Mark Abolins: Geol 1030 Introduction to Earth Science/Geol 1031 Introduction to Earth Science Lab at Middle Tennessee State University

(Note: Geol 1031 is a completely separate course and was not involved in the InTeGrate project at MTSU.)

About this Course

This course fulfills part of the General Studies science requirement at a 23,000-student public university (doctoral - moderate research activity). The course is largely taken by non-STEM majors.

Up to

during academic year during Fall 2015-Spring 2017 students

Either (a)

three 55 minute lecture sessions and one 2-hour lab per week
or (b)
two 85 minute lecture session and one 2-hour lab per week.

Fall 2016 Introduction to Earth Science Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 440kB Jun19 17)

Geol 1030 Introduction to Earth Science. 3 credit hours. Corequisite: GEOL 1031. The earth and its relationship to its space and environment emphasized. Forces and processes which combine to mold the face of the earth and its atmosphere, as well as the internal constitution of the earth. Three hours lecture. Together, GEOL 1030 and GEOL 1031 satisfy 4 hours of the Natural Sciences portion of the General Education requirement.
LEARNING OUTCOMES (based on Earth Science Literacy Initiative "Big Ideas"):
1. Students use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
2. Students demonstrate knowledge that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
3. Students describe the Earth as a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
4. Students describe the Earth as continuously changing.
5. Students describe the pervasive role of water in Earth processes.
6. Students describe the evolution of life on Earth and the impact of life on the Earth.
7. Students demonstrate knowledge of Earth resources.
8. Students demonstrate knowledge of natural hazards.
9. Students describe human-induced changes to the Earth.
10. Students are aware of opportunities for career development and further study in the Earth Sciences – both at MTSU and in the world at large.

My course is introductory general studies Earth Science, taught in a flipped instruction format with a large amount of active learning during the "lecture" period. Transition from "traditional lecture" to "flipped instruction" happened during 2013-2014 through involvement in the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) course redesign work group and the Tennessee Board of Regents Course Revitalization Initiative. Students use Pearson's "MasteringGeology" to complete pre-class assignments consisting of publisher, original, and InTeGrate content, and they participate in active learning during the "lecture" period. A course response system (clicker remote and app system) is used to assess in-class learning and attendance. Prior to InTeGrate implementation, active learning materials included a variety of exercises downloaded from the Carleton College Science Education Resource Center, other sources, and original materials. Within this context, the primary function of InTeGrate materials was to replace most existing active learning materials and some pre-class assignments with relatively uniform, peer-reviewed educational materials having a sustainability theme. The "lecture" section became – and remains – greater than 50% InTeGrate. (The lab section is a completely separate course and InTeGrate has not been used extensively in lab at MTSU.)

During the final semester of project implementation (Fall 2016) and the first post-implementation semester (Spring 2017), student satisfaction hit highs for my Introduction to Earth Science Fall and Spring sections during 2011-2017 as measured by teaching evaluations. In addition, the student failure rate of 7% during Fall 2016 was tied for lowest Introduction to Earth Science failure rate in the MTSU Geosciences Department. Failure rates have remained low. General studies failure rates and teaching evaluations are important at MTSU, so high achievement in these areas permits continued use of the InTeGrate materials, although a cause-and-effect relationship between high achievement and InTeGrate has not yet been established.

- "Discover your major! Through the sustainability theme, one military veteran and Fall 2016 undergraduate found his major in MTSU Geosciences. He came to MTSU to participate in the 'Environmental Sustainability and Technology' program within the MTSU Engineering Technology program, and, through the Introduction to Earth Science course, he discovered a better fit in the 'Earth Science' program within MTSU Geosciences."
- "Discover your career! The InTeGrate mineral resources module highlights local employment opportunities in zinc mining. MTSU Geosciences undergraduates have interned with Nyrstar's central Tennessee mines, and four alumni are currently geologists in those mines. One of them worked as a mine environmental compliance officer at one time."
- "Team work does it! During most class activities, I encouraged undergraduates to work in groups. There are many reasons to do this, but one is that many will be part of a team in the workplace.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials

I added multiple choice and true/false questions. As part of pre-class assignments, students read InTeGrate materials and answered the questions on-line. Also, students completed InTeGrate activities during "lecture" and then used clickers and apps to answer related questions.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

Multiple InTeGrate modules were used in this semester-long course, and they were used throughout the course.

Please see this set of tables (Acrobat (PDF) 352kB May23 18) or visit for detailed information.

Materials used during first half of course: InTeGrate Materials - First Half of Course (Acrobat (PDF) 8MB Jul5 17).

Materials used during second half of course: InTeGrate Materials - Second Half of Course (Acrobat (PDF) 12.6MB Jul5 17)


Students completed module summative assessments and the Geoscience Literacy Exam. Because many students struggled with answers to summative assessment questions, the number of summative assessment questions on exams was reduced beginning in Spring 2017. Also, prior to exams students discuss in groups or as a class answers to summative assessment questions, submit individual answers through an on-line assignment system, and receive an individual score and feedback. They can then improve their answers prior to exams.


Because of low failure rates and relatively high teaching evaluations during Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, InTeGrate Introduction to Earth Science will continue, and, for staffing reasons, has expanded to serve ~150 MTSU undergraduates during Fall 2017. Beginning in Fall 2018, MTSU's existing program in Environmental Sustainability and Technology will be a part of MTSU Geosciences, so highlighting sustainability will be consistent with recruitment into the department.

Classroom Context