Initial Publication Date: December 14, 2015

Data-rich Geoscience Curriculum Developer's Manual

Through our experience with developing GETSI Teaching Materials, we have compiled this manual to help future curriculum developers in designing data-rich learning materials. Overall the GETSI Project followed the materials development process and structure established by the InTeGrate Project, but adapted to the particular needs and focus of GETSI (GETSI Development Timeline). In this Manual we highlight aspects of the development process that are: particularly valuable to data-rich learning materials, essential design steps, and elements that posed particular challenges.

Key element - broad expertise

A key element to the GETSI project design is combining three dimensions of expertise fully into the development process:

  • Instructional
  • Pedagogy and assessment
  • Technical and data processing

Increasingly, faculty members embarking on curriculum development recognize that pedagogical knowledge is a key component; however, far fewer projects seem to recognize the critical value of fully integrated content and data expertise into the development team. This seems to be particularly important for processing-intensive geodetic methods. Two GETSI authors, who also authored for the InTeGrate Project, related that the GETSI emphasis on including technical expertise into the development team ultimately allowed for higher level data analysis by the students and more confidence in teaching subjects originally outside of an instructor's primary knowledge.

The instructional expertise came from the module co-authors, who brought to the table extensive knowledge of undergraduate teaching. Pedagogical expertise came from Assessment Consultants from the InTeGrate Project and the GETSI Facilitator at UNAVCO ECE (Education and Community Engagement), who participated in Material Development Workshops and gave feedback to authors at regular intervals during the development process. Technical expertise came through three routes:

  1. Having one of the co-authors be a content expert was particularly ideal. When this was not possible...
  2. Committed content experts participated in a subset of the Materials Development Workshop and worked closely with authors to ensure that technical aspects were handled accurately. The technical experts remained in active communication with authors as questions arose.
  3. Graduate student interns did considerable legwork on data processing and presentation, even when one of the authors was a content expert. The intern was able to spend much more time on data preparation than the authors would have been able to do alone.

Essential design steps

  1. Set clear goals for the project and for each curricular item
    This principle of backwards design (ex. Wiggins, 2005) has been well-established as a best practice in educational materials development and it was a crucial design element for GETSI too. Each module had to pass the GETSI Materials Development Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB Dec7 17) (modified from the InTeGrate Materials Development Rubric. Different projects would certainly have at least partly different guiding principles, but the practice of placing science learning into a societal context has been shown to be highly effective for student engagement and learning (ex. NRC, 1999; PKAL, 2006), although it is not used as often in science classes as it could be.
    The overarching "Guiding Principles" that GETSI laid out as essential were:
    • Address one or more geodesy-related grand challenges facing society (ex. climate change, managing water resources, and mitigating hazards)
    • Make use of authentic and credible geodesy data to learn central concepts in the context of geoscience methods of inquiry
    • Improve student understanding of the nature and methods of geoscience and developing geoscientific habits of mind
    • Develop student ability to address interdisciplinary problems and apply geoscience learning to social issues
    • Increase student capacity to apply quantitative skills to geoscience learning
  2. Articulate a clear timeline and deliverables
    The GETSI Project used a very similar Timeline as the InTeGrate Project, which set out clear expectations and processes. Author information documents also helped clearly articulate the process.
  3. Establish module formats and styles
    Reduce the amount of time needed for revision and communication by clearly laying out how materials should be structured (example of module structure) and what style conventions should be followed (GETSI uses the same style sheets as the InTeGrate Project).

Challenges and solutions

Despite best-laid plans, any project will run into challenges. Here are a few that GETSI worked to overcome:

  1. Insufficient data processing support
    Summer student interns provided invaluable help on processing data and formatting materials for use in the teaching materials, however, the short duration of the summer internship and author travel schedules, made it difficult to iterate effectively.
    SOLUTION --> Include funding for a graduate student during the academic year to better support authors over the duration of the materials development. Very clearly articulated goals and expectations also helped target the student work to be effective and on target.
  2. Copyright management
    One of the astoundingly time-consuming final steps before publication is ensuring that all images are legally available for reuse and that there are no Copyright violations.
    SOLUTION --> It helps to give authors set of tips on where to find images that are open domain or Creative Commons licensed. Reserving some staff time for helping with identifying usable images or redrafting certain figures, also frees up time for authors to work on what they do best -- developing teaching materials.
  3. Team function
    Some authorship teams seem to work very effectively, whereas others struggle.
    SOLUTION --> No single solution works in all cases, but several avenues seem fairly helpful.
    • Require the teams to set up communication plan and establish meeting/call times. Weekly calls work well for many teams - at least during major completion pushes.
    • Try to pair people with similar workstyles (ex. incremental worker vs. episodic completion master). If that is not possible with the myriad of other factors to balance, at least facilitate a discussion of workstyle and encourage the team to develop a management system if two people with different styles are working together.
    • Encourage authors to acknowledge and embrace differences in expertise. Consider the differences to be strengths and have authors delegate tasks based on their strengths and specialties (ex. one author may do more with data management whereas another might do more of the assignment writing).
  4. Design for the needs of future instructors
    It can be very difficult to make comprehensive enough Teaching Notes for future materials adopters to really use the materials with ease.
    SOLUTION --> GETSI used the model of having a non-author pilot test the beta-version of the materials. This helped identify weaknesses and oversights. As much review of materials by non-authors as possible also helps.


National Research Council [NRC], 1999, Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Project Kaleidoscope [PKAL], 2006, Transforming American's Scientific and Technological Infrastructure Recommendations for Urgent Action: Report on Reports II, Project Kaleidoscope, Washington, D.C. [online] Available from:

Wiggins, G., 2005, Understanding by design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA .