skip to main content


Title: Field science in the age of online learning: Dynamic instruction of techniques to assess soil physical properties

Soil physical properties, such as soil texture, color, bulk density, and porosity are important determinants of water flow (e.g., infiltration and drainage), biogeochemical cycling, and plant community composition. In addition, they reflect the environment in which the soil developed, giving insight into climate, mineralogy, and land cover. While many soil assessments require sophisticated laboratory equipment, some can be made simply by a trained individual, requiring only practice and reference materials. For students in environmental fields, it is particularly important and empowering to learn how to make informed soil observations that provide insights from the soil pedon to the landscape and that can be done within the field setting. Drawing on updated pedagogical approaches, including active learning, small group collaboration, and metacognitive exercises, this paper presents a course module for teaching soil texture and color analysis in the field that can be modified for students from secondary through graduate school. The combination of asynchronous, pre-course readings and assessment; synchronous, in-class instruction, hands-on practice, and application activities; and post-class reflection give students the opportunity to build a strong foundation for making soil observations. This course module is suitable for both in-person and remote learning modalities and can be adapted to a number of course topics across environmental disciplines. Ultimately, the goal is to provide students with exciting, hands-on training that inspires them to learn more about soils regardless of the learning platform.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1945388
NSF-PAR ID:
10495564
Author(s) / Creator(s):
;
Publisher / Repository:
Frontiers
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Education
Volume:
7
ISSN:
2504-284X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Evidence has shown that facilitating student-centered learning (SCL) in STEM classrooms enhances student learning and satisfaction [1]–[3]. However, despite increased support from educational and government bodies to incorporate SCL practices [1], minimal changes have been made in undergraduate STEM curriculum [4]. Faculty often teach as they were taught, relying heavily on traditional lecture-based teaching to disseminate knowledge [4]. Though some faculty express the desire to improve their teaching strategies, they feel limited by a lack of time, training, and incentives [4], [5]. To maximize student learning while minimizing instructor effort to change content, courses can be designed to incorporate simpler, less time-consuming SCL strategies that still have a positive impact on student experience. In this paper, we present one example of utilizing a variety of simple SCL strategies throughout the design and implementation of a 4-week long module. This module focused on introductory tissue engineering concepts and was designed to help students learn foundational knowledge within the field as well as develop critical technical skills. Further, the module sought to develop important professional skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, and communication. During module design and implementation, evidence-based SCL teaching strategies were applied to ensure students developed important knowledge and skills within the short timeframe. Lectures featured discussion-based active learning exercises to encourage student engagement and peer collaboration [6]–[8]. The module was designed using a situated perspective, acknowledging that knowing is inseparable from doing [9], and therefore each week, the material taught in the two lecture sessions was directly applied to that week’s lab to reinforce students’ conceptual knowledge through hands-on activities and experimental outcomes. Additionally, the majority of assignments served as formative assessments to motivate student performance while providing instructors with feedback to identify misconceptions and make real-time module improvements [10]–[12]. Students anonymously responded to pre- and post-module surveys, which focused on topics such as student motivation for enrolling in the module, module expectations, and prior experience. Students were also surveyed for student satisfaction, learning gains, and graduate student teaching team (GSTT) performance. Data suggests a high level of student satisfaction, as most students’ expectations were met, and often exceeded. Students reported developing a deeper understanding of the field of tissue engineering and learning many of the targeted basic lab skills. In addition to hands-on skills, students gained confidence to participate in research and an appreciation for interacting with and learning from peers. Finally, responses with respect to GSTT performance indicated a perceived emphasis on a learner-centered and knowledge/community-centered approaches over assessment-centeredness [13]. Overall, student feedback indicated that SCL teaching strategies can enhance student learning outcomes and experience, even over the short timeframe of this module. Student recommendations for module improvement focused primarily on modifying the lecture content and laboratory component of the module, and not on changing the teaching strategies employed. The success of this module exemplifies how instructors can implement similar strategies to increase student engagement and encourage in-depth discussions without drastically increasing instructor effort to re-format course content. Introduction. 
