EART Fall 2010 Spring 2011

Earth Sciences Newsletter

For a review of the major developments in our department
for Fall 2011 through Spring 2012,
please review our
2011 May Newsletter.


In Fall 2011 and Spring 2012, we continued the ongoing closed-loop SLO-assessment process that we began the year before for our core courses. We added in our new course: Environmental Geology (GEOL 30), as well as our burgeoning field program. SLO exams were given to all students on finals day, preceding their final exam. Results were tallied and discussed by instructors via email and in group face-to-face meetings. New resources were developed. Each instructor completed an annual feedback form describing:

  • the process they use in each of their classes to seek feedback and data on SLOs
  • the insights they've gained by reviewing the data they've collected
  • the changes they've made as a result and the changes they plan to make
  • the evaluation of efficacy of changes that have already been made
  • future plans for more changes
  • evaluation of the materials/resources available in the department
  • ideas for new directions for the department to move

Each of these instructor feedback forms is on file with the department chair. Highlights follow.

Highlights from Instructor Feedback Forms


Geology 10 – Physical Geology & Oceanography 1 – Oceanography

  • SLO and assessment development: In Fall 2010 SLOs were discussed among all instructors of the course (4
    individuals). We drew up a Geology 10 SLO document with course mission, SLOs, and assessment methods. This
    document was reviewed by all instructors for feedback. A 15-question exam was developed with input from all –
    covering 15 of our content SLOs. That exam has now been given every semester since, and instructors have
    gathered together to review results and suggest improvements.
  • Assessment: The 15-question exam was given to all students in all class sections (3) on the last class meeting. In
    addition, individual instructors reviewed feedback from course evaluations (developed to get student feedback),
    in-class participation and activities, and standard exam results.
  • Analysis: Results of the 15-question exam have just been entered into the computer and are undergoing analysis.
    Results will be distributed to all course instructors to review possible improvements we can make to the course to
    help us meet our objectives.
  • Closing the loop: Instructors have been making small changes to their classes to better achieve the SLOs that were
    developed initially. For example, we changed our textbook for Oceanography, then reviewed student success and
    experience with the new book, and have since made some changes (such as supplemental information in areas
    where the textbook is weak). We have continued to review course objectives and have updated the course outline

Oceanography 1L – Oceanography Lab & Geology 10L Physical Geology Lab

  • SLO and assessment development: In Fall 2010 SLOs were discussed among all instructors of the course (2 individuals). We drew up a course SLO document with course mission, SLOs, and assessment methods. This document was reviewed by all instructors for feedback. And has been updated yearly since.
  • Assessment: Since all materials in the 2 lab sections are identical, we can review performance on these exams to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of meeting our SLOs. In addition, we reviewed feedback from course evaluations (developed to get student feedback) and in-class participation and activities.
  • Analysis: Our assessment tools are very good at hitting the major objectives we have in this lab course – since our exams model our labs and are hands on. We seem to be doing a good job of covering what we want to cover. However, we need to develop new labs to meet current industry and research skills and software, especially with regards to using Google Earth and the wealth of satellite data available online.
  • Closing the loop: Changes were made, such as adding a hydrothermal vent section to the oceanography labs, and coordinating it nationally with an ongoing research project. Student feedback showed approval for these new labs and areas where they failed to achieve our objectives. We plan to continue to use these labs, but change their implementation slightly to better achieve our goals.

Geography 1 and 1L – Physical Geography

  • SLO and assessment development: For the last two semesters Darrel Hess has administered an end-of-semester concept quiz on the last day of class in GEOG 1 -- this quiz is anonymous and tests students on key concepts in the course.
  • Assessment: The 8-question concept quizzes administered in these two GEOG 1 lecture sections checked key factual information from the entire semester. After students turned in the quizzes, the answers were discussed in class, so the quizzes also served as an end-of-semester review for students.
  • Analysis: Results from both semesters showed that the majority of students are retaining key information at the end of the course. In the first semester, however, the results varied slightly between class sections, with a few more students missing one question in one section and not in the other. This difference did not appear in the second semester quizzes, nonetheless, performance differences between sections will be monitored in future semesters.
  • Closing the loop: Expanding the end-of-semester concept quizzes to all sections of GEOG 1 is being planned to track consistency between instructors.

