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EarthInquiry: A Resource to Engage College Students with On-line Geoscience Data

submitted by

Mary Jo Alfano American Geological Institute
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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.

EarthInquiry is a series of web-based modules that encourages introductory college students to use the abundant real-time and archived geoscience data available on-line.
GSA Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 12.3MB Oct31 03)

Learning Goals


Higher Order Thinking Skills:

Introductory students learn to collect, process, and interpret the data that "the real scientists" use.

Other Skills:


Instructional Level:

undergraduate entry level

Skills Needed:

EarthInquiry assumes that students are going to lecture and are up-to-date with class. These activities are meant to supplement and "show-case" the concepts learned in class.

Role of Activity in a Course:

We find that instructors are using the activities in the lab, as homework assignments, or as extra credit assignments after a topic has been introduced.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:

Students need access to a computer with an internet connection. A 56K modem or faster connection is fine. Students also need an EarthInquiry Booklet (available from Freeman Publishers). Most instructors order the booklets at the beginning of the semester and have students purchase them along with their textbook(s) at the bookstore.

Logistical Challenges:

If Instructors want access to student responses to on-line Assessment questions (approximately 10% of the activity), they need to create an Instructor account and register their course on-line. Students, then, are responsible for affiliating themselves with the course.

There are few challenges. The American Geological Institute offers student and faculty technical support. AGI updates the detailed instructions for accessing and interpreting the data on-line on a regular basis. AGI also stores its own copy of each dataset should the external data provider be unavailable. Answer sheets are provided with a range of possible answers.


Evaluation Goals:

We want to know if these activities are supplementing what Instructors are teaching in the classroom with minimal additional effort on the part of the Instructor.

Evaluation Techniques:

The feedback that we have received, thus far, has been positive.


EarthInquiry is currently composted of six published modules on the topics of flooding, minerals, earthquakes, long-term climate change, as well as coastal and volcanic hazards. The project touches on a range of themes covered in introductory geoscience course work. Each activity comes with a printed booklet, published by W.H. Freeman and Company Publishers, and a Web access code that allows students entry into the EarthInquiry web site, maintained by AGI. The web site provides detailed instructions on how to access and interpret the data that is necessary to complete each activity. Students use data extensively from the USGS, as well as from NOAA, FEMA, the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level, and other organizations. Background material, presented at the beginning of each activity, creates a sense of relevance and develops interest in the topic. The activities then go on to pose a series of questions that allow students to gain content understanding, while establishing a comfort-level with the concepts and data presented. Finally, each activity asks students to apply some of the fundamental concepts and skills acquired throughout the course of the investigation. This predominantly multiple choice assessment is automatically graded, with feedback provided by the EarthInquiry web site.

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