Living on the Edge - Geological Disasters

developed by Dr. Lisa Skinner, Northern Arizona University

Course Background

Background about the course at NAU:  Geologic Disasters is an introductory, liberal studies geology course at Northern Arizona University with 8 sections of ~124 students each semester. The high proportion (94%) of non-science majors in Geologic Disasters often lack a framework necessary to organize course content. When reading a textbook, they may highlight everything, skip important figures, or neglect to take notes on important topics.

To reach our learners, we elected to replace the passive textbook reading experience with an active, adaptive, data-rich, and discovery-based online environment paired with an active classroom experience. Via adaptive courseware, students learn in the same manner in which scientists “do” science – through exploration and observation. Student concept gaps can be remediated, subjects can be enriched by choice, & students have agency over their learning paths. Class time focuses on misconceptions or problem areas, case studies, discussions, and unit-ending risk assessments. Independent evaluation of two similarly-designed online courses has shown significant increases in student performance on institution-wide exams, reduced achievement gaps, and improved student engagement through the use of a narrative thread.

Living on the Edge’s narrative is centered on one overarching question – “Where on Earth is the safest place to live?”. We used the principle of backwards design to generate learning outcomes for both the adaptive courseware and classroom experience, then designed lessons using a scaffolded approach: students explore concepts related to geologic hazards and formulate their own ideas and hypotheses via interactive activities and data analysis while receiving individualized feedback based on their input. After building up their confidence and knowledge base, students apply what they have learned to real world, relevant, and recent geologic disasters. To complete their studies, students synthesize the concepts they have learned to determine the safest place to live, drawing conclusions from across the entire catalog of course material.

Learn more about Living on the Edge with our demo