An independent learning approach for introductory geosciences

Holm, Robert, and Huizenga, Jan (2015) An independent learning approach for introductory geosciences. In: AUGEN 4th Meeting. From: AUGEN 4th Meeting, 12-13 January 2015, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

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Introductory classes in geoscience, particularly with regard to practical classes, have traditionally been very hands-on and demonstrator intensive. There is no doubt this approach benefits the students as geology is a practical, hands-on science, especially considering for the majority of students this will be the first time they look at rocks and minerals. However, tightening budgets, growing class sizes and an emphasis on cutting costs and providing profitable subjects is putting pressure on this traditional approach.

We are trialling a new approach to introductory practical classes that puts the responsibility for learning back on the students. Where students have traditionally been provided practical exercises that introduce a specific topic step-by-step, we instead provide students with the necessary information to complete the task, in this case rock and mineral identification, and provide initial assistance to relate terminology to specific characteristics. The emphasis is then placed on the student to gain experience and develop their skills using the information provided. The practicals are assessed as a cumulative submission, or portfolio, and ultimately leads up to a practical exam on the same learning material. For instance, a rock and mineral portfolio may require the student to identify 30 minerals and 15 rocks for each major rock type. An important aspect of this method is that the students also have access to teaching collections outside of scheduled contact times. Assessment of the portfolios is Pass/Fail and does not contribute to the final grade but is a requirement for passing the subject. The students are encouraged to submit work as they progress for feedback, but without the burden of formal grades this is a much less demanding task. As an added incentive, ‘bonus marks’ are awarded for work that is complete and of a good standard.

This program has been in place now for two years and showing promising results. From an operational perspective, the teaching budget is reduced to below half of the previous program on a per student basis. Students are given rapid feedback on progress without excessive marking. There is also a marked improvement in understanding of fundamental geological concepts in students that carry onto second year studies. Rather than achieving short-term goals by simply gaining the correct answers for assessment of each topic, the new approach places more emphasis on the final submission and uses progressive learning and feedback to encourage the students to learn and understand concepts. This approach promotes independence and flexibility in their studies, but also encourages the students to engage with their peers forming group discussions to solve problems. Finally, in addition to improving achievement levels, we are also seeing an increase in students switching to a geology major with promising signs for geoscience education at JCU.

Item ID: 43847
Item Type: Conference Item (Abstract / Summary)
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Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2016 03:59
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930202 Teacher and Instructor Development @ 100%
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