The Panel Responses
Instructors using these methods often rely more on their "gut feeling" about what works and what doesn't in making decisions about introducing new techniques. Such methods may be treated with suspicion by those who use more traditional lecture delivery techniques. Others may be inclined to adopt new methods if it can be shown to increase learning. Unfortunately, there are so many variations in who is teaching, what they are teaching, and how they are teaching that it is difficult to get any sense of whether student learning improves due to the introduction of new methods as almost everyone asks different questions and different types of questions (e.g. multiple choice vs. short answer).
Consequently, until there is some common assessment method for similar classes it will be difficult to determine if student learning improves in different teaching environments. Physics has a national mechanics test that has been used by some authors to monitor learning improvements in introductory courses. Could the same principle be applied to geology? Would it be useful to create a series of introductory geology exam questions that would provide a consistent measure of student achievement in a variety of courses?
North America is streets ahead of the UK in providing a forum for discussing teaching and learning at national/regional meetings. I have the feeling that these are still not regarded as 'respectable' subjects to be discussed at many UK conferences and meetings. Honourable exceptions are the excellent work done by UKGEC, and a few other groups such as the UK Earth Sciences Courseware Consortium.
The difficulty, as always, is that we end up 'preaching to the converted'. How do we get our more reluctant colleagues to join us in sharing new ideas about teaching?
I look forward to some non-virtual discussions of these topics at GSA in Denver!
The No Significant Difference Phenomenon web site provides references to 355 published research papers that examined distance education and concluded that the delivery system (correspondence, tapes, the Internet, etc. made "no significant difference". For example, "the results in this paper have shown that when virtual lectures are used in place of traditional delivery methods there is no significant difference in attainment level as measured by end of year examination marks (Smeaton, A. & Keogh, G., 1999).
Perhaps the problem is in the design of experiments using human subjects rather than powdered rock or speckled trout, or perhaps the problem is in figuring out how to assess learning, or perhaps there is indeed, no significant difference.
I too look forward to "real", face-to-face discussions in Denver.
June 1, 1999