Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Kathleen Harper, University of Montana-Missoula, The

How do you utilize technological tools (Google Earth, topical databases, blogging, etc.) in your online courses?

I have students do both online quiz type homework and topical Google Earth exercises during the course. I also have them do some exploration about active geoscience topics – like recent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

How do you manage student engagement and assessment in your online courses?

Participation in weekly asynchronous discussions is a really important element to keep students engaged, both with the instructor and with each other. For me as in instructor, the online discussions have given me great insight into the students' learning process. I teach the same course in the classroom and online, and while some students do speak up in the classroom to comment, respond to questions, and ask their own questions, many will never say anything. This is in contrast to the online class, wherein participation in discussion is a requirement, which allows me to hear from everyone, even those who would be lacking in confidence to speak up in the classroom. I have had a couple of students express resistance to the idea of posting to the discussion, because of their fear of receiving negative feedback from other students. These students have, in my experience, warmed up to the idea after making a few posts, and realize that their classmates might respond to their posts, but are almost always supportive or at least diplomatic in posting an opposing viewpoint or perhaps responding to a misconception (although the second is most often done by me).
Discussions also provide opportunities for students to share aspects of their past knowledge, experience of the world, or independent web research with me as well as with their classmates. This adds an element of richness to the online course that doesn't always emerge in the classroom.
In my course, the total assessment consists of both online activities, such as online homework on each chapter topic and some google earth activities, required participation in online discussions, and quizzes on assigned videos and web explorations. In addition to these activities, there are two essay-format midterms, and a final exam over the whole course which is multiple-choice format. Discussion participation involves making two posts – one initial post halfway through the week, and a second post (which could be a response to someone else) by the end of the week. Posts are also evaluated based on a rubric that includes criteria such as contribution to the overall discussion and the knowledge and understanding expressed by the post.