Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In which I fail at liveblogging

I'm at an NSF-NAGT-Cutting Edge workshop on Teaching Introductory Geoscience in the 21st Century, I've got wireless internet access, and I'm proving to be an utter failure at even attempting to liveblog anything.

So, more than two days into the workshop, let me try to summarize what's going on:

- On Monday, Barb Tewksbury led a brainstorming session about what long-term effects we wanted to achieve in our introductory courses. (That is, longterm beyond convincing poor unsuspecting students to major in geology.) The list is here. And then, of course, we were challenged to think about how to transform our courses to actually do these things.

- Yesterday, we talked about ways to design courses other than as a sequence of physical geology topics. Some of the examples were based around local geology, some were aimed at particular audiences (teachers, engineers, business students... depending on the institution). Some were based on particular topics, such as sustainability or the geology and human history of a particular place. I moderated a session about using long-term projects, though I felt like a bit of an imposter in the session - my course is a survey course, but I let a project get out of control.

In the afternoon, Anne Egger led a discussion about ways to show intro students how geologists do science. (It's complicated, because actually doing science doesn't feel much like the Scientific Method that gets taught in high school science books. Chris Rowan wrote a great post about it last year, but I think there's more to it than that. Someday, I swear, I will post about the role of models in hypothesis-testing in the Earth Sciences...) And then we were challenged to think about revising our courses. I confess that I wasn't very productive; I wasn't ready to throw out my existing course, and my tinkering started with looking at the timing of GSA and contemplating moving around topics. Not the point, perhaps, but I'm trying to teach a survey course more effectively, rather than re-think the existence of survey courses.*

- Today, we focused on specific activities. We spent the morning evaluating our own activities, and spent the afternoon hearing about good ideas from other people. (It made me wish I was teaching an intro course based around tectonics; I want to use GPS data with intro students.) I won't link to specific activities right now - we're supposed to be revising them, and some people talked about ways they were working on changing the activities they submitted. (And I decided to submit a topographic maps lab that I wanted to make better. I meant to work on it tonight, but I'm blogging instead.)

Tomorrow we're discussing some of the Big Things that we keep saying we want to work on in our classes - stuff we say we want to teach, like communication, reading, and other skills, and stuff we want to change, like student attitudes and misconceptions. (There's also discussion of assessment - how we know whether we've succeeded or not.)

And then we get our after-workshop homework.

It's exhausting. When I'm past "this is Wednesday so we must be re-writing our assignments," I'll try to synthesize it a bit more. In the meantime, presentations are being uploaded as the conference goes on - Tuesday's presentations are already online. (Not podcasts; just Powerpoints. We're still very Web 1.0.)

*It's funny that I'm playing a traditionalist. I never took a traditional Physical Geology course - I got sucked in by a topical course more than 20 years ago.


saxifraga said...

Sounds like a great workshop. I'm going to check out the presentations. I'm curious how you would use GPS data in a tectonics course? I'm probably completely ignorant because I haven't much experience with tectonics, but I'm going to have to teach some basic tectonics for my undergraduate course this fall. I think computer-based activities/exercises is what is missing the most from most geology courses I have been involved with, also from my own.

Kim said...

High-precision GPS data is one of the main tools for geodesy these days. You can see the plates moving - and you can see the ways in which plates aren't entirely rigid bodies, and how wide various plate boundaries are. Laurel Goodell (who coordinates intro courses at Princeton) had a neat exercise in which she had students analyze the deformation across different plate boundaries, and see how the rates were different from those predicted by rigid plate models.