Make Content Relevant to Students' Lives
"Why should I care?" Faculty may or may not hear this sentiment uttered out loud by students, but they can rest assured that this sentiment is commonplace in many students' minds as they take their first geoscience course. In addition to developing strong communications and sense of community , showing students why they should care can be a powerful motivator to get students engaged with learning course content as well as driving the investigation agenda for the course. Given that geoscience is deeply involved in many of the major issues they will face in their lifetimes, it is not difficult to make that argument.
Make Use of Societal Issues and Grand Challenges
The generation of students currently entering college and adulthood are very interested in sustainability, environmental justice, and other societal challenges. This provides an opportunity for faculty to show how closely geoscience is tied into issues that the students care about which can help drive engagement. One way to approach this would be to start with an important local issue that is constrained enough for students to examine from multiple angles, then pull back to explore how that issue is embedded in larger, more global issues.
Providing students with content about these important issues is the first step of developing an informed citizenry, but helping them develop the habits of mind to think broadly about evidence and data are just as important if not more so. Students take these thinking skills and apply them in their future careers, even if they do not decide to major in the geosciences. Having business leaders and policy makers who are knowledgeable about how to evaluate arguments and contentious issues from evidence will help in depoliticizing and ultimately finding solutions for them. Active learning methods such as simulations, case studies, or debates can help students gain experience with making policy decisions and balancing various perspectives.
"I actively incorporate technology in my teaching. I regularly utilize digital media (i.e. satellite imagery, LIDAR data, etc.) and Google Earth in my classes in order to give students the opportunity to experience and visualize concepts discussed in lecture. ... This technique increases student excitement and interest in the topics discussed. Furthermore, it encourages them to investigate areas of personal interest (student ownership) and gives them an opportunity to make their learning more personal, which makes it easier for them to internalize topics discussed in class."
Use Activities that Allow for the Input of Real, Local Data
The nature of working with local examples engages students since it builds on their sense of place and can help students make connections between what they learn and their everyday experiences. A particular strength of online courses is that students can do similar things in different places and have different experiences. Bringing this diversity back into course discussions can allow everyone to benefit from the whole array of experiences.PIA: Teaching with Data »
"Designing activities that start with students' natural curiosity about the environment around them and which then lead them to use critical thinking and apply what they've learning to situations that matter to them (IE, flood risks for a house they might buy) rather than simply 'googling for information' and regurgitating meaningless facts on their exams."
For example, many students live near a national park so it would be possible to develop an activity asking the class to go explore some aspect of the park but students in far flung places will find different outcomes because of the differences in the parks. Another strategy would be to ask the students to report on where their drinking water comes from. The results of such a discussion can range widely depending on where students are located. Another way of tackling local data is to look at global data sets and have students drill down to where they are. There are many sources of such data sets.
"To make for an excellent online Earth Science learning experience, I also try to make topics relevant to the daily lives of the students. I use local examples when possible to make students understand and appreciate the world around them. The hope is that this will make them value natural resources and in turn become better stewards of the Earth."
Utilize Engaged, Active Learning Strategies
The Pedagogy in Action portal provides What, Why, and How information on more than 60 pedagogic methods combined with teaching activities across many disciplines that show how to use that each pedagogy in the classroom.
"In my online class, students engage with the course by utilizing problem-based learning, peer interaction, and faculty interaction. This class also requires students to apply what they have learned, and to reflect on their learning - both of which keep students engaged in the course."