Simulations and Virtual Labs for Online Earth Science Education

Wednesday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Presentation Part of Best Practices in Online Courses


Randy Russell, Freelance Consultant - formerly NCAR/UCAR
Coursework increasingly includes online components, whether in the form of homework to accompany traditional face-to-face classes, or filling more substantial roles in a flipped classroom setting or in wholly online courses. Fieldwork and hands-on laboratory experiences are important features of many traditional Earth science classes. Such "real world" experiences often are absent, or play a diminished role, in partly or completely online courses. How then to provide students opportunities to make decisions and collect and analyze data in hybrid or online courses? We believe that the use of computer-based simulations and virtual labs in online aspects of courses can partially fill the pedagogical role of wet labs and fieldwork in traditional face-to-face classes. Simulations and virtual labs addressing Earth science topics are gradually becoming more commonplace, thanks to the efforts of a variety of universities, government agencies, commercial vendors, and other groups. These resources can be difficult for an instructor to find, however, as they are scattered about the web sites of their respective developers and are often difficult to specify in searches on educational resource cataloging sites. Our poster will describe an ongoing effort at UCAR to round up links to such resources pertaining to Earth science disciplines. We will also highlight some simulations relevant to the Earth sciences, primarily related to climate and the atmospheric sciences, developed by our group. Although we are strong proponents of the importance hands-on experiences, we also believe that computer-based simulations and virtual labs can supplement such experiences. Also, especially in completely online courses, these resources can provide crucial "minds-on" activities that balance more passive instructional tools such as the readings and videos that often make up the bulk of online course content.