Recent updates – July, 2017

Several updates to note covering progress over the last few months:

  • Pointers in menus and posts were recently added to identify current research and development in EOAS’s Science Education Initiative group. See in particular the new “Initiatives” menu.
  • There is also a new “Times” 2-pager on Grading Exams. See the EOAS-SEI Times menu.
  • If you have questions or thoughts about this blog or EOAS science education projects let us know. An email to will get sent to who ever is most qualified to address it.
  • One more education initiative not yet reported upon in this blog is the UCA-UBC Curriculum Development partnership. This is an exciting new project to develop a complete, new, 22 course B.Sc. degree program in Earth and Environmental Sciences, for the University of Central Asia. The work is being coordinated out of EOAS in collaboration with Dep’t Geography. Details with links to descriptions, objectives and collaborators are provided in a separate blog at

New publication on CWSEI impact assessment

The second of two CWSEI Impact assessment papers has now been published. This pair of articles summarizes results of using several instruments to independently assess the impact of CWSEI-funded improvements on 54 courses in our Department (Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences). The two papers are cited here:

  • Part 1 is Jones, F. “Impact Assessment of a Department-Wide Science Education Initiative Using Students’ Perceptions of Teaching and Learning Experiences.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 42, no. 5 (July 4, 2017): 772–87. doi:10.1080/02602938.2016.1188057.
  • Part 2 is Jones, F. “Comparing student, instructor, classroom and institutional data to evaluate a seven-year department-wide science education initiative“, also published in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, and available online at . The PDF there is fine but they screwed up Table 4 in the HTML version. It will end up on paper in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Ed. like Part 1, probably in late spring 2018.

Scientific Reasoning in very large 1st year F2F & DE courses

Development of cost effective strategies for teaching, learning and assessing scientific reasoning abilities in large face-to-face and distance education general science courses

This project, designed to run from May 2016 through Dec 2018, aims to improve students’ abilities to apply scientific knowledge, data and reasoning to personal and societal decisions, a primary educational goal for a scientifically literate society.

In EOSC114,The Catastrophic Earth – taught annually to over 2000 face to face (f2f) and distance education (DE) students – we will re-configure existing content within a natural hazards risk- assessment framework and build corresponding learning activities and assessments for both the f2f and DE settings.

Learning activities will explicitly address student motivation and will include practice with scientific thinking, opportunities for student choice, and a real or virtual field experience.

Students will work creatively and collaboratively towards making contributions every term to a permanent collection of course resources. Assessments of thinking skills, attitudes and knowledge will be developed to support learning and evaluate students’ learning gains.

We will also characterize the efficiency, sustainability and transferability of these teaching, learning and assessment strategies. The first interm report (following 6mths of this 36 mth project) can be seen here.

Clickers 2.0 ! Upping your game with peer instruction

We’ve been using clickers in EOAS classes for over 10 years and it’s time to take it to the next level! There’s a new 2-pg EOAS-SEI “Times” edition in faculty/ teacher mail boxes. Or click here for a PDF copy:  EOS-SEITimes_10.01Clickers_2.

We in EOAS have gained plenty of experience in many settings. There is also a growing scholarly literature reporting on ways that peer instruction and clickers in class can positively benefit student success. It’s easy, but needs to be done right. For tips and strategies, check out this hand-out for simple and efficient ways to make teaching with Clickers more fun, more revealing of student thinking, and more effective at supporting learning. You’ll especially appreciate gaining better insight into how students think.

How Learning Works: Some fundamentals that can improve all communication, learning, research and teaching practices.

fill brain??

A one-hour interactive seminar / workshop was prepared for graduate students and post-docs & research associates. Our goal; virtually any professional or academic communication involves someone learning something from someone else; maybe even everyone learning something! What fundamentals about how people learn are well established? And – how can we leverage those basic concepts to improve research, teaching, professional communication and even our own on-going professional development?  In this hour, we discussed some fundamental concepts, including:

  • Distinguishing novices vs. experts;
  • Influence of prior knowledge (or lack of it) on learning;
  • Motivation: can learning happen without it?
  • Practice and Feedback; a crucial, iterative cycle, but how best to do it?

Two files with supporting material are attached to this post:

  1. The slides used to drive our discussion, and
  2. Two page handout with space for jotting down notes at 4 points within the hour, plus a preliminary reference list.

To follow up or ask questions, please contact Francis Jones.

Paired Teaching for transfer of evidence-based pedagogy: How does it work, and what have we learned in EOAS so far?

Two page PDF of Vol 9, issue 1 of EOAS-SEI Times: EOSSEITimes_9.01-pairedteaching-th.

What is the Paired Teaching Project in EOAS?
Since 2007, multiple courses in EOAS have been “transformed” through CWSEI to incorporate best practices in teaching. Now, in 2016, with support from John and Deb Harris, the Faculty of Science, and the Department (EOAS), we are investigating the potential of a paired teaching model to achieve transfer of these practices to instructors who have not been a part of a course transformation team. We started this project in Fall 2014.

This complete two-page EOAS-Times can be seen with figures and glorious colour by opening or downloading this PDF file here: EOSSEITimes_9.01-pairedteaching-th.

First year & non-science students interpreting geology maps?

vg-logoVisible Geology ( is an interactive tool for building, modifying and exploring 3D geological structures. Features include adding, removing and adjusting Geologic Beds, Geologic Folds, Faults, Domes & Basins, Dikes, Topography, Cross-Sections, Boreholes, and Strike Decals.

Here in EOAS the tool has been used in several courses. Students in the general science course EOSC110, The Solid Earth: A Dynamic Planet use it as a homework exercise to build skills necessary for an awesome follow-up exercise run using worksheets and small groups in the classroom. It involves interpreting the large-scale geological map of the state of Wyoming in terms of geological structures and tectonics of the region.

Getting first year and non-science students to productively interpret ordinary maps is difficult, let alone geological maps! The Visible Geology homework exercise is the second in a three-part activity sequence. It involves self-directed completion of a worksheet followed by an online quiz to test the new geological map interpretation skills. The quiz includes 7 quantitative and qualitative feedback questions.

The success that students demonstrate at 3D thinking and geology map interpretation in the capstone activity is a testament to the benefits of practicing these expert-like skills using Visible Geology. It also reflects the pedagogic expertise of those who developed this 3-part sequence: Brett Gilley and Lucy Porritt.

Further details including analyzed results and feedback from the first use of the VG exercise can be obtained from the F. Jones.

Cognitive difficulty of geoscience tasks or tests

The “Bloom’s Dichotomous Key” or BDK was developed as part of the EOAS Flexible Learning project in Fall 2014 as a means of judging whether a task or test question causes students to engage in higher or lower order cognitive skills. It isn’t about “difficulty” because there can be difficult lower order (eg memory-based) tasks and easy synthesis or creative tasks.

This effort was based on work done by Casagrand and Semsar in the Dep’t of Integrative Physiology at U. of Colorado, Boulder, but we adapted it for use in geoscience, and based on repeated application by the TLF (Francis Jones) and a teaching assistant (Rhy McMillan).

This link provides a one-page flow chart for applying the key. It is “dichotomous” because Blooms level is arrived at by repeatedly considering yes/no questions about what students are being caused to do. The other two pages provide notes and guidelines plus a simplified flowchart figure. The tool is not officially published, but results have been employed as data for several presentations and workshops, both peer reviewed and not.

See the three-page PDF here: bdk-geoscience.