Reflections on Teaching a Large-Lecture, Introductory Earth Science Course

Monday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms


Larry Braile, Purdue University-Main Campus
I have taught a large lecture (150-400 students), introductory Earth science course (Planet Earth; 3 credits) nearly every semester for over 20 years. The freshman-level course does not have a laboratory component and is taken primarily by non-science majors who require science credits for their degree requirements. More recently I have taught the same course in a distance learning/online format, as well as a 1-credit online lab course as an optional companion course to the Planet Earth lecture or online course. The courses are an opportunity to engage a large number of students who, as members of the public and future leaders, will be responsible for important decisions and policymaking related to societal issues that are fundamentally Earth science – including energy, natural resources, protecting the environment, and natural hazards. Using these and other topics, we can illustrate that the Earth sciences are interesting and an important part of their daily lives. There is some anecdotal evidence that the relevance of these subjects provides increased motivation. Also, public understanding, knowledge and appreciation of these subjects, and other areas of the Earth sciences, are important to the world and to the future of the Earth sciences. Finally, the course material can also demonstrate that there are excellent career opportunities in the Earth sciences that may be of interest to some of the students in the course. I have attempted, certainly with only partial success, to focus on developing understanding, problem solving, and higher-order thinking related to fundamental Earth science concepts rather than memorization. Challenges that are very apparent, and that seem to have increased in recent years, include lack of student preparedness in quantitative and technical areas, and too many students who "just want the answer"; likely a result of recent emphasis of high-stakes testing.