Blair Larsen, Utah State University

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

In my experience, I've found two main components to an effective online learning course, and I'm delighted to share these small pieces of wisdom with the group.
One of the key components is faculty communication. Students respond to frequent, personal, and helpful communication from the instructor. This practice helps the students feel connected to the instructor, and they feel the class if more personal. This feedback can come from assignments and/or grading, and it can come from announcements and discussion.
The second key component is student engagement. This factor is also key in a face-to-face class, so it makes sense that it is important in an online course. Students respond to being involved in the class, and by extension, involved in assignments and assessments. 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.

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

While I would like to utilize more technology tools, currently my course is designed to allow students to do research and learning on their own. To aid them in their learning progress, I provide links to informative and pertinent web sites, videos, interviews and podcasts. My course does not have a textbook, but I provide resources for the students.

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

As noted above, I strongly support faculty feedback to online students, and that aids student engagement. In addition to that, though, I developed my course to encourage peer engagement (student-student). I achieve this by requiring a discussion post (based on a detailed discussion prompt) on each module in the course, and requiring each student to respond to at least 3 other student's discussion posts.
In addition, I am an advocate for grading rubrics, and I heavily utilize these in my course. I have grading rubrics for discussion posts, written assignments and a reflection assignment. Rubrics allow students to see what level of work the instructor expects, and to determine what they need to do in order to achieve the grade they want. Rubrics also provide immediate feedback to the student, and greatly speed up the grading process.
Between requiring peer interaction and the use of grading rubrics, I find that my students are actively engaged (and invested) in my course.