While a carbonate stratigrapher and sedimentologist in a previous life, my present activities at the University of Minnesota fall in the realm of educational research – exploring new and better ways to convey our knowledge of our Earth. In particular, I am fascinated by the intersection of earth processes and human society, how earth processes have affected human history and how human activities continue to dramatically affect our world. As earth scientists, we have a responsibility to more effectively convey our understanding of the Earth, especially in a world where many of the most pressing issues affecting future generations are related to earth processes.
Consequently, my research explores ways to more effectively teach earth science. Working with Paul Morin, our departmental visualization expert, we have created suites of color anaglyph maps that convey the Earth’s landscape as a three-dimensional surface. Together with the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, we have also developed GeoWall, a low cost stereo-projection system that allows students to interactively investigate geologic data in three-dimensions, and the Rain Table which will allows students to explore water flow across the Earth’s surface. Currently, I am exploring whether we can use bar code scanning technology to more effectively teach pattern recognition of mineral and rock samples. Other research simply explores better ways to identify, challenge and replace common earth science misconceptions.
At the opposite end of the technology spectrum, I rely heavily on some very traditional methods of instruction. For millennium, our ancestors gathered in smoke-filled lodges, huddled around campfires, or sat in the shade of a tree to hear stories. Story telling remains among the most effective, though frequently overlooked, modes of instruction. Distinct from lecture, storytelling is the art of weaving narratives that integrate course concepts with historical events. One of my courses always begins with a story illustrating the geology behind the Oracle of Delphi. We finish the semester with a retelling of western history from the perspective of climate change and a cautionary tale from Easter Island showing what can happen when a society underestimates its environmental impact.
Currently Teaching Courses
Earth and Its Environments
Dinosaur Evolution, Ecology & Extinction
Introduction to Geology
Introduction to Earth History
Honors and Awards
2010, Horace T. Morse-Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education
Rapp, David N.; Culpepper, Steven A.; Kirkby, Kent; and Morin, Paul, Fostering Students’ Comprehension of Topographic Maps, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 55, n. 5, 2007