Explore Course Designs

These pages were written by Anne Egger (Central Washington University) and Molly Kent (Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College), drawing on discussions and contributions from the 2014 Getting the Most Out of your Introductory Courses workshop.

There are many ways to design effective introductory courses. While the design you choose may have aspects that are unique to your institution, you can learn about what others have done to help you determine what will work best for you and your students.

Deliver Geoscience Content through Societal Issues

structuring course content around societal issues
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Teaching materials developed through InTeGrate are designed specifically to address one or more Earth-related grand challenges facing society. A suite of materials have been developed specifically for introductory geoscience courses; these materials were informed, written, and tested by your colleagues.

Listen to Cynthia Fadem from Earlham College describe how she integrates societal issues into her introductory geoscience course in her presentation Geology and You from the March 2014 workshop.

See more on Teaching with Real-World Examples »

Participants in the March 2014 virtual workshop compiled a list of best practices involved in teaching geoscience content through societal issues. These include:

  • Know your audience. What drives your students? What is their frame of reference/context? What grand challenges or societal issues will they find compelling?
  • Help them build connections. Especially at the introductory level, students need scaffolding to build a relationship between geologic phenomena/processes and their lives. Don't assume that because it's a hazard or relates to the environment that it applies to their lives.
  • Be ready to commit. Using societal issues to frame geoscience content requires commitment to the concept through the course to maintain student interest and their sense of being a stakeholder. Commitment comes in the form of learning objectives and assessments that include aspects of the societal issue itself.
  • It takes time. It can take a lot of time and energy (in addition to class-time devotion) to incorporate a case study or frame a discussion in social terms, but the returns are more effective learning, greater retention on the content covered, and the desire to keep learning and teach others

Incorporate Active Learning in Large Lecture Courses

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Large courses are a staple form of the introductory course. But just because you are faced with hundreds of students in a cavernous lecture hall doesn't mean that you have to lecture to them all the time---you can engage your students in active learning in a variety of ways.

Listen to Elizabeth Malcolm from Virginia Wesleyan describe the many types of activities she incorporates into her large lecture classes to keep students engaged in her presentation Enhancing lecture with interactive activities, from the March 2014 workshop.

See more on Teaching Large Classes »

Participants in the March 2014 virtual workshop compiled a list of best practices involved in teaching large lecture courses. These include:

  • Interactivity improves student learning. Clickers and other classroom response systems are one way to incorporate interaction; small-group problem solving can be rapidly assessed with clicker questions.
  • Strong ties between lecture and lab helps everyone. Enrolled students benefit from the connections, but so do teaching assistants, who can be strongly mentored by faculty and other TAs.
  • Mentor new and adjunct faculty by showing them what works. Large lecture courses are often taught by adjuncts or rotated between faculty. Once active learning techniques are part of the course, show new instructors how to use them.

Go Online, Perhaps Massively So

online and massive online courses
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Enrollment in online courses is growing, and many institutions are increasing their online offerings. You might be hesitant to step into a new form of teaching, but there are many tools and resources that can help you design or adopt an online course.

Listen to Jonathan Tomkin from University of Illinois describe his experience teaching an online course and a MOOC in his presentation Geoscience Online Education: Present and Future, from the March 2014 workshop.

See more on Teaching Geoscience Online »

Participants in the March 2014 virtual workshop compiled a list of best practices involved in teaching geoscience online. These include:

  • Know your terms. Face-to-face, hybrid, online, MOOC: these are not equivalent terms or types of courses and they attract different audiences. If you are considering trying online teaching, look at all of the options and decide which suits you best.
  • There are many options for online materials. You can enroll and download materials from an existing MOOC, work with a team of faculty to develop materials, or work with your IT department. Many institutions have people whose jobs are specifically to help you go online - take advantage of those resources.
  • Consistency is important. Establish a structure to the course and stick with it to help students navigate the online format.

Break Down the Barrier Between Lecture and Lab

lab-lecture complete breakdown
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Just because your introductory course has always been separated into lecture and lab doesn't mean it has to stay that way. The SCALE-UP design, developed by Bob Beichner and others, is one alternative focused on collaborative learning that has proven successful in a number of classrooms.

Listen to Mike Jackson, a physics professor at Central Washington University, describe how he redesigned their introductory sequence to integrate lecture and lab and still meet large enrollment needs in his presentation Revising the introductory physics sequence from the March 2014 workshop.

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Participants in the March 2014 virtual workshop compiled a list of best practices involved in integrating lecture and lab. These include:

  • Collaborative learning doesn't just 'happen.' Most students are not adept at collaborative problem solving, and you will need to scaffold that process in order for them to gain confidence and work together without enforcing so much structure that they no longer "own" their work.
  • Be prepared for pushback from students. Students that are used to just getting a lecture in their introductory courses may initially push back against the level of engagement required.

Flip Your Class

See more information about engaging students in group work during class, including through

partially flipped classroom
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A "flipped" class can mean a lot of things. The idea originated from the idea that students can listen to a lecture outside of class, on their own time, when they can rewind and listen again and the goal is for them to gain individual knowledge. Class time is focused on group work and problem solving, when students benefit from being together and being with you, the instructor.

Listen to Rachel Teasdale from California State University-Chico describe her partially flipped class, and why she considers it partially rather than fully flipped.

Participants in the March 2014 virtual workshop compiled a list of best practices involved in flipping or partially flipping your class. These include:

  • Work done outside of class has to matter. Use pre-class materials with stakes to encourage students to do the work. Work done in class should require the work done outside of class.
  • Take advantage of having everyone together in one room. Design group work activities to occur during class time; these should take up all (or at least most) of face-to-face time.
  • Group work = more feedback. Having students work in groups means fewer units to "check" in class---100 students can seem like a lot, but 25 groups of four is more manageable.

See What Others Are Doing

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