October 2, 2013

Government shutdown shuts down access to geoscience resources for the classroom

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

I’m not in the classroom this year – I’m on sabbatical, taking a break from teaching and campus service to focus on research full-time.  Although I have already had my moments of frustration at the lack of access to government websites during this current government shutdown, I can’t imagine what my colleagues are going through that are in the classroom and trying to access everything from datasets to images.

If you tried visiting USGS, NOAA, or NPS right now, you will be greeted by these front pages:

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They say, “you don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone,” and that is certainly the case here.  From looking at streamflow discharge data to satellite images, classroom instructors now are left to modify/extend/or completely delete assignments for students.  Many instructors, as well as K-12 teachers, work to use real-time datasets to create authentic learning for students, so that “cookbook” exercises with fabricated data are no longer used.  Sites like the USGS allow instructors to select regional data from streams close to campus, or we can break students up in to teams to cover wide geographic areas.

At least once a week, I like to use an Image of the Day to start my classes, getting students engaged in an exercise where they need to think about observations vs. interpretations of what they see, what information is missing or additional information they would like to know, etc.  Unfortunately, NASA Earth Observatory and other great image databases are now inaccessible.

And then there are the fieldtrips to public lands… national parks are a favorite with geologists!  Just last year at this time, I was heading down to Puerto Rico with a group of students from campus for a trip that included a full day in El Yunque National Rainforest – I have no idea what substitution I could have provided for my students that would have been an equal to what they would have seen and learned in El Yunque.  And I couldn’t have had them just visit the website, since the websites are down.

If anyone doubts the impact of the government shutdown on geologists in the classroom, just check out Twitter – there are plenty of tweets like these:

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Technology opens so many doors for geology instruction, yet at the same time, it can close those doors just as easily and quickly.  Teaching with technology is fragile – something we are all being reminded of right now.