A new grant will allow a Boise State team to design a series of virtual learning activities to teach geochronology.

Innovative methods to educate Idaho students about Earth history and geologic time are the focus of a two-year $149,895 grant awarded to Boise State University by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This new grant will allow an interdisciplinary project team from the departments of Geosciences and Educational Technology to design a series of virtual learning activities to teach the science of geochronology. Idaho public school students are introduced to the concept in middle school Earth sciences classes.

“Geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists and other scientists use geochronology to describe the timing of events that have occurred during the history of the Earth,” said Karen Viskupic, education program manager for geosciences and principal investigator for the project. “For example, it helps us describe when, and test ideas for why, dinosaurs became extinct.”

In addition to Viskupic, the project’s team of co-principal investigators includes Mark Schmitz, associate professor of geosciences, and Ross Perkins and Chareen Snelson, both assistant professors of educational technology.

Perkins said that the project’s virtual activities provide the course management and grading tie-in that is missing from most virtual products for the sciences. He said that the Boise State team’s virtual activities will work with online learning management systems, such as BlackBoard and Moodle.

“Teachers will get feedback as students work in a virtual lab,” Perkins said. “Students’ work will be assessed as they work through the activities and teachers will have an understanding of how well their students are learning.”

The team’s virtual activities also will give students the advantage of working with real-life scientific data. For example, Schmitz, an expert in geochronology, will use video recordings to take students into the field with him. As students make observations from the video, they will be asked to behave as a geologist would. They will have to decide the next steps they would take with the samples gathered in the field.

“We’re bringing the expertise and resources of the university out of the traditional classroom or laboratory to reach a broader audience through innovative use of technology,” Schmitz said.

The Boise State team will work in partnership with the Idaho Digital Learning Academy to test and evaluate the online activities they create. Eventually the activities will be available nationwide to students and teachers through digital libraries of teaching resources.

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