Geog 110/111/112 – Geographic Information Systems (Courses and Certificate)

  • SLO and assessment development: During Fall 2010, all faculty of these classes got together twice (September and December) to discuss the class. All three GIS faculty are working professionals and they discussed the issues, planned improvements for the entire curriculum. We put some of the ideas into practice last semester and as a group analyzed the results with plans for full implementation this semester. Meanwhile we are also working on plans this semester to implement for Fall 2011.
  • Assessment: We will use student feedback (evaluations and word of mouth), exam performance (pre and post) + enrollments to determine the success of our changes.
  • Analysis: Analysis in Fall of preliminary implementations showed success in most areas, with ideas how to spread the success across the curriculum and more thoroughly.
  • Closing the loop New ideas from the assessment and analysis were implemented this semester. More will be next semester. Continual semester meetings among faculty will ensure continued improvement.


Ongoing process: The department has also developed a yearly feedback form for all instructors of a course to
review and comment on the SLOs for their classes and courses as well as department-level SLOs. Thus we can
yearly review the SLOs of each course and document the feedback we are getting, the changes we are making and plan to make, the results we are achieving through the changes we are making, and how we will adapt our changes next time around. Our process is documented, regularly updated, and available online at our website.


We created a website to help gather and disseminate helpful teaching advice for the Earth Sciences.
We’ve shared that website with fellow faculty, and held a discussion (Dec. 10, 2010) about research on reaching D & F students. About 25 faculty participated, all of whom committed to improving/changing their classes in some fashion in the Spring as a result (to try out some of the discussed techniques).

Majors still awaiting state approval and implementation.
Future courses awaiting SLO development:

  • GEOL 25 A/B
  • PALE 1
  • GEOL 11
  • GEOL 20
  • GEOL 21-22-23
  • GEOG 7
  • GEOG 4


Each of our instructors regularly reviews their course outline and in-class methodology and makes changes based on a variety of assessment tools. We have documentation of many of these changes and the results (entire closed loop). See Faculty Annual Evaluation Form for the document we use in our department to collect this information. In the completed documents, we describe a host of changes made and effects noted. See below for a small sampling of examples from a variety of instructors and classes.

Changes made | Effects noticed in the students as a result

  • Added hydrothermal vent labs to Ocan 1L – mid semester – one on chemistry and one on biology. | Students were more engaged at a time in the semester when things usually slow down, and they would drop out
  • Implemented optional creative-expression homework assignments for Geol 10 and Ocan 1. | Quality resources created, which all students benefit from (since online). Students who participated were more engaged in class, especially in sections that pertained to their project, and felt more attachment to the class and how it could be relevant and fit in with their lives. Better attitudes and relationship to material.
  • Insert lecture slides about current events relevant to the lecture topic (e.g., display the latest earthquake distributions, residual effects of the flooding in Haiti, cost of desalinated water versus current SF municipal supply, or updated total precipitation relative to previous El Nino and La Nina years). | Piques student interest in the lecture topic.
  • Because it's an evening class, I've adopted a suggestion to take a 15-30s stretch toward the end of class. Students by then have typically had a long day, and sometimes show it with looks of pure exhaustion. | Students immediately seem to be more attentive.
  • Emphasized, in lectures, areas of weakness as indicated in the previous semester's SLO exam. | Not sure what this semester's SLO results will indicate, but the mean and standard deviation of this semester's final exam scores indicate a lower and more variable mean than experienced in past semesters.
  • Add inspiring first question on all exams. | Fewer complaints on exam performance (angry students
    slamming exams at end when returned) – higher than average scores on first exam (when really focused on this change). Plan to add change to all quizzes and exams as go forward.
  • I implemented a first-day basic computer skills diagnostic this semester for the first time (Fall 2010) in
    GIS 110. | Numerous students dropped after the first week; demonstrably higher student satisfaction among the remaining students.
  • GIS 110 I changed the lab assignment data from geographically different areas to having all
    assignments cover the SF Bay Area. | The outcome of this will be that the students will leave
    class with a comprehensive SF Bay Area GIS dataset that they can use post-class. Got positive feedback from students on this at the end of Fall 2010.
  • GEOG 1 Probably the most recent big change in GEOG 1 is the use of short quizzes in addition to exams. | The quizzes seem to help the mediocre students the most (best students don’t need them; poor students blow them off)—a good tool for students to prepare for midterms.
  • Lecture for shorter periods with more activities interspersed so students don’t lose focus. | Students seem to generally stay better engaged with shorter duration lectures.
  • Introduce more activities so that students have a chance to interact and reinforce the material. | Activities have seemed to make some of the concepts much clearer. At times they frustrate students because they don’t understand the material to begin with, but it helps expose what they don’t know and gives me an opportunity to understand the deficiencies and work with students individually.
  • Student self-teaching – group work so that students can explain things to each other. | Student self teaching works really well. For the students who don’t understand, they seem less intimidated by
    their peers. For those doing the teaching, they learn the material better and get a self-confidence boost.