Sisyphus Panel
Project Sisyphus

The Panel

Each member of Project Sisyphus was asked to describe the introductory course(s) that they regularly teach. I have left these as "one long string" as I find it interesting to make comparisons without having to "click" from page to page.

  1. Pam Gore, Georgia Perimeter College

      Georgia Perimeter College is a multi-campus 2-year unit of the University System of Georgia in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Total enrollment at the College (over 5 locations) is about 15,000 students. We serve a very diverse population of students (many are international students).

      This course is the study of the Earth and the processes which shape it. The course offers an overview of plate tectonics, volcanism, earthquakes, mountain building, weathering, erosion, soil, origin of minerals and rocks, and water and energy resources.

      URL's for Physical Geology Course are:

      1. Online lecture and lab

      2. Class held over videoconferencing system called GSAMS (Georgia Statewide Academic and Medical System)

      Labs are not mandatory for students (although a lab must be taken to meet a core requirement), and Physical Geology is not a prerequisite for Historical Geology.

      URL's for Historical Geology Course are:

      1. Online lecture and lab

      2. GSAMS (Georgia Statewide Academic and Medical System):

        This course is the study of the history of the Earth and life through time/ It provides an overview of evolution, fossils, dinosaurs, geologic time, radiometric dating, origin of the Earth, environments, and the geologic history of North America.

      We have fairly small lecture sections. Typically lectures will have from 20-50 students in them. Most lecture and lab sections have about 25 students. Day and evening sessions of Physical and Historical Geology are offered on 3 campuses each semester. Being a 2-year school, we do not have any graduate students to teach the labs, but we do have some part-time faculty members who primarily teach the evening courses.

      I began developing web-based course materials in 1994 (web research assignments, homework, course notes, quizzes, etc.). Students have also been writing web pages to present their "term papers" or research projects. I have posted student projects going back to Fall 1995.

      Since 1996, I have taught both introductory geology courses in a distance learning classroom using a videoconferencing system which employs compressed video over telephone lines. This is called GSAMS. It stands for Georgia Statewide Academic and Medical System. I taught lecture sections on 2 campuses simultaneously through this system, with full audio and video available from both ends. I alternated between campuses each session, visiting each campus once a week. I offered lab when I was on the particular campus. I typically had up to 24 students in each of the two classrooms, for a total of about 48 in my course.

      Since Fall 1998 I have been teaching Physical and Historical Geology lecture and lab as fully online, asynchronous courses. Students come to campus to use rock sample kits and maps on reserve in the library for their labs. Students are encouraged to work in groups on their labs (like they would in a face-to-face lab). Student questions are answered via e-mail, bulletin board, chat sessions, or telephone.

  2. Warren Huff, University of Cincinnati

      The University of Cincinnati, established in 1819, is described as "a state-supported, Research I institution" located in southwest Ohio. UC includes a main academic campus often called "West Campus," a medical campus known as "East Campus," a branch campus in suburban Blue Ash, and a rural branch campus in Clermont County just east of Cincinnati. There are 21 colleges and academic units at UC which serve approximately 33,000 students, of which 89 percent are residents of Ohio.

      I am a faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest of these units, and among other things am responsible for teach a three quarter introductory physical and historical geology course entitled, Introduction to Geology. Currently we use Hamblin & Christiansen for the Fall-Winter terms and Stanley for the Spring. The Fall quarter enrollment usually numbers between 370-400 students, most of whom are freshmen and most of whom are non-geology majors. Providing a regular program of reasonably interesting lectures for this number of students is a challenge and I rely heavily on my teaching assistants for help in explaining course concepts and expectations. There is a concurrent laboratory course offered as an option and it is usually elected by 70-80 students.

      The course meets three times a week in an electronic classroom which can accommodate 600 people. The course website is used extensively to provide administrative information, supplementary assigned reading, grades, and extra credit activities. In addition, email is a principal means of communication between me and the students. I hold regular office hours and also try to be available as needed for individual student conferences. A small but significant number of students come into the course each year without the minimum computer skills needed to access course resources. This is a campus wide problem for which we have yet to find a satisfactory solution.

  3. David McConnell , University of Akron

      Environmental Geology is a three-credit introductory course for non-majors. A typical class has 80-100 students, most of which are freshmen or sophomores. For the past several years I have presented three 50-minute lectures a week using a laptop. A couple of years ago I began placing the presentations and more detailed lecture notes on the Web. Many of the students would print the presentations from the course website and bring them to class. Last year I added on-line (homework) exercises and (review) quizzes. I have gradually augmented the web resources that I use for introductory geology courses to the point that I don't require students to buy a textbook but give them the option of simply printing information from the course website.

      I was initially concerned about students having difficulty gaining access to on-line materials but those fears have been unfounded. We have a 20-computer lab in our building that is open to all students enrolled in geology courses yet it is often empty. Students access the course materials from computers in dorm rooms, homes, campus computer labs, or even from work.

      Students receive a grade based on ten (out of 15) homework exercises, in-class quizzes and exercises, and multiple-choice exams. They can also take a comprehensive final exam to replace a low score from a previous test.

      Although this course structure has proved relatively popular with the students I have become increasingly discontented with the traditional large-class teaching methods. Although I sought to improve the classroom experience by showing slides and videos, or by delivering lectures using a laptop, it all comes back to the same general idea; I talk, you write it down, I'll ask you about it later.

      In recent years, I have been giving more attention to teaching methods that promote group learning strategies during large lecture classes. This is often coupled with more direct involvement of students in acquiring and analyzing information. These techniques encourage students to think for themselves and analyze relevant data but come at the expense of lecture content as discussion replaces the delivery of information. Consequently, group learning is often viewed as focussing on depth (learning a lot about fewer topics) rather than breadth (learning a little about a lot of topics).

      I believe that if we combine group learning strategies with web-based learning environments we can foster student participation during lecture periods and encourage the discovery of information outside of class. Students are thus given more responsibility for their own learning and more flexibility in choosing when to learn. This requires that the instructor change roles from an authority dispensing information to a guide directing students to uncover knowledge for themselves. In addition, methods of assessment may also change to emphasize exercises (homework) keyed to lecture topics and to reduce the significance of exams.

      This semester will be an experiment to see if I can make this brave new world work.

  4. James Myers, University of Wyoming

      The University of Wyoming has about 9,000 undergraduates enrolled on its Laramie campus. It is unique in that it is the only four-year institution of higher learning in the state of Wyoming. The student body is very homogenous with few minorities and the students are mostly from small towns with little experience of culture outside of Wyoming.

      The courses I teach regularly are Physical Geology (UW GEOL 1100), Earth Resources (UW GEOL 3300) and Geologic Hazards (UW GEOL 3400). Physical Geology is a freshman/sophomore introductory class. It satisfies a University Studies earth science requirement. The class is offered both the fall and spring semesters. I teach the course in the spring. The enrollment for both semesters varies from 180 to 200 students. There is a very big difference in style and approach between the two semesters. I teach the class using a lot of on-line resources whereas my colleague in the fall makes only limited use of the Internet. The other two courses are upper division courses for non-geology majors. Enrollment for both classes is between 25 and 35. They are lecture/lab courses with three hours of lecture weekly and a two-hour lab session. Only a small percentage of the enrollment in either course is from scientific disciplines. Many of the Internet techniques I use in the introductory physical geology course are carried over to the other two classes.

      GEOL 1100 is a 4 credit with three 1-hour lectures and a two-hour lab. Students are graded on lecture exams, lab work, reading questionnaires and a final exam. They also have the option to complete extra credit work. The lecture exams use multiple choice or true/false questions and are graded by computer. They typically consist of one hundred questions. The final is of similar format but contains twice as many questions. On the final, I will repeat about 50-60% of the questions from the three lecture exams. They may, however, be reworded. The reading questionnaires consist of a weekly questionnaire of 10 questions from individual chapters in the textbook and are due weekly. The questionnaires are designed to ensure that students keep up with the assigned readings weekly and not to wait until just before the exam to cram in eight chapters. Accordingly, questions asked in the past have not been difficult. I am considering, however, adding a "thought" question to each questionnaire to make students think about what they are reading. The lab consists of 13-15 sections and is taught by TAs. In a typical semester, I will have 5-6 TAs of very different geologic backgrounds.

      This course makes extensive use of the Internet. The Web site associated with the class has posted: 1) a class syllabus; 2) a class outline; 3) an announcement page; 4) detailed lecture notes; 5) past exams; 6) extra-credit problems; 7) reading questionnaires; 8) lab exercises; and 9) study-aids. The lecture notes and past exams are used extensively by students. Indeed, I have lots of complaints if I don't get the lecture notes posted quickly. Labs are turned in on paper and graded by TAs. They often times have exercises that require the use of the Internet to complete. Reading questionnaires are submitted via the Web and graded on-line by TAs by lab section. Students also have their own password protected grade book that shows them how they are doing in the class. During the past year, I have started using Flash animations extensively to illustrate a variety of geologic concepts and processes. They are used during both lecture and lab and are available to the students (as well as the general public) from the Image Gallery on the Web site. Presently the study-aid component of the Web site is limited in scope. It does have some interactive questions and exams. I have had many requests from students to expand this part of the Web site. Now that the administrative parts of the site are fairly mature (a process that took four years), I intend to greatly expand this part of the Web site. I have many ideas about new things to do here but just haven't had time to implement them. Student evaluations over the last three years has registered a steady increase in the number of students stating that the Web site is a valuable component of the class and wishing that other UW faculty used a similar approach.

      Because I am not currently teaching physical geology, there may be a few broken links in the GEOL 1100 Web site. I will try, however, to go through the site and make sure it is completely functioning before the end of August. You will not be able to access the password-protected portions of the sites. If there is interest, I could create a dummy account so people could investigate the functionality of this part of my Web sites.

