Developing synchronous team-based learning via Google Earth in a fully-online "natural disasters" introductory general education Earth Science course

Friday 3:00pm Weeks Geo: 140
Oral Presentation


Gregory Baker, Colorado Mesa University
Jennifer Roberts, University of Kansas Main Campus
In the current environment of classroom transformations, difficulties remain for pedagogical advancement in online courses. In particular, moving away from the textbook/exam style into any alternatives approximating the active-learning advances that are proven in the contemporary literature is challenging. In addition to utilization of existing online techniques (short instructor-led videos, quizzes, readings, term paper), we have developed a semester-long, project-based team exercise via Google Earth to incorporate both group- and synchronous-learning. These activities take place in an introductory course with 50 students in groups of 4-5, conducted entirely online. Teams build a database ("Earthlog") that is generated from daily natural disaster events. The exercise requires that students (I) learn GIS software (Google Earth), (II) remain actively engaged in the course on a daily basis via the Earthlog, (III) generate multiple-working hypotheses based on their data; (IV) develop temporal & spatial synthesis skills during frequent reflection components based on their data, and (V) communicate synchronously with each other throughout the semester. The exercise satisfies the team-based learning approach of Larry Michaelsen such that: students are organized in permanent instructor-assigned groups with diverse skill sets & backgrounds evenly distributed among teams; individuals are accountable for out-of-class work; there is an incentive for working effectively together as a team by giving significant credit for the team activities; and, that the exercise promotes both learning and team development. Clear challenges remain vis-à-vis classroom-based active-learning environments, such as (1) identifying poor-performers rapidly and effectively developing a course-correcting path, (2) constructing groups without significant (if any) face-to-face contact with students, (3) frequently emphasizing the group project overarching objectives (repeated emails are only minimally effective), and (4) allowing for intergroup interactions. Qualitative student feedback is positive beginning in the third week (after the expected "break in" period). Additionally, assessed work demonstrates proficiency in complex learning goals.