UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 2, November 1995

CAL in Earth Sciences

One path in a quality teaching environment

This project is currently funded by a CAUT grant to Andrew Gleadow and Mark Warne of the Victorian Institute of Earth and Planetary Sciences, School of Earth Sciences, LaTrobe University

The recent introduction of computer-based education as part of the geology curriculum at LaTrobe University arose from the need to assimilate field and classroom (lecture and practical) teaching, and the desire to provide a better method by which the large diversity of geological materials and processes could be linked within a broad concept of earth evolution.

The modules are on field geology, pal-aeontology, optical mineralogy, geological hazards and sequence stratigraphy. These have different specific educational objectives, but, all address the issue of integrating the teaching of basic principles and skills with the global perspective of earth and planetary dynamics.

First Year: Palaeontology & Field Geology

These are two interrelated modules that aim at providing assimilation and integration of theoretical and field concepts related to a first year excursion, lecture and laboratory program on Historical Geology. The modules are based on topics that stimulate student inquisitiveness in the Earth Sciences and encompass ideas that challenge student perceptions of the enormity of space and time. They also provide a highly motivational underpinning for the whole introductory Geology course and act as a medium for inculcating basic geological knowledge. They are both well suited to the graphical and interactive features of the CAL environment.

Second Year: Optical Mineralogy

An introductory course on the optics of minerals is foundational to much of the practical work undertaken by geology students through their second and third year studies. This subject involves a number of concepts which are difficult for most students and must be taken at the beginning of second year because of the sequential development of the overall course. Many of the students require extra time outside normal classroom to assimilate this material and need to refresh the subject regularly during the course. The teaching of this subject can be demonstrator intensive and the demands on staff time are alleviated by this CAL program. The module also provides remedial education in the basic physics of light refraction and reflection necessary to the understanding of how light microscope techniques enable mineral identification.

Third Year: Sequence Stratigraphy

The principal problem at this level, is the difficulty in tackling complex concepts under the considerable time pressure of the joint teaching initiative in Petroleum Geology between the University of Melbourne, Monash University and LaTrobe University. One particular aspect of the joint petroleum geology course is the relatively new discipline of sequence stratigraphy which requires a quite revolutionary reorientation of ideas from traditional geological thinking. Animation is being used as a particularly valuable tool in dynamic parts of this course module.

Third Year: Geological Hazards

Another approach at third year level has been explored in a new course being developed on Geological Hazards. In this course students are asked to prepare a case history study of a particular geological event such as a major earthquake or volcanic eruption. Rather than submit an es-say-type compilation, we are experimenting with having the students prepare their own multimedia program with easy to use software on their particular case history for presentation to the rest of their class. This program has produced some quite remarkable results and a very significant engagement of student interest.

Mark Warne
mwarne@mojave.latrobe.edu.au


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