Integration of Inquiry Fossil Research Approaches and Students’ Local Environments Within Online Geoscience Classrooms

  • Renee M. Clary
  • James H. Wandersee
Part of the Innovations in Science Education and Technology book series (ISET, volume 20)


The Fossil Freeway project, an assignment in which students investigate local fossils and reconstruct paleoenvironments through these fossils, emerged from our previous research that revealed local environments had the greatest impact on students’ Geologic Sense of Place©, or their affective and intellectual state concerning the Earth and its components. Our earlier research also revealed that online students could successfully conduct self-directed field investigations within their local areas. We researched and optimized the Fossil Freeway project over three semesters (n = 15, 14, 7). Students in an online master’s level paleontology course were directed to procure local fossils, either through field sites or informal educational displays. Through the fossils, students reconstructed two paleoenvironments of their local environments. Student performance affirmed positive learning outcomes on the Fossil Freeway project. Through content analysis of anonymous surveys, several stable themes emerged: (1) The Fossil Freeway project promoted regional connections of the course material to the students’ local geographical areas, through identification of local fossil resources and the illustration of local environments’ changes throughout time; (2) inquiry-based, active-learning activities had high value in online classrooms; and (3) activities developed within Fossil Freeway projects could be modified and implemented within K-12 school environments. However, initial student feedback indicated that the project created a higher-than-average demand on students’ time. Through refinement over subsequent semesters, the Fossil Freeway project was optimized to integrate course projects with the final Fossil Freeway project. The number of required fossils was also reduced. The 2011 content analysis revealed complete student support for the project. We propose that inquiry-based, fossil field investigations can be conducted within online classrooms to successfully promote meaningful learning by integrating course content through local paleoenvironmental reconstructions.


Online Environment Fossil Specimen Online Student Regional Connection Local Fossil 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We offer our warmest thank you to Kurt Johnson, Ray Troll, and Fulcrum Publishing for allowing us to reproduce the cover photograph of the book that first inspired this project, Cruisinthe Fossil Freeway. Dr. Brenda Kirkland, Mississippi State University, kindly allowed us to utilize a modified version of her Geosciences mascot logo for the History of Life projects. We also thank Ben Barnard, Jennifer Kenney, and David Ramseyer for allowing us to reproduce portions of their submitted projects and Kimberlie Theis and Andrew Vines for graciously allowing us to utilize some of their submitted project photographs. These projects, in combination with all student submissions of the Fossil Freeway project, continually inspired us to refine the project for superior learning opportunities for our online students.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesMississippi State UniversityStarkvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and PracticeLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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