  5. Roger Suthern, Oxford Brookes

      8301 Introduction to Geology

      The course will commence on 4 October 1999, and usually enrolls 100 to 120 students. It serves a dual role, as the first module for up to 60 geology majors; the remainder of the group are from other subject areas, including environmental sciences, civil engineering, geography, teacher education, or anyone who wants to take it for interest or fun.

      The course runs over 8 weeks. Each week there are normally 3 x 1 hour lectures and a 3 hour lab. The course is team taught; Dr Mike Fowler is module leader, and most other geology faculty contribute lectures and/or lab teaching, so that new students and academics get to know each other.

      The course uses a geological map of a mythical island (see web page) to link together the lab classes throughout the term. Thus, although we still do discrete topics each week (minerals, igneous rocks, sediments etc.) these are linked by the map theme, and students work on the map each week to understand the geology, structure and evolution of the island. This is not a new idea - the Leornian map has been in use since at least 1975, but both the map and the course have evolved a great deal since then.

      In the lab classes, we have tried to give students a flavour of geology in the field in a variety of different kinds of terrain by extensive use of posters with photographs of field relations. We are gradually transforming these into virtual posters on the web, which gives a great deal more versatility in terms of updating and access.

      Assessment is based on hand specimen descriptions, OMR-marked multiple choice tests at 3 points in the term, and an end-of-term test including photographs, samples, and short answer questions on the geology of the island.

  6. Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College

    The Geology and Development of Modern Africa

      An introductory geology course with no pre-requisites, designated as a writing intensive course and capped by College regulation at 20 students. Meets a total of 4.25 hours per week and taught as a non lecture-based course. Counts toward a major in Geology and in Africana Studies and serves as a pre-requisite for intermediate and upper level geology courses in the Department (we do not offer survey courses in physical and historical geology but rather offer a series of topical intro courses from which students may choose. Any one course provides the pre-requisite for courses such as Mineralogy, Paleontology, etc.).


      The course is structured around a series of geologic topics that have direct relevance to particular historical, cultural, political, or economic issues in Africa - past and present fluvial processes of the Nile River System, hydrogeology and climate change in the Sahara and Sahel, the structure and evolution of the East African Rift Zone, and mineral resources in southern and western Africa. Once the geologic framework for a given topic has been firmly established, students work out the connections between geology and the relevant human issues. Some of the many connections we explore during the semester include the following:

        *long-term fluctuations in fluvial activity and the rise and fall of dynasties along the Nile.

        *climate change, bedrock geology, and the location and timing of development of Egyptian civilization. The treatment of this topic and the previous one is discussed in detail in a later section of this paper.

        *processes in fluvial systems and the economic implications and environmental consequences of damming the Nile at Aswan.

        *water supply, water demand, and international relations in North Africa.

        *modern hydrogeology in the Sahara and Sahel and the future for economic growth in North Africa.

        *climate change, desertification, and the future for the Sahara and Sahel. *development of the East African Rift and the evolution of hominids. The treatment of this topic is discussed in detail in a later section of this paper.

        *bedrock geologic history of Africa, the natural resource "haves" and "have-nots", and international relations.

        *character of gold deposits and the origin of black oppression in South Africa.

      This year, for the first time, students will be involved in an on-going, semester-long simulated diamond prospecting project that will provide students with an open-ended problem involving data collection and analysis. Although students will not travel to Africa, they will design an exploration program, carry out a simulated sample collection project, analyze real samples with instrumentation in our department, and prepare an exploration evaluation for a hypothetical client company.

  7. Terry Wright, Sonoma State University

      G 110; Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Mountains. General Education students from all levels of schooling and interest.

      The trick in this class is to get the students interested, and hold their interest. Although I would think that the subject matter, Geologic Violence, would fit in perfectly with the stuff the media bombards us with every day, it is obvious that many students are only there because they have to be, and would much rather be at the pub or playing frisbee on the lawn. In incorporate a dynamic lecture style with lots of surprises and demos to keep them hopping. The first period, I line them up and snake the line back, doubling back on the entire class, so that I get to meet everyone and smile at them, and they get to meet me personally and everyone else in the class. The personal contact seems to help interest and I continue that with the first internet project.

  8. John C. Butler, Moderator, University of Houston

      Geology 1330, Physical Geology, is taught to about 2,000 students per year. All undergraduates must complete 6 hours in the Science Core which includes biology, chemistry, geology (both physical and historical), and physics.

      In the fall semesters about 850 students enroll. The laboratory is optional and about 35-40% of the students will be enrolled in lecture and laboratory. Graduate students teach the labs and we make an attempt to coordinate lecture and lab.

      Since the fall semester of 1985 I have been teaching the honors section of Physical Geology. This allows me to keep the class small (about 50 as compared with 75-200 in the other sections). Actually, only about 10% of the class is in the honors program and I believe that the class is representative of UH freshmen and sophomores. Last year, for example, I had 3 honors students and 2 science majors out of 51 who started the course.

      I have been developing Internet-based resources for this course for the last 4 years.