Establishing relevance as a way to motivate introductory students

Sean Cornell
Shippensburg University Department of Geography-Earth Science
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This assignment ask students to do oral interviews with at least five people and online research on professional geology organizations and their missions. Using these interviews and research, students are to write an editorial statement describing what Geology is, and why it is important to society. The strengths of this assignment are that students have to engage other people in their research and they are introduced to online resources that they can use later on.

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This activity is used for an Introduction to Geology course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This is a starter exercise that helps frame the content of the course, and helps the instructor understand where the students are with their writing abilities, and their interest levels and basic knowledge level. Students should be able to carryout online research, and should be capable of communication both oral and written. In terms of specific geologic knowledge, students are not "expected" to have mastered any specific concepts.

How the activity is situated in the course

It is a course initaiting activity and is a good way to engage students by finding out what they know so you can build on and link to their knowledge.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals for this activity are broad, but students should identify with the field of geology and why this field is important to society.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Before writing their editorial, students need to analyze the responses of at least 5 interviewees (at least 2 have to be professionals) and synthesize a point of view or perspective that integrates the commentary of all of their interviewees with the mission statements of professional geologial organizations (i.e. GSA, AGU, AAPG, SEPM, etc.).

Other skills goals for this activity

To complete this assignment, students need to use and hone their interviewing skills, writing an editorial, and doing research via the WWW.

Description of the activity/assignment

Introduction to Geology students are asked to write a two page (5-6 paragraph) editorial that addresses what geology is and why it is important to society. To gather the information for their editorial, students have to interview at least five individuals (two of whom have to be professionals or faculty members), and consult the mission statements and goals of professional geology organizations (i.e. AAPG, AGU, GSA, SEPM, etc.) Students then synthesize their research and construct a well-written editorial with appropriate citations that will either explain, persuade, criticize, or praise. In completing the assignment, students not only better understand why it is good to study geology, but also have an appreciation for the scope and content of an Intro to Geology course.

Teaching Tips

Adaptations that allow this activity to be successful in an online environment

I have not used this activity in an online environment, although students in my face-to-face class submit their assignment online through learning management software (i.e. BlackBoard, Desire2Learn, etc.).

Elements of this activity that are most effective

This is effective because it requires that students become active in the learning process, and although the writing is minimal, they have to really pay attention to their wording, point of view, and purpose. Moreover, when students interview professionals, other faculty, their parents, or friends, they are often engaged in interesting conversations that provide important insights. I have found that this helps motivate students and excites them about the content of the course.

Recommendations for other faculty adapting this activity to their own course:

I recommend that other faculty use the content of the editorials periodically by referring back to student responses throughout the duration of their courses. It helps draw students back into the course, and helps connect them to why they are studying geology in the first place. In years when written work are less than satisfactory, I often require students to swap editorials and provide peer critiques. This usually helps students who struggle with their writing.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The purpose of this assignment is to assess their writing capabilities and their understanding of what geologists do for society. Students are assessed on their writing clarity, completeness of their answer, whether they have accomplished the task, and whether they include appropriate citations. A rubric is used and students are provided the assessment rubric in advance of turning in the assignment.

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