    more » « less
  2. This is a full Innovative Practice paper. Engineering professionals are increasingly called on to serve as “public welfare watchdogs” by paying heed to ways in which complex technologies can impact society and intervening when ethical issues arise. Though it is a goal of engineering education to train engineers to recognize and understand their responsibilities to the safety, health, and welfare of the public, research suggests that students are inadequately prepared to address such issues in practice. To address this concern, we designed and piloted a course module for electrical engineering master’s students to help them better address their public welfare responsibilities. In this paper, we provide a detailed description of the course module, including reflection prompts, in-class presentations, breakout group activities, discussion prompts, and post-class assignments. We also present results from our pilot, including a summary of student responses to the reflection and discussion prompts and an overview of students’ course feedback. 
    more » « less
  3. We propose an experimental ethics-based curricular module for an undergraduate course on Robot Ethics. The proposed module aims to teach students how human subjects research methods can be used to investigate potential ethical concerns arising in human-robot interaction, by engaging those students in real experimental ethics research. In this paper we describe the proposed curricular module, describe our implementation of that module within a Robot Ethics course offered at a medium-sized engineering university, and statistically evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed curricular module in achieving desired learning objectives. While our results do not provide clear evidence of a quantifiable benefit to undergraduate achievement of the described learning objectives, we note that the module did provide additional learning opportunities for graduate students in the course, as they helped to supervise, analyze, and write up the results of this undergraduate-performed research experiment. 
    more » « less
  4. Ramos, R. (Ed.)
    This is a flexible, interrupted video case that uses phantom limb pain as a platform to investigate brain anatomy with a focus on somatosensory cortical mapping and the homunculus. The case begins with a video of neurologist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran interviewing two amputees who experience phantom limb pain (part one). Through Dr. Ramachandran's dialog with amputees, students learn about the paradoxical condition of feeling pain in a limb that does not exist (e.g., phantom limb pain). Students witness Dr. Ramachandran analyzing fMRI data from an amputee, and subsequently learn the somatosensory cortical mapping of the amputee has remarkably changed. Dr. Ramachandran also introduces and demonstrates one form of treatment for phantom limb pain, the mirror box. The video case is supplemented with optional opportunities for further exploration about the mirror box (part two) and somatosensory cortical mapping, via the two-point discrimination test (parts three and four). In part two, students use the primary literature to investigate the effectiveness of the mirror box, and practice skills of interpreting figures. In parts three and four, students conduct a two-point discrimination test (part three) on each other or a person in their residence and analyze class data (part four). Students are led to discover conceptual connections between all four parts of this module. As one example, students are challenged to predict how two-point discrimination data from amputees (interviewed in the video, part one) would compare to students' two-point discrimination data (parts three and four). While the four parts of this learning module are highly interconnected, instructors can choose to selectively implement one or more parts. In addition, each part can be executed in the face-to-face classroom, as out-of-classroom assignment, in a synchronous or non-synchronous video meeting platform, or as a hybrid of these options, providing flexibility for the instructor. This case has been used in a 100-level face-to-face, non-science major course and it has been modified as an online module for a 300 level General Physiology course. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Given the demonstrated prevalence of a “doer effect” showing that active practice is related to substantially larger learning gains than passive approaches, an important research goal is to investigate whether and how different active practice features promote students’ learning outcomes. We investigated these questions in the context of an online learning platform that teaches e-learning design principles. In particular, we considered two different practice modes -practice activities inserted in the text (inline practice) and review practice quizzes -and compared their contributions to students' learning outcomes, in terms of module quizzes, periodic exams, and course projects. Our results showed that the different practice modes had distinct impacts on learning outcomes. Doing inline practice activities contributed to students’ quiz performance at the first attempt and project performance while doing review practice quizzes helped students improve their periodic exam performance. We offer some instructional suggestions such as emphasizing practice activities that are more clearly linked with specific learning objectives for projects, and emphasizing review practice quizzes for exam preparation. 
    more » « less