Active Learning Approaches in Geology Courses

Active Learning Approaches

Publications Related to this Project

  • KS Bitting, MJ McCartney, KR Denning, JA Roberts. Conceptual Learning Outcomes of Virtual Experiential Learning: Results of Google Earth Exploration in Introductory Geoscience Courses Research in Science Education (2018), Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 533-548.
  • R O’Brien, JA Roberts. Teaching the Principles of Geomicrobiology and the Process of Experimental Research to Undergraduate and First-Year Graduate Students Journal of College Science Teaching (2008), Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 30-38.
  • JA Roberts, AN Olcott, NM McLean, GS Baker, A Möller. Demonstrating the Impact of Classroom Transformation on the Inequality in DFW Rates (“D” or “F” grade or withdraw) for First-Time Freshmen, Females, and Underrepresented Minorities Through a Decadal Study of Introductory Geology Courses Journal of Geoscience Education (2018), Vol. 66, No. 4, pp. 1-15.

This project focus on transforming courses in the KU Geology program from standard lectures to active learning environments. The study was prompted by research across the STEM fields indicating that courses with active learning strategies contribute to improved student learning, performance, and persistence in STEM majors. Previous research at KU in this area includes a study of the integration of active learning into its upper division geomicrobilogy courses (O’Brien and Roberts, 2008). The results of this study found that a problem-based approach is successful for teaching interdisciplinary science and effective for conveying research skills to upper division undergraduates and first-year graduate students.


Active learning research in the KU Geology Department was later expanded to include Geology 101 and Geology 121, which were completely transformed from lecture-only courses to active learning environments featuring approaches including but not limited to Google Earth inquiry assignments, iClicker, and discussion. A decadal study (2006-2016) of student performance in these courses demonstrated that women, underrepresented minorities, and first-year freshmen improved their performance in transformed courses (Roberts et al., 2018). These results are consistent with previous studies that support the value of active-learning approaches in STEM courses.


With recent funding from a Curriculum Innovation Program grant, as well as KU Geology’s new location in the state-of-the-art Earth, Energy, and Environment Center, we have the means and innovative learning spaces to continue course transformation of upper-division courses. We hope to track student learning between transformed and untransformed courses through the Geology undergraduate curriculum in our next phase of investigation. 


Collaborators: Alison Olcott, University of Kansas; Noah McLean, University of Kansas; Andreas Möller, University of Kansas; Kelsey Bitting, Northeastern University; Rachel O’Brien, Allegheny College

Funders: University of Kansas Center for Teaching Excellence 

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