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.

Upcoming publication

We are excited to have the following paper accepted for publication in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education: “Impact Assessment of a Department-wide Science Education Initiative using Students’ Perceptions of Teaching and Learning Experiences“. The Student Learning Experiences Survey or SLES is an an instrument developed for this work and can be found at

Here is the paper’s abstract:

Evaluating major post-secondary education improvement projects involves multiple perspectives, including students’ perceptions of their experiences. In the final year of a seven-year department-wide science education initiative, we asked students in 48 courses to rate the extent to which each of 39 teaching or learning strategies helped them learn in the course. Results were related to the type of improvement model used to enhance courses, class size and course year level. Overall, students perceived unimproved courses as least helpful. Small courses that were improved with support from science education specialists were perceived overall as more helpful than similar courses improved by expert teaching-focused faculty without support, while the opposite was found for medium courses. Overall perceptions about large courses were similar to perceptions of medium courses. Perceived helpfulness of individual strategies was more nuanced and context dependent, and there was no consistent preference for either traditional or newer evidence-based instructional practices. Feedback and homework strategies were most helpful in smaller courses and independently improved courses. Results indicate that students are perceptive to benefits that arise when improvements are made either by expert educators or by research-focused faculty who received dedicated support from science education specialists.

Virtual resources: adapting f2f active learning for distance education

Virtual resources and interactive online lab exercises

This link points to a page describing some of the resources we have developed, along with numerous links to examples, demonstrations, and tools used.

Dissemination of results will continue in the form of:

  • A poster presented at the UBC Faculty of Science Education Open House (April 11, 2016) and the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund Showcase, May 5th, 2016.
  • Documentation and materials in “Instructor and TA Guidelines” folders of each course’s Connect (i.e. Blackboard 9.x) website.
  • A future publication, tentatively titled “Adapting face to face learning activities for equally engaging and effective student experiences in distance education settings“.
  • Demonstrations and discussions with colleagues across UBC in all faculties.

Looking forward, results from this project are now contributing to developments in both f2f and DE settings with our new TLEF project “Development of cost effective strategies for teaching, learning and assessing scientific reasoning abilities in large face-to-face and distance education general science courses“.

Transitioning from one 2-yr project to the next.

April 2016 marks the end of funding for our two-year UBC Flexible Learning project aimed at cross-fertilizing the best from f2f and distance learning versions of courses. The project is described briefly both here and here. The courses most impacted were eosc326, eosc116, and eosc118.

Starting May 2016 our focus on f2f and DE learning will shift towards our new TLEF project “Development of cost effective strategies for teaching, learning and assessing scientific reasoning abilities in large face-to-face and distance education general science courses“.

EOAS Science Education Initiative blog re-boot

Starting March 2016 we hope to re-invigorate more frequent postings of education enhancement activities and progress by delivering short blog posts about our work in Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences as well as some of the “EOAS-SEI Times” 2-page guidelines or progress reports that were being delivered to our faculty for a number of years.

announcement: Education enhancement activities here in EOAS and across the Faculty of Science will be highlighted at the FoS Science Education Openhouse, April 11th, starting at 9:00 in the Earth Sciences Building attrium. Join us for short talks, posters from across the faculty, and interaction with friends and colleagues who are developing and/or researching education in UBC’s faculty of science.

Now, here is a list of current education improvement activities in Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Future blog posts and Times articles will focus on specifics from these projects. Click the “readmore” tag here to see details.

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Goldschmidt 2014 – How Learning Works: Useful Techniques for Future Teachers

On June 9th Brett Gilley, with help from James Scoates, Diane Hanano, Anaïs Fourny, Elliott Skierszkan, Carol Cheyne, and Gregor Lucic, delivered a workshop titled “How Learning Works: Useful Techniques for Future Teachers.” In this interactive workshop about 80 participants got a grounding in research based teaching techniques

Slides and handouts from the presentation are below:
Techniques for Future Teachers Sacramento
Handouts for How People learn Jigsaw

At the session there were several excellent questions and not enough time to explore them properly. One in particular I’d like to revisit. How do develop these teaching skills at my campus? The answer is not to hire consultants. There are people at your institutions who have this expertise. You need to find them. A good place to start is your teaching and learning centre. There are also like minded people at every conference you visit. Finally there is lots of good information online. I’ve collected a few good sites below to help you start your search:  – The main page for our project in Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Science at UBC  – The main page for the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative – lots of useful resources. – A collection of two page newsletters on a variety of teaching topics. – Our new video page (includes some information on how to set up two stage exams)
Two Stage Exams – A collection of two stage exam resources