Seismology Skill Building Workshop for Undergraduates

Mike Brudzinski (1) and Michael Hubenthal (2)

(1) Miami University-Oxford, Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science
(2) Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, Education and Public Outreach


The COVID-19 pandemic led to the suspension of many summer research opportunities for STEM students. In response, the IRIS Education and Outreach program, in collaboration with Miami University, offered a free online Seismology Skill Building Workshop to increase undergraduates' knowledge, skills, self-efficacy, and interest in observational seismology and scientific computing.

Course URL:
Course Size:

760 advanced undergraduate students (greater than 150)

Course Format:

Free, online, certificate-granting workshop lasting 14 weeks

Institution Type:

Collaboration between IRIS (NSF-funded research facility) and Miami University (university with doctoral programs)

Course Context:

Registrations were received from 760 undergraduates representing 60 different countries, with 54% from the U.S. The U.S. participants consisted of 59% women and 29% from populations traditionally underrepresented in the geosciences. Registrants' majors spanned a wide range of academic disciplines, though most were Geology (n=246), Geophysics (n=161), and Earth Science (n=137) majors. The most common non-geoscience majors attracted included Engineering (n= 43), Physics (n=32), and Computer Science (n=25).

Course Content:

The course introduced seismological and computational concepts while also emphasizing how a seismologist might think about and approach the dataset or methodology at hand. Assignments were designed to build skills with Linux, GMT, SAC, webservices, seismic network processing, Python, ObsPy, and Jupyter notebooks. Additionally, research skills and topics likely to increase students' success were introduced including: how to read scientific literature, productive coding habits, seeking the mentoring you need, incorporating workshop learning into a resume or graduate school application, networking and developing elevator speeches.

Course Goals:

The goals for the workshop were to increase:

  • Students' knowledge, skills, and interest in seismology and scientific computing,
  • Self-efficacy in using seismic data, and
  • Competitiveness in the application process for graduate school, summer internships, or professional jobs.

Course Features:

The workshop design consisted of a tailored Linux virtual machine, regular webinars, a Slack workspace, tutorial-style active e-learning assignments, and an optional final project. Every other week for 12 weeks, a module with ~6 assignments was released to build scientific computing skills.

Course Philosophy:

The assignments were constructed using a tutorial-based, active e-learning approach (Sit and Brudzinski, 2017). These interactive assignments provided participants with step-by-step instructions and justifications for performing real-world scientific computing tasks in the virtual disk. Tasks were crafted to illustrate a variety of earthquake source and earth structure concepts and encourage students to consider scenarios similar to a practicing seismologist. Thus, participants practiced key syntax and parameter options for software used to process different types of data and metadata common in seismology. Participants' understanding of these tasks and their applications to seismological concepts were assessed using questions embedded regularly throughout each task. Questions included a mix of multiple-choice, multiple-answer, numerical, and short answer. Both the interactive assignment design and the scientific computing tasks sought to inspire critical thinking when evaluating coding outputs and when reflecting on the application of seismological concepts, with participants applying numeracy and spatial reasoning skills to assess code outputs.


Evaluation of the workshop relied on registration data, pre-/post- surveys, and performance data from the learning management system. 440 completed at least one assignment, 224 completed at least 80% of the assignments, and 191 completed all 35 assignments, significantly higher than most comparable large-scale, open-access courses. Participants invested ~6 hours per week and averaged a score of 88% on assignments. We identified >60% normalized gain in scientific computing skills. There is evidence the inclusive design of the workshop was able to attract and retain a diverse population. However, some additional investigation is needed to ensure benefits were evenly experienced. Regardless of the degree of completion, participants perceived the workshop quite positively: on average 96% described it as high to very high quality, 83% satisfied to very satisfied with their experience, and 70% very likely to recommend to peers.


Workshop_Syllabus_May31_2020.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 105kB Jan26 21)

Teaching Materials

References and Notes: