Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Anthony Santorelli, Anne Arundel Community College

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

  • A high level of engagement among students as well as between students and the instructor
  • A constant presence by the instructor through coursework and providing feedback/grades/announcements on a regular basis
  • Clear, frequent, prompt communication between the instructor and students that is established as formal from the first day of class
  • Clear learning objectives for each topic as well as general competencies for the course
  • A variety of teaching methods and forms of assessment to optimize student learning and keep students engaged
  • A clear set-up of the course with regular deadlines all established before a course for students' convenience
  • Ease of access to course materials for all types of learners and needed accommodations, including modular learning and clear instructions for how students can get acquainted with both the course, and, for first-time online learners, the learning management systems being used
  • Connections with other campus resources remotely (i.e. Virtual Writing Center, distance librarian)
  • Clear set of expectations given through the course syllabus

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

In terms of student engagement for our online General Oceanography lecture course, we have weekly discussions pertaining to specific topics. We have a list of questions to be addressed initially by the students, and then we require students to respond to each other's post by supplementing or correcting information using credible websites, videos and figures. We also facilitate the discussion by providing follow-up questions that allow students to have a deeper understanding of the material. There is also a discussion at the beginning of the semester in which students introduce themselves to our embedded librarian. This allows the students and the librarian to establish a relationship in which the librarian can help students with library resources, research and citation, especially with writing assignments. In addition, we also have a dynamic front page of our course website that we update every week based upon the topic being covered. We include relevant photos, figures, links and videos to capture the students' interest. We also have important announcements about course deadlines, grades and so on.
The discussion element is the same for our online Fundamentals of Weather course, but we do not use the online resources provided by our textbook. We do have additional discussions that allow students to ask each other questions about the course as well as to ask our embedded online librarian questions. We have a set of laboratory exercises that we use that align with the topics covered each week in class; this involves use of real-time weather data from AMS DataStreme as well as other resources. It is critical for students to have experience with surface analyses, meteograms, radar/satellite images and upper-level diagrams (Stuve) to tie real-time conditions to concepts that are being learned. Our course front-page is set with updated announcements, but it consists of real-time maps and images embedded into the page. This includes a surface analysis, radar and satellite images and upper level maps. This year, we have experimented with how to use this page to have our students participate in a weather discussion of the current state of the atmosphere in our local vicinity via discussion board along with some simple forecasting of the next day's weather. We may have more to report on this once the semester ends!
In terms of student assessment, we have a variety of methods. We use the discussions that I mentioned above as low-stakes formative assessment. We give a small amount of points based upon participation and effort along with proper content and citation in APA format. More substantial homework is given in the form of multiple choice and short answer questions in Mastering Oceanography for that course. The additional HW in the Weather course is from the lab exercises. In both Oceanography and the Weather courses, we have several writing assignments that are graded on content as well as proper writing and citation of sources. Exams in the Oceanography course are given through Mastering Oceanography with format similar to that of the homework (multiple-choice and short answers), while, for the Weather Course, it is mainly essay-style questions with some data and image interpretation. We also provide some extra credit opportunities, including reflection papers on videos, online resources and optional field trips.