Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Daren Nelson, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

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

An excellent online experience requires the professor and the students to work together in a variety of formats and media. The students need to be more active in their learning environment instead of doing more passive experiences such as watching boring webcasts or reading a text and doing online quizzes/exams. The experience will need to merge audio/video, written, peer discussion, and interactive materials so that the students will learn through their preferred individual mode of learning and to engage with the materials/content.

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

I am currently developing virtual field trips of local geological regions in North Carolina (via google earth, gigapans, and video) to try to help students spatially interact with geological data and to connect the students to their local environments. We are also developing the virtual field trips to be used in face-to-face courses and in a hybrid version of the course; however, in these versions of the course, the activities will be coupled with hand samples collected at the site. These virtual field trips are not complete yet and will be implemented into the classroom in the Fall of 2017. However, I also I use online quizzes and homework produced through the publisher of our textbook to help students understand may of the conceptual ideas. Some of the publisher materials have similar virtual field trips and my students have enjoyed them thus far.

In addition, I create webcasts of lectures by using a screencast program, try to do a weekly virtual meeting (via AdobeConnect or WedEx), and have tried to engage the students in discussion boards.

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

The two main ways that I use to assess my students in the course is by having them do online quizzes/homework and ask them to participate in discussion boards. Most of my material that I currently use is from the publisher of our textbook. I use these assignments in my hybrid, face-to-face, and online courses. I have felt that the material does help the students learn the material and engage the student in active learning; however, I feel that the students also need engagement with their peers and so will ask them to take part in discussion boards. Usually, a student is asked to read an article on a current event/hot topic (i.e. Hydraulic Fracturing, a natural disaster such as Hurricane Matthew...) or do a small activity that can engage the student in the practical application of a topic (i.e. trash, power, or water use assessment). After the student reads or does the small assignment they are asked to write a small post regarding the material and then engage with the other students by commenting on their peer's posts. Their discussion board activity is graded by a rubric that assesses their engagement and quality of their posts.