Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Mary-Helen Armour, York University

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

I think for online courses, I have to be aware of the circumstances that result in students taking courses online as opposed to normal classroom lectures. This requires a different approach to communication with the students. I try to structure the courses so that students are required to cover the material at a certain pace, and need to complete the material in an order that would reflect the order that a classroom might also follow. I try to present material in a variety of different formats (podcasts, online notes, etc.) to allow students to access material in a format that is most effective for them to learn from.
As the courses I teach are aimed at non-science majors taking their breadth requirement in science I try to have the access outside news and science sources like USGS and NOAA to allow them to learn where to find accurate science information even after they have left the course.

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

I use our institutions LMS (MOODLE) along with lecture capture (Camtasia) to present material. I have also be using various textbooks resources (Smartworks 5 from Norton.) I have not yet used Google earth much, but I plan to incorporate more of that in the future.

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

I use MOODLE for this course, and all material flows through that. I have not had much success trying to encourage online discussion, though I use forums in MOODLE to answer questions from students. I use a variety of the assessment tools in the MOODLE as well as the smartworks 5 from Norton. I tend to have a certain percentage of the mark for small weekly assignments to encourage students to work at the material on a regular basis, and they need to complete these before they move on to the next material. I will have 2-4 longer assignments that are a mix of application of concepts and research and writing about topics that are relate course material to current events.

For reasons of academic honesty, our departments normal practice with all online courses is to have invigilated on campus midterms and/or final exams which constitute generally 50% of the grade. (students at out of town locations can arrange to write at a recognized invigilation center if they are more than 3 hours from the university).