Online Education: Thinking outside the box

Wednesday 2:30pm-3:15pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Session

Session Chairs

Audeliz Matias, SUNY Empire State College
Laurel Goodell, Princeton University

Using a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for Earth Science Education: Who Did We Teach and What Did We Learn?
Eric Gordon, University of Colorado at Boulder
Anne Gold, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Over the last decade, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have rapidly gained traction as a way to provide virtually anyone with an internet connection free access to a broad variety of high-quality college-level courses. That means Earth science instructors can now teach courses that reach tens of thousands of students--an incredible opportunity, but one that also poses many novel challenges. In April 2015, we used the Coursera platform to run a MOOC entitled "Water in the Western United States," partly to deliver a survey course of broad interest and partly as a venue to make research efforts accessible to a wide audience. Leveraging a previous online course run on a smaller MOOC platform (Canvas), we created a course largely based on short expert video lectures tied together by various types of assessments.Over a dozen experts provided short lectures offering a survey course that touches on the social, legal, natural, and societal aspects of the topic.This style of MOOC, in which the content is not delivered by one expert but by many, helped us showcase the breadth of available expertise both at the University of Colorado and elsewhere. In this presentation we will discuss the challenges that arose from planning a MOOC with no information about the characteristics of the student body, teaching thousands of unidentified students, and understanding the nature of online learning in an increasingly mobile-dominated world. We will also discuss the opportunities a MOOC offers for changes in undergraduate education, sharing across campuses or even across levels, and promoting flipped classroom-style learning. Finally, we will describe the general characteristics of our MOOC student body and describe lessons learned from our experience while aiming to place the MOOC experience into a larger conversation about the future of education at multiple levels.
PhET Interactive Simulations for teaching and learning in Earth and Energy Sciences
Yuen-ying Carpenter, University of Colorado at Boulder
Katherine K. Perkins, University of Colorado at Boulder
Patricia Loeblein, University of Colorado at Boulder

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PhET Interactive Simulations are free, online, interactive science and math simulations designed to promote engagement, exploration, and inquiry for students from middle school through college ( These simulations are interactive, game-like environments in which students learn through exploration and experimentation. Using extensive research and student interviews, the PhET team of scientists, developers and educators design simulations to emphasize the connections between real life phenomena and the underlying science and mathematics, make the invisible visible, and utilize the visual models and representations that experts use to aid their thinking. Here we will highlight how PhET simulations can be used for teaching diverse topics in Earth Sciences, ranging from planetary orbits to river flows, or from plate tectonics to sustainable energy resource systems. We will discuss best practices for framing and designing simulation-based activities to foster student engagement and learning, as well highlight research insights from the project to help earth science educators at all levels leverage the simulations' design features to drive student inquiry.
How Changing Something as Simple as Test Frequency Led to Big Changes in My On-line Class
Adrianne Leinbach, Wake Technical Community College

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After attending a workshop several years ago at the Charlotte GSA I was motivated to make some changes in my on-line class. A question was asked during the workshop as to why so many of us give unit test after 3-4 chapters? My only response was " that is the way it was done when I was in school and that is how I had always done it". The first change was to divide the material to be covered into 15 lessons so there would be 15 lessons with a weekly test then a midterm and final. The next change was to create a series of assignments that would take the student through a similar experience each week to prepare them for the test. These changes included having them make notes on the reading using a "What you need to know" guide. The next step includes reading notes that I have prepared with questions imbedded that help them to gauge if they understood the material. The final preparation step is typically a worksheet or series of questions that requires them to apply the material from the lesson and sometimes brining in material from previous lessons. The last step is their weekly test and reflection on what they missed. Some of the beneficial aspects of testing weekly include that students are aware immediately after that weekly lesson that they had trouble understanding the material opposed to waiting 3 or 4 weeks for a unit test. Students are able to be tested on more detailed information on each topic. Students comments have included that they do better having to study each week instead of cramming for a unit exam. These changes have been successful in my completely on-line Introductory Geology course and could also be used easily in a flipped classroom.

*Discussion will follow the Digital Geology and Visualization session*