November 2010 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 58, Number 5

Editorial: Technology and the Future of JGE
Julie C. Libarkin, Michigan State University
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The Campus Mine: An Adaptable Instruction Approach Using Simulated Underground Geology in a Campus Building to Improve Geospatial Reasoning before Fieldwork
Robert G. Benson, Adams State College
Geospatial skills are critical to effective geologic mapping, and many geoscience students experience challenges in developing good geologic interpretation and projection skills. A physical (non-virtual) underground mine mapping simulation in a building on the Adams State College campus in Alamosa, Colorado, provides an excellent cost-effective and efficient learning tool to prepare students for actual field mapping, while improving spatial thinking using a physical hands-on setting. In this simulation students act as mine geologists, completing simulated mine mapping work tasks. Mapping and interpretive skills are enhanced in an adaptable, flexible, and easily implemented simulation that is software independent. The mine simulation is well received by students as an effective training and learning tool.
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Linking Physical Geography Education and Research Through the Development of an Environmental Sensing Network and Project-Based Learning
Dar Roberts, University of California at Santa Barbara
Eliza Bradley, University of California at Santa Barbara
Keely Roth, University of California at Santa Barbara
Ted Eckmann, Bowling Green State University
Christopher Still, University of California at Santa Barbara
Geographic education is more effective when students actively participate by developing hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and discussing results. We describe an innovative pedagogical approach, in which students learn physical geography concepts by analyzing environmental data collected in contrasting environments in Santa Barbara County, CA. The major components of this approach include a local network of micrometeorology stations (the Innovative Datasets for Environmental Analysis by Students (IDEAS network)), student field trips, a web portal ( and analysis tools which support student education and research. Examples of student work, graded rubrics, course evaluation scores, and instructor observations demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach. The most serious limitation is the high cost of equipment given the low number of students initially involved, a weakness that can be addressed through expanded use of this facility by other physical geography classes and institutions, facilitated by the IDEAS website, and increased enrollment in existing classes.
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Perceptions of the Nature of Science by Geoscience Students Experiencing Two Different Courses of Study
Louis S. Nadelson and Karen Viskupic, Boise State University
Student knowledge of the Nature of Science (NOS) is critical to their understanding of science. NOS encapsulates the tenets of how science is regarded and the heuristics by which science is judged to be valid and appropriate. The importance of NOS to science education has lead to curricular and policy development that mandate the construct be taught throughout the K-12 science curriculum. If this curriculum is effective there is an expectation that students would enter post-secondary with foundational knowledge of NOS. Our research examined the perspectives of NOS among two different cohorts of undergraduate geoscience students, one of lower division students beginning their study of geoscience and a second of upper division students nearing the completion of their degree. We assessed their intellectual and emotional perceptions of NOS at the beginning of the semester. At the end of the semester we again assessed their perceptions of NOS and their conceptual understanding of geoscience. Our results indicate there was not a significant difference between the two cohorts and there was a significant drop in the emotional perceptions of NOS over the semester (p < .05). Conceptual understanding of geoscience was found to be significantly correlated with emotional perceptions of NOS. The results, implications, and directions for future research are discussed.
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Peer Instruction and Lecture Tutorials Equally Improve Student Learning in Introductory Geology Classes
Germán Mora, Goucher College
Although active learning methodologies have been implemented in geoscience classes successfully, no direct comparison between these different instructional techniques exists to date. For that reason, the purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness in student learning of two active learning methods: peer instruction and lecture tutorials. In particular, this study focuses on a first implementation of these active learning teaching methods in small- to medium-size introductory physical geology classes. Evaluation of their effectiveness was measured through the Geoscience Concept Inventory, which was administered at the beginning (pre-test) and at the end (post-test) of each course. In addition, students were asked to evaluate the contribution of these techniques to their own learning using a Likert like survey. A comparison of pre- and post-test results indicates that both methods provided statistically significant cognitive knowledge and understanding gains. A comparison of the post-test results for both methods reveals no statistical distinction, indicating a similar level of effectiveness for both peer instruction and lecture tutorials. Similarly, the vast majority of students indicated that these teaching techniques were instrumental in helping them learn different geologic concepts. The combined results of this study are consistent with others studies showing an improvement in cognitive knowledge and understanding gains whenever active learning instructional techniques are first implemented in science classes. A detailed analysis of the obtained data revealed that most of the gains were made by students having little prior knowledge of geology relative to those having some prior knowledge of geologic concepts. Given the relatively easy use of these techniques, their proven effectiveness, and the recognition by students of their effectiveness, it is then recommended that a wider implementation of these techniques should be used in introductory geology classes.
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Climate Change in the Classroom: Patterns, Motivations, and Barriers, to Instruction Among Colorado Science Teachers
Sarah B. Wise, University of Colorado at Boulder
A large online survey of Colorado public school science teachers (n=628) on the topic of climate change instruction was conducted in 2007. A majority of Earth science teachers were found to include climate and climate change in their courses. However, the majority of teachers of other science subjects only informally discuss climate change, if at all. Teachers are motivated to include this topic in the curriculum when they perceive it is represented in their standards and when they receive direct encouragement from members of their school and wider communities. At the time of this study, only a small minority of teachers had experienced pressure to avoid teaching climate change. Certain misconceptions about climate change are widespread among teachers, as is the belief that "both sides" of the public controversy over human causes of climate change should be presented to students. The patterns of instruction, knowledge gaps, and a lack of learning experiences for teachers documented here suggest that all science teachers would benefit from professional development focused on climate science, best practices in climate instruction, and climate communication.
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A Comparison of the Performance of Online versus Traditional On-campus Earth Science Students on Identical Exams
Matthew J. Werhner, Hillsborough Community College
In this paper I compare the performance of online versus traditional on-campus students on identical exams in an earth science class. The number of college level distance learning classes offered online continues to increase as they offer greater scheduling flexibility to students, they appeal to students who like to work independently, and allow colleges to increase enrollment without building new classrooms. Hillsborough Community College (HCC) is a two year urban community college in Tampa, Florida. An online earth science class was first offered in Fall 2005. Most students enrolled in Earth Science are non-science majors fulfilling a science requirement for graduation and both online and on-campus classes average about 30 students. As this is a traditional earth science course it covers topics in geology, oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy. This material is divided into four units with an exam at the end of each unit. The exams are short answer, predominantly multiple choice with diagram identification and contain about eighty to ninety questions. All classes used the same study guide and textbook and all of the classes in this study were given exactly the same exams. This process was repeated over four semesters from Fall term 2005 to Spring term 2007. Statistical analysis comparing exam grades indicates that there was no significant difference in student performance on exams between the online and on-campus students.
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