Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title WWW in a Self-Taught Isotope Geology Course
Originator Martin Palmer
Department Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

This course is almost entirely Web-based with an introductory lecture and some follow-up lectures. I have been teaching a second year isotope geochemistry course for the past five years. I decided to try the WWW approach for several reasons.

  1. The students have a wide range of abilities (particularly in terms of their maths skills).
  2. It is not clear to me that the best way of transferring skills is to stand up in front of a lecture theatre and seek to transfer my notes to the students with minimal transcription errors. In addition, these lectures do not require a great deal of student-lecturer interaction of the type that might take place in exploring more open ended concepts in higher level courses.
  3. The traditional course has relatively few practical classes in which to explore the students understanding of the course.
  4. The skills they learn from the isotope course form the basis for courses taught later in the 2nd and 3rd years. If the students have not fully grasped the isotope concepts when the course was first presented, they have to rely on their own notes (that are often inadequate) or try and follow the text books.

I designed the WWW Isotope Course to try and address these issues. Specifically:

What are the likely pitfalls?

The students won't bother to do the course.

Yes this is likely, but every year there are a small percentage that don't bother turning up. University students are adults; if they can't be bothered to work it is not our job to chase them.

The students will feel abandoned.

I recognise that this is a problem, so I have organised a weekly "surgery" to help support the students that still have problems understanding the material.

How will the course develop?

  1. Through the surgeries I hope to be able to identify the areas where students find most problems and amend the course accordingly.
  2. I intend to give a few lectures about the applications of isotopes so that the students could see the point of the work and keep up their interest.
  3. I would like to make the course look more attractive in terms of its presentation, but this requires support in terms of man hours and we have not yet been given the resources to do this.
  4. I would like to put the course on CD so that students can take it home with them and revise over vacations.
  5. Because the course is in an electronic format it would be simple to add more advanced material to support specific isotope applications for higher level geology courses, or post graduate level applications.


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