Earth and Ocean Science: Developing Blended and Distance Education Models

TitleEarth and Ocean Science: Developing Blended and Distance Education Models
Duration2 Year
Project Summary

This project aimed to enhance the flexibility, quality and efficiency of learning and delivery for related distance education (DE) and face-to-face (f2f) courses. The approach was to apply current DE best practices to f2f courses, adapt f2f best practices for use online, and introduce new resources and pedagogies that work in both settings. Choosing related sets of courses ensured that learning tools and strategies will be consistent throughout the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS) departmental curricula. DE and f2f courses were chosen based on opportunities to share existing content and research-based instructional strategies in the two modalities.

Funding Details
Year 1: Project YearYear 1
Year 1: Funding Year2013/2014
Year 1: Project TypeLarge TLEF
Year 1: Principal InvestigatorSara Harris
Year 1: Funded Amount187,353
Year 1: Team Members

Sara Harris, Professor of Teaching
Francis Jones, Co-Principal Investigator / Teaching and Learning Fellow
Louise Longridge, Lecturer
David Turner, Sessional Lecturer
Stuart Sutherland, Teaching Professor
Lucy Porritt, Lecturer
Martyn Golding, Sessional Lecturer
Sarah Sherman, Lecturer
James Scoates, Professor
Kirsten Hodge, Pacific Museum of the Earth (PME) Curator
Ivana Zelenika, Graduate Student Assistant
Genna Patton, Graduate Student Assistant
Rhy McMillan, Graduate Student Assistant
Calvin Kemm, Graduate Student Assistant
Gabriel Lascu, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology

Year 1: TLEF ShowcaseYear 1: TLEF Showcase
Project ReportReport-2013-FL-Harris-WEB.pdf
Project Outcomes

Products & achievements: Readings for f2f based on DE content; improved online and f2f assessment tools and strategies including sketch-based tasks; enhanced use of clicker questions; new in-class learning activities; new or enhanced learning activities and resources including peer-supported active learning strategies in asynchronous online settings; digitized specimens for lab work including video and interactive high-resolution imagery; virtual reality elements including virtual tour of the Pacific Museum of the Earth with interactive specimens and use of VisibleGeology (tm. see

Intended outcomes/themes:

  1. Students: Increased exposure to active, experiential and/or collaborative learning in DE or blended courses; increased frequency and diversity in online assessments (i.e. automatic and peer-assisted grading/feedback beyond multiple choice); and increased expert-to-novice and group interactions.
  2. TAs and instructors: New resources and teaching strategies will enable instructors to deliver student-centric, evidence-based instructional practices to large numbers of students using existing online technology.

Evaluation approach: Data was collected through a variety of methods and sources:

  1. Anecdotal conversations with TAs, instructors and the Teaching and Learning Fellow.
  2. User activity reports and analytics from Connect.
  3. Student Learning Experiences Survey, deployed in every term of the project. Data from before and early in the project represent “baseline data” against which later results were compared.
  4. Student feedback on each activity in all three DE courses, as part of activities or quizzes.
  5. Assessment of student work quality.
  6. Test scores and levels of question sophistication.
  7. Pre-post concept tests.
  8. Feedback from Geology faculty who observed active classes.


  1. Students learning in asynchronous online settings need more scaffolding than their f2f counterparts.
  2. Sketching and image annotation is an effective strategy for high enrolment courses, enabling efficient grading and peer-instruction.
  3. Instructors who contributed significant time (in eosc326/116 and eosc118) were enthusiastic about incorporating more active components into their DE courses.
  4. Students spend more time on meaningful tasks other than readings (i.e. labs, assignments and group discussions), without adversely affecting self-assessed workloads and enthusiasm. Interaction between students in required, asynchronous group discussions increased over time.
  5. Student workloads and enthusiasm depend significantly upon season.
  6. “Answers to questions obtained via discussion board” and “discussion board interactions with other students” were considered more helpful after introducing small group work.
  7. Feedback saying “more help is needed” improved during the project, suggesting the team managed to figure out how to support students in the use of new tools, resources and tasks.
  8. Student work generated by groups was more consistently appropriate than work generated in solo portions of the exercises (required prior to group discussions). This highlights the benefits of peer-assisted learning in distance learning courses.
  9. The assessment of student capabilities and test question sophistication is yet to be completed. However, topic coverage has been shifted from “breadth” towards “depth”, therefore it is not easy to compare current capabilities with capabilities before this project.
  10. Concept test results showed similar learning gains across 3 terms suggesting student learning about those concepts remained consistent as learning shifted from passive towards more active tasks.

Instructors of eosc326/116 and eosc118 (DE sections) have both begun incorporating lessons learned during this project into their own online teaching practices. The project has caused instructors to recognize that fundamentals about how people learn do apply regardless of the teaching “medium”.

Dissemination (selected publications):

  1. Jones, 2016b: “Impact assessment of a department-wide science education initiative using students’ perceptions of teaching and learning experiences”, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Published: 26 May 2016.
  2. Jones 2016a: Resource collection and description pages, 2016: Three web pages entitled “Building virtual geo-labs”, “Online activities: examples” and “Resources & tool”.
  3. Jones, L. Longridge, D. Turner, May 2016, “Adapting Evidence-Based Face-to-Face Instructional Practices for Distance Education”, The UBC TLEF Open House, May 5th, 2016 and The UBC FoS Open House, April 13th, 2016.
  4. Jones, L. Longridge, Nov. 2015, “Can students taking DE or f2f versions of the same course have equally effective / enjoyable learning experiences?”, UBC FoS Supper Series, Nov 17, 2015.
  5. Jones, L. Longridge, S. Sutherland, P. Smith, May 2015, “Re-Designing Hands-on Group Activities for Distance-Education Courses”, the 2015 University of Calgary Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching, May 12-13, 2015.
  6. Jones, L. Longridge, S. Sutherland, P. Smith, April 2015, “Translating Classroom-based Hands-on Activities for Distance Ed”, The UBC FoS Science Education Open House, April 13th, 2015.
  7. Jones, J. Scoates, S. Sutherland, R. Mindell, B. Gilley, Oct 2014, “Assessing Improvements of Learning Outcomes in Transformed Geoscience Classes”, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 46, No. 6, p.672.

Future: A paper is planned for Journal of Geoscience Education; several workshops and presentations directly related to this work are anticipated during the upcoming year(s); the team hopes to contribute with a conference on distance education or learning analytics within the upcoming year.

Sustainability: Instructors continuing to carry out modifications and improvements on their own after participating in this project is perhaps one of the strongest indicators that their practices have changed permanently. Enabling new instructors and teaching assistants to effectively teach in the impacted courses requires supporting resources; to meet these needs, each DE course has a space within the LMS with stored guidelines, rubrics, videos of task steps. Cross-fertilization from DE into corresponding f2f courses is expected to occur. Team members are also participating and contributing in three UBC communities of practice, enabling transfer of lessons learned to other units, groups and individuals. Project outcomes are also being incorporated into newly approved learning improvement projects at UBC, including large and small TLEF grants and internal Faculty and Department supported projects.