The Ohio State University at Lima

Dr. Mark Kleffner has taught 100 sections of Earth Sciences 1100

September 5, 2018

Dr. Mark Kleffner stands near the campus zen garden made of rocks he helped students collect.

When Dr. Mark Kleffner walked into the classroom for the autumn semester section of Earth Science 1100, he could safely say he has hit a big milestone. Over the course of his 30-year career at The Ohio State University, he has taught at least 100 sections of the course.

“I became a teacher because I have a passion for helping others learn, and over the years I think I have become better at making it possible for students to do that in this class,” said Kleffner, a professor in earth sciences. “I also incorporated more of my own personality, sense of humor, and research interests into the class.”

Kleffner has worked hard to connect with his college students and hone his skills as a teacher. Spending his time in the classrooms of a regional classroom has also allowed him to connect with learners from pre-K through seniors coming back to campus for classes in the Lifelong Learning Institute. In the process, he was named an Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching recipient in 2012 and serves as a faculty mentor in the University Institute for Teaching and Learning.

“One of the great advantages for students at Ohio State Lima is our quality of instruction,” said Interim Dean and Director Joe Brandesky. “Fully vetted professors teach our undergraduate courses on a regular basis. This term, one of our best, Mark Kleffner, celebrates teaching his 100th section of Earth Sciences 1100 and he continues to serve Ohio State Lima students at a very high level along with his esteemed colleagues.”

Kleffner has seen big changes in his classroom over the years.

When he started, transparencies, slides and 16mm film strips were the norm in the classroom. The state-of-the-art technology of the time was VHS videotapes. Today, Kleffner’s students are using interactive iPads supplied by the Digital Flagship initiative at Ohio State. He no longer requires a textbook.

“Technology has made it easier to show in much better detail and in a more informative fashion how many geologic processes work,” Kleffner said. “Earth Sciences 1100 today is much more of an inquiry-based, hands-on learning experience. The class spends time not just in lab, but also in lecture, prior to the lab, working with actual specimens of minerals and rocks, volcanic products, glacial features and deposits, and fossils.”

While the technology now available to him and his students is helpful, nothing can beat the chance to put your hands on the items in the large collection of specimens in the geology classroom.

“I am always thrilled when I see that a student experiences an ‘a-ha’ moment during lab, when I can see that a student who didn’t completely understand a particular topic/concept from lecture suddenly figures it out because of the ‘hands-on’ format of lab,” Kleffner said.

Earth Science 1100 fills a big need on campus and is particularly helpful for education majors heading out into the world to classrooms of their own.

“Earth Sciences essentially connects students to several sciences at once, rather than one science at a time. Plus, it does so in such a way as to make it relatable to everyday life and events that are fairly regularly in the news such as earthquakes, groundwater quality, and dinosaurs,” Kleffner said. “Earth Sciences 1100 provides me with an opportunity to show that science is relevant, important, and even sometimes fun to many whose previous conception of science is the exact opposite.”

One bright, and very popular, item has not changed much over the last 100 sections – Kleffner’s cheerful Peanuts ties. His first was a gift from his mother-in-law that he wore to class ahead of a visit with his in-laws during his second year on campus.

“Several students commented positively about my wearing of a Peanuts tie in their written evaluations of the course at the end of the quarter,” Kleffner said. “I began wearing Peanuts ties more frequently, and finally to almost every class session. In the process, I also began to show my personality by working my sense of humor into the class. I discovered that a more relaxed atmosphere in class resulted in a better, more enjoyable learning environment for most students and for me.”