Project Sisyphus
Project Sisyphus

"For betraying the gods [the campus administrators] in favour of the mortals [faculty] Sisyphus [insert your name here] was condemned to punishment. He was sent to perform the task of pushing a huge rock along a steep slope [teaching introductory geosciences ]. Unless he could topple the stone on the other side of the peak of the mountain [[perfect the ideal geosciences course] he could not be free. Each time Sisyphus [insert your name here] neared the peak [thought that learning had been achieved] the stone rolled back to the ground leaving him tired and throwing him in despair [a new group of students appeared] again and again.

In pursuit of the realization of his own will against the will of the gods Sisyphus is thus still undergoing the perpetual punishment." [ON THE ISLAND OF SISYPHUS].

Our Hero


In December, 1998 Warren Huff wrote (in Geotimes) about an August, 1999 meeting at the Colorado School of Mines where some 16 of us spent a couple of enjoyable days talking about teaching and learning and multimedia. We agreed that there was a need to collect good practices, a need to find a way to provide peer review, and a need for focusing attention on small units - an exercise, an applet, an image, etc. We were unsure, however, how to proceed.

Project Sisyphus is designed to facilitate sharing ideas and experiences among faculty teaching introductory geoscience courses but any one is welcome to be a part of the process. Participants will participate via the VirtualCoffeeRoom.

The Project

I have asked some faculty members to serve on an advisory panel for the fall semester, 1999. The panel members, each of whom is teaching an introductory geoscience course in fall 1999 or has extensive experience at this level, is charged with providing topical suggestions at four times during the semester. Some of the members of the panel are not particularly interested in the Internet or multimedia. All, however, are keenly interested in learning.

Panelists for fall, 1999 will include:

  1. Pam Gore, Georgia Perimeter College
  2. Warren Huff, U. Cincinnati
  3. David McConnell , U. Akron
  4. James Myers, U. Wyoming
  5. Roger Suthern, Oxford Brookes, UK
  6. Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton
  7. Terry Wright, Sonoma
  8. John Butler, U. Houston, Moderator

The topics will be selected to coincide approximately with the time when many faculty will be about ready to discuss that topic (or something related) in their own course. If you don't have time to try 7 different ways to introduce fractional crystallization, for example, the next best thing may be to hear the experiences of those who each tried something slightly (or greatly) different.

The schedule, tentatively, is as follows:

    August 1, 1999

    Each panelist will be asked to describe the structure of his/her introductory geoscience course. URLs, if pertinent, will be published and a brief summary of the course - who takes it, how big is the average section, is a lab required, etc - will be made available.

    Topic 1 --August 15, 1999

    What do you do in the first week to capture the attention of your students? Is there a particular scenario or example or resource or exercise that you have "perfected" to accomplish this objective?

    Suggestions by the panel will be distributed to the Listserv and published on the pages of the Virtual Geosciences Professor.

    Hopefully, several of the readers will try one of the suggestions and will share his/her experiences. Some subscribers will undoubtedly conclude that their own ideas are superior and will share those as well. We would like to have all comments by the end of the first week in September. Comments, ideas, suggestions, analyses, etc. will become part of the archives of the VirtualCoffeeRoom and summaries will be posted on the Internet. Each panelist will have an opportunity to summarize or debate at the end of the three-week period.

    Three other topics will be posted throughout the semester.

Will this be as good as having an opportunity to try out several approaches in your own course? Probably not. On the other hand most of us don't have the option (luxury ?) of walking into class in the third week and announcing "I don't like the way this course is going so starting today I am going to start over"!

June 1, 1999