Virtual Earth Science: Research-Based Best Practices and Pedagogical Successes in Online Geoscience Courses

Wednesday 1:05 PT / 2:05 MT / 3:05 CT / 4:05 ET Online


Renee Clary, Mississippi State University
Athena Owen Nagel, Mississippi State University
John Ezell, Mississippi State University
More than a decade ago, research demonstrated that a SCALE approach to curricular development increased student satisfaction and learning gains in online science environments. Instructors optimize online courses when the curriculum incorporates Student-directed research, builds a Community of learners, utilizes Active learning strategies that move students beyond the computer, and includes Local Environments that tap into students' geographic affiliation and/or sense of place. Although learning management systems and e-communication methods have evolved, our research affirms that the SCALE approach retains its relevance in online settings. Self-directed research that includes students' investigation of city water sources, nearby Superfund sites, state geological maps, regional mass wasting events, and local fossil organisms allows students to build their geosciences content upon locally relevant examples. When students share their projects within discussion forums—including selfie images or short video vignettes—learning is extended with a variety of locations and examples. Learners reported satisfaction with their online class community and noted that these research investigations and e-classroom reports provide similar experiences to traditional, face-to-face classroom interactions. Student participation is ensured (and scored) by required review of colleagues' contributions, while instructors also enjoyed scoring unique project assignments. The SCALE method has been extended to include Community Engaged Learning, where students not only research an issue as they learn course content, but their projects also contribute to community solutions. During the pandemic, the SCALE approach provided a smoother transition for traditional courses that were forced online. We propose that the synergistic tension between an established course structure and personalized research flexibility underlies the SCALE effectiveness. Within the past 5 years and numerous unique geosciences courses (N= 15) the SCALE method established its effectiveness by engaging students and instructors, and fostering a traditional, community feel to remote education—making it a preferred curriculum structure for online courses.