Looking into volcanoes

Volcanic ash is causing trouble again. Last week I came across some e-learning about volcanoes. Made by the BBC a few years ago, it’s aimed at Scottish secondary schoolchildren, but could be valuable to anyone trying to understand what happens when volcanoes erupt.

You probably recall that in July 1995 the Caribbean island of Montserrat experienced horrendous eruptions, with little warning, of its Soufrière (sulphur) Hills volcano. The BBC (Scotland) put together an online multimedia ‘tutorial’, including text, web sites, audio and video, to explain what caused such disaster, in which 19 people lost their lives and the economy of the island was destroyed.  Have a look at it here.

You’ll see that it is one of two tutorials under the heading ‘Environmental Hazards’, the other being about floods.  It opens with a dramatic photo of the volcano erupting and offers students the means to answer four questions:

What caused the volcano to erupt?

What impact did the eruption have?

Was the eruption predicted?

What action was taken before, during and after the eruption?

As a geography teacher in an earlier life, I was curious about the pedagogical approach. It had a dated feel of  ‘Give the kids the resources and make them work’. But of course the web site was originally intended to serve the needs of classroom teachers and their students (in Scotland). I think it does provide opportunities for group discussion, and there’s a list (needing some updating) of other useful web sites.

How would you update this tutorial for the BBC, given your knowledge and expertise in e-learning? I would want far larger images, for a start, because the small thumbnail newsreel videos really tell learners very little.  The teachers’ notes mention two TV programmes, but I couldn’t discover whether those are still broadcast or downloadable. I would also want to introduce greater opportunities for interactivity online, perhaps between students in different schools, perhaps even between them and people in Montserrat today.

You could call this web site an early example of an open educational resource (OER), though the BBC does state, in full legal language, the terms of use.

The most devastating eruption to date started at 11:27 pm local time on Monday, 28 July 2008, without any precursory activity. And on 11 February 2010, a partial collapse of the lava dome sent large ash clouds over sections of several nearby islands (says Wikipedia, not one of the suggested sources). Poor Montserrat…

David Hawkridge

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