Teaching Introductory Geoscience Courses

Do you recall your first geoscience course? For many geoscience teachers, it was this first taste of plate tectonics, landforms, fossils or oceanography that suddenly made us realize we had found our calling. We hope that some of today's new students who experience their first earth science courses will become inspired just like we did. Yet some students take a 100-level geology course because it seems to be the least-daunting way through their college's science requirement. Thus, faculty of introductory courses have a big job on their hands, managing a wide range of students, taking them through the basics of earth science, and hopefully imparting some inspiration along the way.

Jump down to: Course Design & Pedagogy | Resource Collections | Special Topics | Workshops & Events | Get Involved

Designing an Effective Introductory Course

1. Set goals

Learn how to set effective course goals from the Course Design Tutorial. This tutorial will help you articulate your course constraints and overarching goals. Browse course descriptions and syllabi to get a sense of how others have taught their Intro classes.

2. Consider assessment options

Aligning your assessment strategies with the goals of your course is an essential part of the design process. You can learn more about assessment in the section about Assessing Student Learning in the Course Design Tutorial and through our module on Observing and Assessing Student Learning.

3. Select pedagogies and specific teaching activities

The pedagogic techniques highlighted below can provide inspiration as you consider various approaches that will help you achieve your course goals. The resource collections are organized to provide a rich set of materials to draw from in constructing the specific set of learning experiences you want for your students. Finally, explore the more in-depth information and ideas available in special topics.

Selected Pedagogical Approaches to Addressing Challenges in Introductory Geology

  • Teaching Large Classes: An extensive collection including information on active learning pedagogies for large classrooms, assessment techniques, and example course descriptions and syllabi.
  • Managing Multi-Section Courses: Resources on how to effectively coordinate multiple sections, work with TAs and adjuncts, and teach efficiently as a member of a team.
  • Motivating Students in Introductory Courses: This page provides ideas to set a motivational tone and engage your students in the Intro Classroom.

Resource Collections

  • Course Descriptions submitted by faculty that describe their introductory-level geoscience courses that span a host of geoscience topics. These descriptions include learning goals, syllabi, and supporting information. See how your colleagues organize their Introductory courses and get ideas for your classroom.
  • Teaching Activities submitted by faculty that include classroom activities, laboratory exercises, problem sets and more. These are aimed at intro-level audiences. If you use one of these activities, we also encourage you to provide an activity review.
  • Essays describing how colleagues' introductory courses serve their students, their department, and their institution, specifically considering what features of their courses are targeted at serving those different audiences and needs, and how they know those features are working. The essays were submitted by participants in the 2014 Getting the Most Out of your Introductory Courses workshop.
  • Field trip design strategies to get your students involved with geoscience topics first-hand. View activities designed for the field, example field experiences, additional resources, and important information on safety.
  • Popular books for introductory courses that provide widely accessible viewpoints on geoscience topics.

Special Topics

  • See how Making Strategic Changes to your Intro course(s) can strengthen the curriculum across the department and lead to improvements in student learning.
  • Explore misconceptions related to Earth Science that are often held by intro-level students and how to address them.

Workshops and Events

  • Getting the Most out of Your Introductory Courses
    A virtual workshop held in March of 2014 that focused on the goals and roles of Intro courses for students, departments and institutions as well as the details of instructional design and management.
  • From Passive to Active: Classroom Makeovers that Improve Teaching and Learning
    A one-day workshop held April 11, 2010 at the North Central and South Central sectional GSA meeting in Branson, MO, on the growing trend of introducing active learning into predominately lecture classes in the geosciences.
  • Teaching Introductory Geoscience in the 21st Century
    A follow-up to the July 2008 workshop, held December 14, 2008 at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA. This workshop built on the results of the July, 2008 workshop at Carleton College.
  • Teaching Introductory Geoscience in the 21st Century
    Our original workshop, held July 14-17, 2008 at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. This workshop focused on the critical contribution that introductory geoscience courses make to undergraduate education, showcased the innovative and exciting teaching taking place in introductory courses today, and provided an opportunity for participants to work toward making their own courses as effective as possible.

Get Involved

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