if actual (as well as perceived) learning is a function of the students' enjoyment of the movies, and what parameters determine enjoyment. These are fundamental questions regarding the affective response, however since I am new to the field of education research, I am extremely interested in learning more about the role of the affective domain in geoscience learning.

  • Gee, J.P., 2003, What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy, Palgrave MacMillan, New York.
  • Tversky, B., Morrison, J. and Betrancourt, M., 2002, Animation: Can It Facilitate? International Journal of Human Computer Studies, v57 p. 247-262.
  • Urbano, L.D. and Urbano L.C., 2006. Enabling student and instructor use of scientific visualizations with an online video editor. GSA Fall 2006, Abstracts.