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 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Apr 28, 2015

Summary

This module, intended to take two weeks in an introductory-level class, is divided into three units that focus on geologic hazards and associated risks at representative plate boundary settings: transform, divergent and convergent. Students are assumed to be familiar with the basics of plate tectonics, including the general characteristics of plate boundaries.

Although designed to be used in the sequence transform → divergent → convergent, each plate boundary unit is adaptable for use on its own. Each plate boundary unit is designed to be equivalent to two one-hour class sessions and includes: a) accounts of historically important earthquakes and/or volcanic eruptions that have occurred in that setting, b) exploration and interpretation of scientific data related to the geologic processes responsible for the geologic hazard(s), c) analysis of the effects on and risks to human populations, and d) development of strategies to mitigate risks. At the end of each unit, student learning is assessed by their application of unit content to a new location in a similar plate boundary setting.

Strengths of the Module

Geological monitoring can greatly improve our planning for and response to catastrophic events such as earthquakes and volcanoes. In this module, students use real earthquake and volcano monitoring data to draw conclusions about risks to plate boundary communities, and to communicate and plan for those risks. In doing so, students integrate scientific data with societal scenarios, making use of authentic data, funded by government agencies to mitigate issues faced by communities.

This module engages students in simulation and role-playing. Students do not need to live near plate boundaries to develop first-hand experience with seismic and volcanic risks. By personalizing their role in response to simulations of active geologic processes, students gain experience interpreting evolving data sets, which in some cases are incomplete or otherwise realistically inadequate, but are forced to make interpretations due to time constraints.

Each unit of this module includes scaffolded activities that introduce the collection and interpretation of hazards data. Students use data to formulate risk assessments and community vulnerabilities. In doing so, students personally experience that geoscience is a complex, interdisciplinary effort with real-world implications for the availability of complex data sets that are interpreted accurately, but that are modified through time as geologic events evolve.

The concepts of risk and vulnerability analysis introduced in this module are useful ideas in systems thinking, and are important in particular in understanding coupled natural-human systems (see e.g. Turner et al. 2003). While this module itself does not explicitly address Earth systems, the module's focus on these systems-related analyses makes it well suited to fit in a course that takes a systems approach to Earth or environmental science.

A great fit for courses in:

  • Physical Geology
  • Environmental Geology
  • Geohazards
  • Environmental Science
  • Physical Geography

This module is designed for use in lower-division undergraduate geoscience or environmental science courses, such as introductory physical geology, environmental geology, or geohazards, The material is also suitable for undergraduate general education courses with a geoscience or environmental focus. The material in the modules requires some basic knowledge of the types of tectonic plate boundaries (Using Google Earth to Explore Plate Tectonics and Discovering Plate Boundaries could be used).

The six units are designed to correspond to 50-minute class sessions, and have been tested on class sizes ranging from ten to a few hundred. Most of the units require students to complete an assignment before class (pre-work), and some have suggestions for post-class assignments. Suggestions are provided in the module to adapt the modules to other class formats.

This module contains some activities designed with Google Earth in mind, although Google Earth is not necessary to use the activities in the module. Some pre-work requires students to use a computer to access websites and view videos.

Supported Earth Science Literacy Principles:

  • Big Idea 1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
  • Big Idea 4. Earth is continuously changing.
  • Big Idea 8. Natural hazards pose risks to humans.

Addressed grand challenges in Earth and environmental science:

  • Recognizing the signal within the natural variability
  • Quantifying consequences, impacts, and effects
  • Effectively communicating uncertainty and relative risk

Addressed grand challenges in Earth system science for global sustainability:

  • Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions and their consequences for people.
  • Determine how to anticipate, avoid, and manage disruptive global environmental change.
  • Determine institutional, economic, and behavioral changes to enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
  • Encourage innovation (and mechanisms for evaluation) in technological, policy, and social responses to achieve global sustainability.


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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »