Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Clary, Renee M.

Committee Member

Wax, Charles L.

Committee Member

Kirkland, Brenda L.

Committee Member

Schmitz, Darrel W.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Geosciences


In relation to the constructivist learning theory, understanding what a student may already know in order to use this knowledge as a scaffold for further education is imperative. The online classroom offers a unique and challenging environment for the evaluation of a student’s previous knowledge, especially in the field of geosciences where knowledge may be associated with geographic affiliation. An individual’s geological and meteorological sense of place may play an important role in evaluating a student’s previous knowledge in this field of study. To test this hypothesis, students in an online master’s program were given pre-knowledge surveys to evaluate their previous knowledge in Meteorology and Geology, as well as Geological and Meteorological sense of place surveys (Clary, R.M., and Wandersee, J.H., 2006; Clary, R.M., Wandersee, J.H., and Sumrall, J.L., 2013). Students were then categorized by geographic regions within the United States. Students were also given interest surveys at the end of their first year in the Masters program, and selected students were interviewed during their capstone field experience at the end of the second year of the program. Results suggest that there were subtle differences between regional groups of students throughout the study. More pronounced differences were noticed in the Meteorological pre-surveys than the Geological pre-surveys. Both sense of place surveys also indicated differences across regions, but the Meteorological sense of place survey showed greater regional differences when individual questions were analyzed. Interestingly, the participants who were interviewed at the end of the Masters program showed more geologically specific attachments as opposed to meteorologically specific attachments to areas that they considered to be “home.” The importance of moving and traveling throughout one’s life also became evident during the analysis of the interviews. Overall, this study of an online Master’s program concludes that geographic differences and moving/travel experiences among students matters to education in an online setting. The study emphasizes the importance for online instructors to evaluate teaching techniques based on geological and meteorological sense of place. By taking this into account in an online classroom, geographic disparities could be minimized and content interest levels could be increased.



Sense of Place||Geoscience Education||Distanc Learning