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Course: The Blue Planet: An Introduction to Earth's Environmental Systems

Department: Geography


I have been teaching this class for almost 10 years, and have tried to make it more interactive over time. Now that I have the opportunity to teach in Greenlaw 101, UNC’s interactive lecture hall, I wanted to expand the types and use of active learning in the class. As part of the finish line project, I expanded my use of PollEverywhere, added additional in-class activities, redesigned the semester assignments, and incorporated a couple of new full-period group activities.

While I was successful at incorporating more active learning activities, I noticed that I started falling back on old patterns towards the end of the semester. I intended to implement a few more full-class activities than I ultimately did. There is also some room for improvement with my assignments, which were not as research-based as I intended. Finally, I had some difficulty using Poll Everywhere for reading quizzes. I thought this would help students keep up with textbook readings and therefore do better in class. Even though it was a very small part of the grade, the students stressed out about it so much that it created a negative feeling in the classroom, so I changed this activity during the semester. I am now thinking of how I can do this differently in the future so that it encourages the learning outcomes I am trying to achieve.

Course Description

This course is designed as an introduction to physical geography and environmental systems science. This class covers the major components of the ‘earth system’ – atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. Enrollment has been 75-110 students over the years I have taught it. Academic level is mainly 1st & 2nd years, but also Juniors and Seniors.

Projected Design Elements

-Classroom polling
-Small group activities
-Research-based assignments

I have been working over the years to implement instructional technology including classroom response systems such as PollEverywhere. I have also incorporated active learning strategies in my classes.

I hope to expand and improve these strategies further. In particular, my goals are to expand upon existing methods for active learning (including Poll Everywhere and small group work) and incorporate assignments that are more holistic and research based.

Incorporated Design Elements

For the most part, I did what I intended to do. I used Poll Everywhere and small groups more often and more effectively. In addition, I came up with additional class long-activities.

Overall, the assignments were more research-based and integrative. Combined, they all built up to one coherent whole. I took better advantage of the technology in the classroom and involved more students in activities. These were important changes, because my class was 30% bigger than in the past.

Program: Finish Line Project

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