Teach the Earth > Structural Geology > Structure, Geophysics, and Tectonics 2012 > Teaching Activities > The News Hour

The News Hour

George Davis, University of Arizona

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This page first made public: Jun 1, 2012


An activity that I successfully used twice in teaching Active Tectonics is one I call "The News Hour," patterned after the PBS New Hour. I generated the idea out of concern that active tectonics sets of class readings are so broad, diverse, and and voluminous that it can be intimidating both for students and faculty to think about how best to prepare for a given class. I concluded that one way to achieve context is to set up a brief dialogue that removes 'geospeak' and centers a focus on societal implications of active tectonic phenomena.




Active tectonics course for seniors and graduate students

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Reading of journal articles and review of key web sites pertinent to locale and circumstances being discussed.

How the activity is situated in the course

Stand alone exercise


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Reducing the technical language of structural geology, plate tectonics, and active tectonics to language that will work for the media and the general public. Addressing the 'mitigation' applications that relate to active tectonics. Pressing the point that active tectonic is extraordinarily relevant to society, and professionals in the discipline will find themselves from time to time speaking into a microphone, looking into a camera, responding on short notice to questions regarding some aspect of an event or natural disaster.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Effective communication, critical reading, judgement in scientific exchange

Other skills goals for this activity

Nowhere in the normal curriculum do we ever prepare our students for talking with the public in ways that can be easily understood. Experience and practice of this sort is especially useful given the stressful circumstances within which geoscientists in active tectonics/seismology/etc are called upon to respond to pressing questions.

Description and Teaching Materials

The first time I used this approach I issued no advanced warning, in part because the idea came into my head just the night before class. I simply initiated the activity the moment I came into class. Students (just 7 of them) had been asked to read assigned articles on active tectonics of Hawaii. The focus of the readings was mainly the east end of the Island of Hawaii, where active faulting and foundering are taking place. The literature for these phenomena is robust, covering landslides, 'run-ups,' GPS-based evaluation of fault slip, geophysical evaluation of magma ascent, earthquake seismology, bathymetry, reflection seismology, and numerical modeling. The 'News Hour Approach' brought things together in a novel way. I quickly assigned two students to be commentators for a 20-minute news segment on Hawaii. They were to set the stage by elaborating on the fact that residents of Hawaii had been hearing reports on earthquake and landslide activity, as well as rumors that the land could disappear into the sea. Citizens were trying to figure out how concerned they should be. I tried to make clear to the 'commentators' that a cornerstone of the News Hour is that all acronyms and specialty jargon are always disassembled by the commentators. I then assigned the remaining students to roles as scientific 'experts,' discipline by discipline. Then we began, with no time for additional preparation.

The commentators jumped right in and began asking questions. The experts drew upon their knowledge from reading as best they could, and often quite impressively. When the 20 minute session ended, we then did a retrospective, talking through what we had said, discussed what we had felt, what we would do differently, what we do the same, etc. To my astonishment the retrospective lasted 90 minutes. Both broad and specific lessons were learned.

The second time I taught Active Tectonics, I tried the same thing, in a larger class (25 students) and with two topics, one of which again was Hawaii, the other Salt Lake City and living on the Wasatch fault. In this instance I brought in a video camera and we 'filmed' the panels. Students were given an advanced 'heads up' in this case, and volunteered for roles. In the Wasatch exercise, one of the students chose to be an 'expert' on disabilities, and examined in advance the literature that deals with evacuation of men and women from nursing homes, hospitals, etc.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Have the students take time to view PBS News Hour, to gain a sense for how effectively the commentators interview experts in a way that is objective, factual, non-political, and focused on relevant contemporary issues.

Have students get in touch with their own interests, skills, even passions in selecting their respective roles in the role playing.


I have not employed this as a graded exercise. However, I do gain an immediate sense of a students preparation and creativity.

References and Resources

This is a case where prescribed TV viewing is helpful. Furthermore, consider inviting to class professionals representing journalism and media arts. For university settings, faculty in Journalism are ideal. Alternatively, invite professionals (e.g., reporters, editors) from the local media.

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