Geology professor creates online resources to help students

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By Marie Salazar
Social Media Editor

Photo courtesy of Charles Thornton

As students scramble to ensure they obtain just the right amount of funds to scrape through their college years, Geology Professor Charles Thornton lends a helping hand by eliminating the need for a textbook in his class.
“College was expensive for me; I worked a full-time job to pay for it and still took out student loans. It was hard, so I wanted to ease that burden for my students,” Thornton said. “All the educational materials I’ve developed have been low-cost, but when I developed my online courses, I realized that if I built the courses from scratch, I could build my online courses with no additional book costs.”
This among other things has landed Thornton a popular role at TJC. “I feel like I’m making a difference in the world. Small, maybe. But I’m making the difference that I can do. I’ve done that my entire career” Thornton said.
Despite the fact it has taken Thornton almost 25 years to create this online resource for his students, he remains adaptable to all of the changes that occur every day and still continues to tweak his work to ensure the best quality of information is given to his students.
“My lecture materials have been in development for almost 25 years, and hardly a semester goes by that I don’t update or change something in the note set in some way. The really great and unanticipated outcome of that is that I’ve developed a learning system.” Thornton said. “The text is easy to read, it’s supplemented with study questions that keep them on track, and there’s a comprehensive method I’ve outlined for studying for exams. What’s come out of that is a whole integrated system of learning.”
Many of the students taking his classes feel the same.
“I really like having the professor write his own textbook because it flows nicely and he has a conversation with you rather than reading a book that’s strictly written,” Freshman Christopher Roberts said.
“Professor Thornton providing his own written textbook has been so helpful to me in this course. Science does not come easy to me but when I need help it’s basically like I have the professor there to help me.” Freshman Andie Willoughby said. “He guides his tests and quizzes directly from his own work which allows me to know exactly what to study.”
This method is popular with Thornton’s students; however, Thornton said, “I wouldn’t advise other professors to do it.”
“I’ve had to become competent at some level in a number of areas: webpage building, photography, video, audio recording, editing, just a whole host of things. I think it’s far simpler to go with an off-the-shelf solution. But that costs our students some money.” Thornton said, “And I believe by developing the learning system I’ve created, I can really help my students achieve the academic metrics that the course requires in a far more straightforward way than those textbook companies do. And my personality is such that I probably would have done it anyway, even if I knew how overwhelming it would be when I look back on it.”
However, it is easy to see Thornton’s online resources have impacted the students on a positive level due to the fact that many of them wouldn’t mind their other professors writing a textbook of their own.
“I absolutely think that other professors should model after Professor Thornton. For starters, I didn’t not have to purchase any expensive textbooks for this class. As a broke college student, this was a major relief to me,” Willoughby said. “Also, when the professor writes their own resources for the class it allows students to see firsthand what the professor is lecturing over. It wouldn’t be a general description or vague overview like when using outside textbooks, but a direct connection to the specific class/ professor to the student.”
When it comes to whether or not Thornton planned to continue to use online resources the future remains unknown.
“It’s really hard to say how online learning during the COVID pandemic is going to affect the future of higher education,” Thornton said. “I can tell you that 20 years ago, I was pretty critical of online learning, but today I’m a huge proponent of it.”
“You can log on from anywhere, there’s no driving in bad traffic or adverse conditions, or hunting a parking place, hiking in from some remote spot to the classroom, or getting stopped by campus personnel because you aren’t wearing your lanyard and ID,” Thornton said. “No one is late for class, no one misses class because of a sick baby or doctor’s visit, or any of those traditional impediments to face-to-face learning.”
According to oedb.org, advantages to online learning can be, scheduling flexibility, lower total costs, a more comfortable learning environment, pacing options, geographic flexibility, career advancement and ultimately students will improve the technical skills along the way.
“Time will tell, but I can’t imagine that online classes will ever go away. I plan to have at least some of my classes online, facilitating the best learning experiences that I know how to build.”

Correction: Thornton was mistakenly identified as a Biology professor, but he is a Geology professor.