MOUNT JACKSON — It’s taken three years, but Russell Kohrs can finally see a lot of work paying off.
Kohrs, an environmental science teacher at Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, has been working with five others on creating a textbook for historical geology for the last three years. The book is now out and being used. It’s designed to be used for community college-level historical geology classes, but can be used for high school classes as well. Kohrs said that he and Callan Bentley, a professor from Piedmont Virginia Community College, heard about the opportunity and a $30,000 grant from the Virtual Library of Virginia. He and Bentley had worked together on projects before.
“We saw that you could sign up for it,” said Kohrs, has been teaching in the public school system for 17 years. “It was the first year for it, and we thought this will be a great opportunity. There’s enough resources to make it happen. So let’s create a book for historical geology.”
The textbook is an Open Educational Resource, available at opengeology.org. Colleges and even high school teachers across the country can use the textbook, which is online only, to teach their students. It has been officially adopted by several schools across the country for historical geology courses.
Kohrs said having a textbook that is an Open Educational Resource has a lot of positive values, including saving students money on books.
Over time, he and Bentley had others join in collaboration for the textbook. Karen Layou, a professor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Shelley Jaye, a professor from Northern Virginia Community College, Matt Affolter, a professor from Salt lake Community College and Dr. Brian Ricketts, a geologist residing in New Zealand, all helped out.
Kohrs said that there were some challenges with creating the geology textbook.
“So the challenge with a geology course is that you no longer have the labs with the specimens and the hands on apps and all of that,” Kohrs said. “So our challenge was how do we create a text that’s free. That is also as interactive as we can possibly make it without having to spend a whole lot of money on online trinkets and gizmos and things of that nature.”
Kohrs said Bentley came up with a way of stitching some of it together so students could zoom in on what they needed to see. He said they included gigapan imagery, 3D models and quizlets, which will allow students to test their knowledge as they read through it.
Kohrs said the whole textbook is probably several hundred pages and about 40 or 50 web pages. He said last month they had about 17,000 page views over a 30-day period.
Kohrs said he contributed on a number of sections and chapters, including ones on earth systems, paleoclimate, geologic time and evolution.
Kohrs said they sent out a survey to professors across the nation to get input as to what they would want from the textbook. He said most professors are only going to give students assignments for part of the textbook and not the whole thing.
“It’s sort of a little like a menu, if you will,” Kohrs said. “It’s like going to a restaurant, and you’re picking what you want to eat. So that’s sort of the idea, a student wouldn’t be able to go through and read every single chapter. They’d go read the chapters their professor or their teacher assigned to them and they might not ever read the other ones unless out of curiosity.”
Kohrs said he’s even given his students at Massanutten Regional Governor’s School assignments to use parts of the textbook.
One of the biggest challenges in writing the textbook was having different co-authors from all over the world.1
“Meeting, getting together and talking about stuff has always been challenging,” he said. “The three-hour time difference in Utah is one thing, but the 24-hourish difference between here and New Zealand is another. We would basically meet weekly via Zoom and we would all edit each other’s chapters. We struggled initially with how to bring our stuff together to have as much of a unified voice as possible throughout the book. So there was all sorts of co-author challenges we had to deal with. We dealt with most of them for the most part.”
Kohrs said it’s nice to have it done, although they will constantly be adding more information and revising it as time goes on.
“It does feel good to not have to be thinking about the next chapter I’ve got to write for sometime next month,” Kohrs said. “I never imagined I’d be contributing to a textbook, especially not in my current situation. That’s an unusual thing for a high school teacher to be involved in. But its been a joy. I feel like it’s a chance for me to contribute something.”
Kohrs said it was a great experience, and he said it’s good for his students to see how important it is to push yourself and try to learn new things.
“It’s been a really great growth experience writing it,” said Kohrs who is also an adjunct assistant professor of geology at Lord Fairfax Community College. “I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, but that’s been a chance for growth. It’s a chance for me to model for my students. A really critical thing is to always learn new things. You always have to be a learner and it doesn’t stop when you graduate. And it’s really critical to remain adaptable and to be able to produce new and creative things.”