Susan Schwartz, University of California-Santa Cruz

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

Providing high quality engaging, but relatively short (<15 minutes each) video lectures allows students to view them multiple times and at their own pace. Reminding students to take notes while watching the video lectures, as they would do for an in class lecture is important. Frequent short multiple choice quizzes with very low stakes that students can take unlimited times helps them to assess their learning. Supplemental and tutorial material available online, in the same format as the class delivery, makes it much easier and therefor more likely that students will view them. Finally, activities designed to support the lecture material that work well in an online setting are crucial. I think Google Earth is a wonderful platform to design such exercises.

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

My class consists of textbook readings, online lecture videos, supplemental and tutorial videos, homework activities, quizzes and tests an online discussion forum and office hours and help sessions. Many of the homework exercises use Google Earth to help students understand the geomorphology and geology of the National Parks. Specifically, students interact with virtual field trips created in Google Earth to learn and practice the following concepts and skills: reading and interpreting topographic and geologic maps including elevation profiles and slopes, processes creating and recognizing particular geologic features including alluvial fans, cirques, exfoliation domes, joints, moraines, fault offset drainage channels, sag ponds, tarns, U shaped valleys, etc. Students use Google Earth to determine rates of geologic processes such as plate velocities from tracking hot spot chains, fault slip rates and rates of glacial retreat at Grinnel Glacier. Many of the exercises require the use of image editors to annotate maps and figures and to construct concept sketches. I include tutorial videos that teach students how to use image editors, Google Earth, how to construct a concept sketch and other required skills.

I make extensive use of the discussion forum tool, Piazza. Piazza allows students to pose questions anytime and have them answered by fellow students (validated by instructor and/or TA) and/or the instructor or TAs very quickly. Students use this discussion forum to form study groups and produce joint answer keys to practice tests and quizzes.