Computers & Geosciences, Volume 26, Number 5, 2000

Another Node On the interNet

Mark Francek
Department of Geography and Earth Science
Central Michigan University
Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859

John Butler
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204

From The Associate Editor

I probably am on a dozen "notification lists" that are issued on a regular basis that help keep me informed of new resources. Once a week I receive RESOURCES FOR EARTH SCIENCE AND GEOGRAPHY INSTRUCTION from Mark Francek at Central Michigan University. People like Mark deserve a great deal of credit for continuing the "sharing" tradition that seems to be a fundamental part of the evolving Internet culture.

Using Web Resources to Improve Class Instruction

In the mid-1990s I began using the world wide web for class instruction and I was impressed by the breadth of real time data, maps, articles, and images available. I was also frustrated by a lack of organization. Worse, there was no formal review process to evaluate web site quality. To give students an organized gateway to this new information medium, I created, "Resources for Earth Science and Geography Instruction" with approximately a hundred web sites organized around the sequence of topics that I typically taught in my introductory earth science class. Sites were evaluated on the basis of content, authenticity, organization, and image quality. Two years ago, I began distributing a weekly e-mail review of two or three web sites related to the earth sciences. Today, my web resource page has over 500 links and I e-mail the weekly "Earth Science Site of the Week" to hundreds of educators around the world. In this essay, I describe how the processes of selecting and disseminating useful web resources has improved my teaching.

    1. Field Trips--Preparing web resources for distribution at "Resources for Earth Science and Geography Instruction" has given me ready access to sites that enhance class field trips. Each week in my introductory earth science class, we take short ten-minute field trips to observe weather such as wind direction, temperature, and humidity. Prior to our field we use the Intellicast weather siteto log local weather data. This helps students make sense of the observations they make and starts them thinking critically about trends observed in the data. For example, if an Intellicast weather map shows a cold front approaching from the west, I will ask the students to explain for changes in wind, temperature, cloud cover and why our observations differ from that of the local weather station.

    2. Laboratory Exercises-Because the web can provide abundanct and accessible information, I have used it to develop a variety of class exercises. Rather than having to rely on textbook examples, which may or may not be relevant to students' lives, I can develop exercises by accessing examples of natural phenomena relevant to home, work, or school. I have developed class exercises from a variety of sites including: weather maps (see the "Weather Channel site, river discharge, , earthquakes , sun/rise sunset calculator (see "Complete Sun and Moon Data for One Day") , and maps (see "Terraserver").

    3. Current Events in Science--Knowing where to find web resources keeps my students abreast with the most current developments in science. The "SciCentral" web site has a "Science in the News Feature" that highlights important research findings and features articles found in journals like Nature, Scientific American, and Science News. It was thus fairly for me to over 100 on-line articles. Using a detailed set of guidelines, each student presents a critical review of one of the articles. For more details, particularly on how these reports are assessed, see "Oral Presentation Guidelines".

    4. Class Discussion--I also use web resources to provide productive diversions between class activities. At the "What's on the Web" site, I feature a "site of the day," "picture of the day," and "computer tip of the day" to elicit class discussion on topics relating to science and technology. Most of the sites catalogued are featured in previous "earth science site of the week" mailings. For the "computer tip of the day," I demonstrate various time saving shortcuts. Happily, students suggest new sites or pictures to post and offer timesaving computer tips of their own.

    5. Multimedia Presentations--Finally, students use resources posted at the site to create multimedia presentations using the Powerpoint presentation program (Francek, 1999). Topics selected by students range from the rock cycle to the cause of the seasons. Student projects consist of two parts. The written portion of student term papers is submitted in "notes pages view" where, as in the traditional paper format, content, organization, and grammar are evaluated. For the multimedia portion of the project, students incorporate images from the world wide web, animation, sound, and clip art. In general, these projects require more work when compared to a conventional research paper; nonetheless, most students considered them a worthwhile tool that improves their communication skills.

    Today, the web is a prime source of information for many of my students. My web-based "Resources for Earth Science and Geography Instruction" helps my students in two ways. It gives them access to quality on-line resources and it saves them time because they no longer have to sift through the hundreds of "hits" commonly encountered when using popular search engines.

    When given the option, many students sign-up for the weekly "site of the week" mailing. This suggests that they find the web sites featured in class useful; and as the list of subscribers grows, I am getting more suggestions for quality sites to post on the resource page.

    Giving students easy access to web resources does create new problems. The ease with which blocks of text can be "cut and pasted" into word processing programs increases the potential for student "cyberplagiarism;" and, you will almost always find some students who would rather surf the web than pay attention to class instructions. Nonetheless, as illustrated in the five examples above, the web offers the potential to improve class instruction by giving students access to quality information that is both current and relevant. The excuse, "I can't find it-" or "there's nothing substantive-" on the web is becoming less relevant.

    Content area specialists are pointing the way to the best sites, like Andrew Alden's " Geology Guide" , Matt Rosenberg's "Geography Guide" (), Brian John Exton's monthly reviews of web sites in the Journal of Geological Education, and the NSF supported "Scout Report".

    Take advantage of the time other people spend reviewing the web and create your own bank of useful web resources. Resist the temptation, however, to simply bookmark and cache sites. Realizing the web's potential means actively developing thoughtful, user-friendly exercises to supplement traditional lecture, field, and laboratory experiences. If you would like to be added to the Earth Science Site of the Week listserv or receive 1999 mailings please contact me (


    Francek, M. 1999. "Student Multimedia Presentations in Introductory Earth Science Classes" Journal of College Science Teaching, Vol. 29, pp. 199-204.