Considerable attention is now directed toward improving earth science curricula, as illustrated by both presentations at national scientific meetings and discussions in the literature. Much of the discussion addresses large-scale changes, such as the development of new degree programs [e.g. Stein, 1996]. Such reforms can be very successful, but require lengthy interactions with university bureaucracies.
A complementary approach is to upgrade individual courses or groups of them. This approach has the advantage of being doable by individual faculty, without bureaucracy, and on small (or zero) budgets. We have been taking such a “small is beautiful” [Schumacher, 1973] or “faster, cheaper, better” approach to upgrade our introductory geophysics course. In discussion with colleagues elsewhere, we have found interest in this effort, and so summarize it briefly in the hope of encouraging discussions of similar experiments elsewhere.
We have begun with a beginning geophysics course required of geology majors, and taken as a distribution course by engineering majors. It provides a relatively rigorous and homework-intensive overview of the structure and evolution of the Earth and terrestrial planets, at a level higher than a descriptive “Geology 1” class, but lower than the standard introduction to geophysics for seniors or first year graduate students. For example, in this class we typically present without proof results such as Snell’s law, which will be derived in later courses.
These demonstrations are presented to the class with an WWW page which also contains links to a variety of supplemental resources, including virtual field trips and biographies of famous scientists who contributed to understanding these topics, available elsewhere on the WWW. We are using a simple “geophysics literacy” test to see what students know before the course, assess the value of various prerequisite courses, and examine how effective our teaching is.
Thus far, we have created demonstrations and/or laboratory exercises on several topics. Below are links to the html versions of the pages; PostScript versions are available on the respective pages. Wherever possible, we have included links to related webpages. Finally, please send us your feedback!
Paleomagnetism and convection
This site was selected as the Virtual Geoscience Professor’s Site of the Fortnight for March 14, 1998.
Cox, A., and R. B. Hart, Plate Tectonics: How it Works, 392 p., Blackwell Scientific Publications, Palo Alto, 1986.
Geller, R. and S. Stein, Normal modes of a laterally heterogeneous body: a one dimensional example, Bull. Seism. Soc. Am., 68, 103-116, 1978.
Hake, R. R., Socratic pedagogy in the introductory physics laboratory, The Physics Teacher, 30, 546-552, 1992.
Renner, J. W., The relationships between intellectual development and written responses to science questions, J. Res. in Sci. Ed., 16, 279-299, 1979.
Schumacher, E. F., Small is beautiful; economics as if people mattered, 290 p., Harper & Row, New York, 1973.
Stein, S., Launching an environmental science major: experience at Northwestern, GSA Today, 38-39, March, 1996.
Stein, S., Hot-spotting in the Pacific, Nature, 387, 345-346, 1997.
Ward, C. R., and J. D. Herron, Helping students understand formal chemical concepts, J. Res. in Sci. Ed., 17, 387-400, 1980.
Wysession, M. E., and P. J. Shore, Visualization of whole mantle propagation of seismic shear energy using normal mode summation, Pure Appl. Geophys., 142, 295-310, 1994.