Benjamin Burger, PhD
Associate Professor of Geology
Utah State University
Uintah Basin Regional Campus – Vernal, Utah
320 North Aggie Blvd. Vernal, UT 84078
benjamin.burger at usu.edu
I am an associate professor of geology at Utah State University’s Uintah Basin Regional Campus, which gives me considerable responsibility in the growth and development of Utah State University’s offerings to students located in northeastern Utah. My principle role is in teaching (70%), but also with significant research (25%) and service (5%) responsibilities. I am excited to be a faculty member of Utah State University during this expansion of learning in this region of Utah.
Geology is a field of science that is in demand, particularly in northeastern Utah where so much of the economy is based on oil and gas exploration, as well as mining. Northeastern Utah also draws international scientific interest in its exceptional natural resources, particularly its long geologic history. This long geologic history is exposed in the well stratified layers of rocks preserved within the uplifted Uinta Mountain range, and the deep canyon walls of the White and Green Rivers. Northeastern Utah’s unique geological features invoke considerable local interest, and I am proud to represent Utah State University geology education in this region of the state.
My research is focused on the early Cenozoic (66 to 34 million years ago). Early Cenozoic rocks are well exposed across the Uinta Basin, as well as other nearby intermountain basins where I conduct my paleontological research. Within these rock layers are found a detailed ancient climate record of a considerable warmer world than found today.
This warmer climate was home to a diverse fauna of mammals, which no longer exist, including primates, creodonts, strange horned ungulate mammals called Uintatheres, and a host of bizarre mammals only known from the fossil record of Utah. My research goal is to further document the fossil record of mammals during this pivotal period of time, and use this fossil record to document how the world has changed during the 30 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
I teach 6 courses a year or 18 credits. Depending on the semester, I teach 6.0 credits of undergraduate courses and 12.0 credits of graduate level courses. Since 2011, I’ve developed 8 different courses with Utah State University; Physical Geology, Integrative Physical Science, Earth through Time (Historical Geology), Natural History of Dinosaurs, Advanced Stratigraphy, Sedimentary Petrology, Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany and Vertebrate Paleontology, as well as leading exercises one summer as part of the geology undergraduate field camp.
All of my geology courses have been developed utilizing the interactive video conferencing (IVC) system to reach a state wide audience of USU students. This technology has resulted in a radical new style of teaching that differs in providing lectures and other course material to students at distant locations. I utilize live broadcast sessions of my classes to drive student participation and engage students on the subjects that I teach, so they feel as valued as students in traditional classrooms. My Integrative Physical Science class has also been adapted to an online educational experience, but I still utilize video conferencing to reach out to online students internationally. With most of my courses I’ve created online video lectures, which provide students with educational material outside of the classroom, and utilize the live broadcast system for discussions, class projects, and provide student feedback. Rather than lecture to students, this flipped-style of teaching has allowed me to actively interact with students, and has been shown to improve learning (Bishop & Verleger, 2013).
I’m a firm believer in using learning objectives to evaluate how well my students are learning. Each lesson begins with a particular learning objective utilizing Bloom’s taxonomy, leading the students to higher orders of thinking throughout the course. Student learning is evaluated by seeing how well the students learn a particular objective. Each lesson can be adjusted, so that students are both challenged by the learning objectives and expanded if students have trouble in comprehending the subject. Research on learning has shown that these learning objectives must be both challenging and doable by the students (Wieman, 2014), and that the best learning outcomes are achieved by many hours of deliberate practice (Ericsson et al. 1993), with amble feedback from the instructor on student performance. This instructor feedback also requires me to motivate students to keep working— to keep practicing.
Learning objectives also help students to develop a mental organizational framework for the subject, and works around the limitations of cognitive short term memory. Students advance in knowledge and comprehension through a stepwise approach, with instructor feedback allowing students to monitor their own learning.
One of the challenges of teaching through distance education is keeping students engaged in the class, despite their wide geographic distribution and isolation from one another. I face this challenge by providing students with continuous encouragement and personal advice as they advance within the class. I’ve introduced group exercises and projects by using online discussion boards and online chatrooms for peer student engagement.
Broadly stated my research encapsulates how the environment changes over time, as it is expressed in the fossil record. In particular, my career is dedicated to the study of the fossil record of mammals during the early Cenozoic. I study their stratigraphic occurrence, their systematic relationships, taphonomic preservation, and functional morphology. Stemming from my dissertation research, I’ve been interested in the effect of climate change on the extinction and distribution of fossil mammals in the intermountain basins of the Tristate area of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. My research has been published in leading paleontology journals, such as the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, and Paleontology Contributions. I conduct summer field research in the Uinta, Washakie, and Piceance Creek Basins.
I have been the principle advisor of six graduate students who work on a variety of geology research projects in northeastern Utah. I am also responsible for the geology laboratory in Vernal Utah on the Uintah Basin Campus. The geology laboratory provides petrologic analysis of geological samples, and is equip with educational material for the teaching of geology laboratory courses. It is also used in fossil preparation, and contains a growing collection of mineral and rock samples from northeastern Utah.
As the sole geology faculty member at the Uintah Basin Campuses, I provide community expertise on geology and paleontology for the communities in northeastern Utah. I work with the Utah Field House Natural History Museum in Vernal, and hosted the 2014 Utah Friends of Paleontology annual meeting at the USU Uintah Basin Campus. I’ve given educational presentations at various local K-12 schools in Ashley Valley, school tours to the geology laboratory, and helped organize the Uintah Basin Summer Science Camp for middle school aged children.
I am engaged in global science outreach through my active YouTube channel, including posting lectures and lessons, as well as Bestiapilosus: a series of extracurricular videos relating to Mammalian Paleontology, and the Rocks of Utah: a video series dedicated to the geology of Utah. These two web series came about after attending a National Science Foundation Conference in Salt Lake City, which encouraged scientists to reach out to the public to elaborate on what scientists do, and present research that is not well represented to the general public. My videos have been seen by over 50,000 viewers from 85 countries.
I have served as an anonymous reviewer for scientific articles and grant proposals through the National Science Foundation, and served on committees with faculty from the Logan Campus.
Bishop, J.L., Verleger, M.A. 2013. The flipped classroom: A survey of research. ASEE National Conference Proceedings, Atlanta, GA. Paper 6219 30(9):1-18.
Ericsson, K.A. Krampe, R.T., Tesch-Romer, C. 1993. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 100(3):363-406.
Rook, J. 2010. Uinta vs. Uintah. The Edge Magazine vol. 11. http://theedgemagazine.blogspot.com/2010/11/uinta-vs-uintah.html accessed on 7/08/2016
Wieman, C. 2014. Taking a Scientific Approach to Science Education. Carnegie Mellon University Simon Initiative Lecture: https://youtu.be/aBEPXfY7Elw accessed on 6/30/2016