Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Sara Stone, Harvard University

From your experience, what practices make for excellent online Earth Science learning?

In my experience, online Earth Science learning can be enhanced through three primary methods. Firstly, sharing the established learning objectives with students ensures that the goals that they are working towards are known and tangible; the students can then continuously compare themselves against that which they are working to achieve, helping them better gauge their self-progress. Secondly, including links to additional, multimodal resources helps to build out the background content and understanding for the student. For example, if you are teaching about biogeochemical cycles, include links to YouTube explanations, news articles to provide case examples, or blog posts to showcase colloquial understanding. Or, if you provide a potentially complex peer-reviewed article, also provide related blog posts or podcasts to ensure solid topical understanding through utilizing easily digestible content. And thirdly, cultivate student engagement through providing creative assignments that have very explicit real world application, like asking a class to draft a policy brief for the haze episodes in South East Asia. This real-world application provides a clarity to why you are asking your students to learn a particular topic. Together, these three methods serve to complement one and other and improve the quality of online learning. In addition, a fourth, and possibly more difficult option to improve online Earth Science learning is to, whenever possible, connect all students taking a course at the same time so that near-peer learning may occur and any questions they may have can be 'crowdsourced' for a response. This also allows for much greater potential for interactive assignments and group work to engage the students, which can provide the dual benefit of cross-cultural competency building in an online classroom. The challenges that exist for teaching Earth sciences online, are matched by the incredible opportunities for engaging a broader audience across geographic boundaries and increasing the interdisciplinary nature of the work.