Teaching Geology in the Time of COVID-19: How to Transition to Online Learning

Published
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

As geoscientists, we have a deep appreciation of the rocks themselves, whether they are in the field or in the lab. We also know that the one constant in geological history is change, and those changes can be both gradual and almost instantaneous (think Chicxulub). Now, COVID-19 is challenging educators to force face-to-face learning environments, including classrooms, laboratories, and field courses to move online. As educators, it is important to make this transition as smooth as possible and maintain a high-quality educational experience.

Here is a quick summary of best practices and lessons learned when it comes to transitioning from face-to-face to online learning.

1. Multiple Means of Communication. Your students should be able to contact you through your email, the LMS’s messaging system, the discussion forum, and through phone / text message. You may also include Skype. Let your students know that you will respond between 24 – 48 hours.

2. Offer Synchronous Sessions. Students who prefer on-campus courses like synchronous interaction. Try setting up at least one synchronous session per week. One of the easiest web conferencing apps is Zoom, but you can also use Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and Big Blue Button. BigBlueButton.com is built into Canvas and also Moodle, and it has a number of features that Zoom does not have, which include emojis, polling, a multi-user whiteboard, and more.

3. Use play and games for User Engagement. If you’re teaching a field course or a lab course, post Mystery Maps or Mystery Thin Section (etc) in the discussion board and encourage students to analyze it and provide answers.

4. Keep the Online Logistics Simple. You may have envisioned a number of group projects. Keep in mind that they may be difficult for students to do effectively in a time of great uncertainty and stress. You may need to help your students set up their groups in the LMS (Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle). Make sure that all the resources are easy to use and find, and let your students know that they may work on their projects individually instead of in a group.

5. Help your Students Navigate the Online Library. You may wish to record a few demos. If so, you may wish to use Screencast-o-matic. It’s free and very easy to use. You can narrate a presentation, save, and upload it either to the screencastomatic cloud, or you can upload the mp4 to a site of your choice.

6. No Learning Management System (LMS)? No problem! Your college may not have invested in an LMS, or if it did, It may not be as robust as you’d like it to be. In this case, be creative. You can use WhatsApp to meet with students and also to even receive their work. Here’s a link to an article that describes how to get started: Instant Online Education Using WhatsApp

7. Consider recording brief messages instead of simply sending typed text messages. It is very important to keep the human connection. They can be spontaneous and have to do with self-regulation as well as the specific course content. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect. The key is authenticity. Here’s an example: https://youtu.be/8t-rRCNwBgg

8. Assessments. If you are using timed quizzes or exams, be sure to give your students more time. Consider the time as a reasonable accommodation for very stressful transitions. Consider modifying the assessments so that your students have critical thinking-based questions instead of multiple choice.

9. Implement Universal Design concepts in order to assure ADA compliance. Universal design means that you will be delivering your content in more than one format so that individuals with low vision, low hearing, mobility restrictions, and more will be able to have access to the material.

10. Supplement the lectures and readings with videos and illustrative graphics. Supplement your lessons with animations, graphics, and examples of worked problems. Are you teaching geology, environmental science, or historical geology? Here are just a few outstanding resources:

11. When learning new software, set up a buddy system. Assign “lab partners” for using software. Ask the lab partners to share phone numbers as well as web addresses. Encourage them to have Zoom meetings so that they can share their desktops and work their way through the software and the data sets together.

12. Message your students often, especially if there are important updates. You do not need to repeat what is already being sent by the school’s administration. Make sure that your messages are personal and meaningful.

13. Grade promptly and make sure you give feedback. Give as much personal feedback as possible.

14. Understand that your students may be in stressful situations. Your students may fall ill, and they may be with family members that have challenging jobs, or may be experiencing stress due to confinement and/or financial uncertainty. Encourage your students to talk to each other, and also suggest mental health guidelines, such as not checking the news too often.

15. Professional development goes on. If you are participating in the Imperial Barrel Award, you may take advantage of the online webinars: Petroleum Exploration, Evaluating Structure Maps, and Play-Based Exploration. You may also download practice data sets. Here is a link to the portal page: IBA Training Resources

While you may have had a rather precipitous and unwanted transition to online, in the future, you may want to make sure that all your courses include an online component. With that hybrid approach, you’ll have the best possible combination of interaction, engagement, support, and flexibility

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