Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Megan Pickard, Brigham Young University-Idaho

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

In general I find that online courses work best when students have regular interaction with the instructor and other students, materials that are easy to access digitally, and rubrics are provided that clearly define outcomes and expectations. It is also important to provide early and frequent feedback opportunities both to and from the students to help maintain a connection with students. In addition, an online course that includes assignments and activities that are a mix of individual and synchronous and asynchronous group work help keep students engaged, while allowing them to teach one another and improve content understanding and retention. For our Earth science online course specifically, we found that activities that use real data when possible help students make real-world connections to the material they are learning.

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

In our physical geology online course we use GigaPan images and Google Earth as virtual field trips that incorporate typical 'field' skills such as observation, interpretation, measurements, sketches, and group discussion. Some Google Earth assignments incorporate instructor provided files of data (e.g. USGS earthquake feed file, overlays, etc.). Group work is done synchronously using Google Hangouts and asynchronously using discussion boards or blogs that group members have access to. Several assignments utilize YouTube videos, either by having students view specific instructor provided videos or by asking students to find and analyze a video that applies to a particular concept they are learning.

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

We work to maintain student engagement by incorporating activities that help connect course content with the student's world outside of the online course. For example one activity asks students to go outside and find evidence of sediment transportation, photograph it and post the photograph with a description. For discussion boards, we find that instructor involvement is critical to the effectiveness and engagement of students. When instructors participate by prompting and guiding student discussions to be meaningful, student engagement increased. Student understanding is assessed through assignments and tests throughout the course as well as a pre and post assignment and content survey.