Teaching Tools

Experience with Teaching Tools in the field, …

One key skill  of young geoscientist is the understanding of 3d rock geometries in the field and their evolution through time, which in their professional career they will indirectly infer from boreholes and seismics. Before using GPS, modern camera gear and other electronic accessories I emphasize the basic orientation in the field with a paper map and an ordinary compass. Students learn to use  their field book to condense information from exposed rocks, and work over their notes with a water resistant pen such as the Staedler Iso Fineliner 0.2.

… making your own geosciences compass, …

Your compass should allow sounding and measurements in the field, that is planes (such as bedding and cleavages) and lines (such as ripple marks and fold axes). A compass such as the Recta DS50G (app. 60€) with its compensated inclination can be used globally, it’s clinometer allows the measurement of dip and plunge, and the needle doesn’t wiggle since located in a fluid-filled capsle. Ensure that the mirror plate of your compass is flat (for the measurement of planes) and that the edges of that plate are straight (for the measurement of lines). You also need to buy a bubble level (app. 5€, e.g. at feinewerkzeuge) and attach that on the base plate of your compass. If possible get a compass with the 360° marks positioned at the outer part of the ring, which improves the readability. You will realize that the measurements are quite accurate, there’s no need to worry about battery life or harsh weather conditions affecting your tool, and I assume that most of you will prefer this and move on to the iPad/Android Apps rather than an investment in an expensive full metal compasses with that nasty wiggling needle.

… and using electronic devices in the classroom.

ThinkPad Yoga

In the meantime I moved to a ThinkPad Yoga, which you just flip to use it as interactive whiteboard. Writing on the Yoga is second to none. Program-wise I am now quite happy with Microsoft OneNote. I set up all my lectures in one Notebook. Each course is a Section Group, and each lecture a Section. For each lecture I defined different Pages, between which I can flip while writing and sketching on OneNote. One Page is the Draft Notes, one the actual class notes, one the Images I want to show, and one the exercises I want to do.

iPad and iPhone Apps

For compass measurements in the field I use the iphone/iPad app GeoID and Lambert. These apps allows the quick measurement of foliation and lineation, and they display equal area, equal angle and rose diagrams, poles and great circle, and they take the GPS position. The iPhone is well protected in a case such as the Griffin Survivor Case.  I am currently testing some GIS tools for iPad mapping purposes and iCMTGIS seems to be quite suitable. Note that the iPad2 16GB Wifi, in contrast to the 3Gs, is said not to have a GPS receiver, which makes mapping with the iPad tricky. The app EarthObserver lets you access many geology maps worldwide. Some countries provide free access to the national geological maps, such as iGeology.

Reading papers and reviews is a joy with the iPad using iAnnotate. Papers can easily be exchanged with other computers via DropBox. Ideas can be well developed and documented with iThoughts, MindJet is less functional. Both NotesPlus and NoteTakerHD are fine notetaking tools. Neither app will work out your handwriting however good it is, one drawback of the iPad, not the Apps. I haven’t sorted out how to delete notes in NotePlus yet, while the menu of NoteTakerHD may initially e a bit tricky. I like NoteTakerHD and assume it may even been used for teaching purposes. What is really cool is the magnifying field at the bottom of NoteTakerHD, which enables you to continuously write (once you reach the end of the writing field you just continue writing in the grey field on the left), and get as many words in a row of the document as writing on a paper with a pencil. I haven’t found a whiteboard app yet which I used in my lectures; I tested WhiteboardHD which is nice app but doesn’t match with my workflow.

Using the iPad as an interactive teaching tool in lectures works with .ppt’s saved as .pdf’s and presented in Presenter. The nice aspect about Presenter is that you can switch quickly and easily within that App between the your (static) presentation, a blank white board for your writing and sketches, and the web (accessing your movies e.g. at YouTube). However, interactive movies requires access to the web with Presenter (otherwise you need to switch between Presenter and a movie App such as VLC). More importantly, I don’t like the writing on the slides, even with those pens  in the classroom for several reasons: The pens are not sensitive and a variation of thick and thin strokes in your sketches are only possible by changing the settings but not by pressing the pen on the touchscreen (as is the case with the ThinkPad Tablet, see below). Second, in the presenting Apps I tested so far (Presenter, 2Screeens) you just get a few words in a single line which are huge on the projection,  NoteTakerHD be an exception but not really a presentation tool.  Third, you cannot put your hand on the screen without creating additional marks in the document, which may be important if you need to make detailed sketches.  That is why I went on to test the ThinkPad X201Tablet for teaching purposes. However, I may point our that the iPad is a great working tool in academic life and I won’t like to miss it. With it’s built-in cameras it may even be a good tool in the field.

The ThinkPad x201Tablet

is a small and light Lenovo laptop, which allows you to flip the screen and write on it. The pen is sensitive and is placed within the laptop. It is locked and won’t slip out unless you press on the red eraser. Using the pen is a joy, although it could have been a bit longer and heavier. When you keep the pen close to the screen,  you can also put your hand onto the laptop screen (with you do for detailed sketches) and without creating additional marks in the document. Magically, such a machine is even able to decipher my handwriting.

Windows Journals comes along with Windows 7 OS, and I now frequently use it for teaching purposes. It is a plain writing tool, but can easily be customized to quickly access different colors, strokes and shapes. I will also further develop my MS Powerpoint files and continuously remove content and insert blank pages. What it like about powerpoint is that I don’t have to switch media  when showing a movie, and wonderful textbook type diagrams, and sketch, write and develop content with a pen in the course of a single lecture. What I feel is still missing is a customized menu visible in the presentation mode of MS Powerpoint, that allows to easily change stroke color and thickness. I may test MS OneNotes as my single teaching tool but haven’t worked that out in detail yet and are quite happy with a clean MS Powerpoint so far.

Writing on the laptop vs whiteboard has several advantages: in large lecture halls the contrast of whiteboard makers is low and hard to read for students sitting in the back; the digital projection generally is much larger and much better visible; there are whiteboards in the classroom but no whiteboard markers; the chalk board frequently has a better contrast than a whiteboard, but the amount of colors used for sketches is limited and as the whiteboard it is not integrated in  a single work-flow; you are able to save your file and don’t need to clean any board; and from my point of view the most important aspect, as mentioned above, it is a single media which addresses different learning types.

This just reflects some personal experience.



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