Teach the Earth > Cutting Edge > Resources for STEM faculty > 25 Years of Progress in Geoscience Education

25 Years of Progress in Geoscience Education

Compiled by David Mogk, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University

This is a compilation of major events, reports and resources that have provided the vision and laid the foundation for 25 years of progress in geoscience education. The geoscience community has responded to these recommendations in the design and development of new courses, curricula, instructional resources, and professional development programs for faculty and students. This represents a tremendous community effort to support excellence in geoscience education. These resources provide the foundations for, or have derived from, work done by the On the Cutting Edge program for geoscience faculty professional development.
The geoscience education community has made remarkable progress in the past quarter century. Major contributions have been made with respect to 1) "what" we teach about the Earth with an emerging focus on Earth system science; 2) "how" we teach about the Earth, with an emphasis on student-centered, active learning; 3) integration of research and education, including use of Earth data and engagement of students in authentic research; 4) use of visualizations, animations, and instructional technologies in the classroom, laboratory, and field; 4) recruitment and retention of majors in the Earth sciences, reaching students from underrepresented groups and preparation for the workforce; 5) application of new advances in cognitive and learning sciences to promote student learning and assessments of student learning outcomes; and 6) the important role of departments, professional society, and federal agencies in defining and supporting geoscience education.

"White Papers" and Workshops Addressing Vision and Challenges

Vision from the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and PCAST:

  • Undergraduate Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education , 1986, the National Science Board calls for strengthening of undergraduate education to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers. NSB 86-100
  • "The strains of rapid expansion, followed by recent years of constricting resources and leveling enroll­ments, have taken their toll. The realities of student learning, curricular coherence, the quality of facili­ties, faculty morale, and academic standards no long­er measure up to our expectations. These gaps be­ tween the ideal and the actual are serious warning signals. They point to both current and potential problems that must be recognized and addressed." (page 12). Major deficiencies in undergraduate education were identified (from the Executive Summary):
  • Laboratory instruction,which is at the heart of science and engineering education, has deteriorated to the point where it is often uninspired, tedious, and dull. Too frequently it is conducted in facilities and with instruments that are obsolete and inadequate. (The needs for new instruments alone are estimated at $2-4 billion.) It is being eliminated from many intro­ductory courses. Much too little funding is available to support faculty with creative ideas for laboratory redevelopment.
  • Faculty members are often unable to update their dis­ciplinary knowledge continuously or maintain their pedagogical skills, and are largely unable to make skilled use of computers and other advanced tech­nologies. In some fields there are serious shortages of qualified faculty.
  • Courses and curricula are frequently out-of-date in content, unimaginative, poorly organized for stu­dents with different interests, and fail to reflect re­cent advances in the understanding of teaching and learning; the same is true of instructional materials now in use. Insufficient faculty energies are devoted to improving the quality of instruction and its appeal to any others than those enrolled as majors in their field.
  • Do these challenges sound familiar in 2014? These challenges largely set the stage for the following 25 years of work in (geo)science education!NSES ;cover
  • Report on the National Science Foundation Disciplinary Workshops on Undergraduate Education , 1989 (NSF 89-3), disciplinary panels focus on the need to address "pipeline" issues to recruit and retain the best students in the STEM disciplines; identified focus areas were: laboratory, course and curriculum, faculty, underrepresented groups, students.
  • Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, 1996 (NSF 96-139)–a new focus on STEM education: "What we urge is an America in which all students have access to supportive, excellent undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, and all students learn these subjects by direct experience with the methods and processes of inquiry."
  • From Analysis to Action: Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology,1996–the companion report to Shaping the Future, calling for wholesale reform of undergraduate STEM education. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1996.Download the Report
  • National Science Education Standards. 1996, NRC, 272 p.–Establishes the importance of the Earth Sciences in K-12 education on par with the PCBs. Link to National Academy PressGeoEducation Cover
  • Geoscience Education: A Recommended Strategy, 1997, Geoscience Education Working Group I (GEWG I) NSF 97-171
  • Bridges: Connecting Research and Education in the Earth Sciences; workshop report. Four recommendations: 1) Research in Education: provide opportunities for students to learn science by doing science; 2) Research and Education; translate new scientific discoveries into a variety of instructional activities; 3) Research on Education; a focused initiative is needed to determine how student learning is actually achieved in the Earth sciences; 4) Education in Research; to what extend are our instructional practices preparing students to consider careers in the sciences, or more generally, develop an appreciation of science as they enter their civic lives?
  • Geoscience Education and Diversity: Vision for the Future and Strategies for Success, 2005, Download the PDF
  • Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, 2012,President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology; recommendations to 1) Catalyze widespread adoption of empirically validated teaching practices, 2) Advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses, 3) Launch a national experiment in post-secondary mathematics education to address the math preparation gap, and 4) Encourage partnerships among stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers. Download the PDF
  • Next Generation Science Standards, 2013–developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve; provides an excellent opportunity for the geosciences to be fully integrated into K-12 education. Dowload the Next Generation Science Standards

Vision from the Geoscience Community

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  • Scrutiny of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, Is the Viability of the Geosciences in Jeopardy? 1994, A wake-up call that the geosciences were being rendered irrelevant if significant changes were not made to courses and curricula. (AGU Chapman Conference, Conveners: Dotty Stout, Gene Bierly, John Snow, Ed Geary, Frank Ireton, David Mogk, Marilyn Suiter, Laure Wallace).
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  • Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education Innovation and Change Using an Earth System Approach, 1997, Ireton, Manduca and Mogk (eds) Link to the Report–advocates use of an Earth system approach, integrating concepts from the solid earth, oceanography and atmospheric science.
  • Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) A Community Plan, 2000, Manduca and Mogk (eds)–a vision for the development of high quality collections of instructional resources, Earth data sets and imagery, discovery and distribution systems, support services and communication networks; this plan responded to Shaping the Future and the call for establishing a digital clearinghouse of instructional materials.Download the PDF.
     DLESE Community Plan Cover
  • Pathways to Progress–Vision and Plans for Developing the NSDL, 2001, Manduca, McMartin and Mogk (eds)–the roadmap for establishing the National Science Digital Library; the geosciences were major contributors to this effort. Download the PDF. A decadal retrospective of lessons learned in developing the distributed digital network that was the NSDL can be found at Retrospective Essays on a Decade of Building a National Science Digital Library to Transform STEM Education, (2012)
  • Revolution in Earth and Space Science Education, 2001, Barstow and Geary (eds) Link to Report –"To empower the public to make sound and reasoned choices, earth and space science must be taught throughout the United States in K-12 classrooms and be accessible to all students." pg. 18

Pedagogy, Course and Curriculum Design, Instructional Resources

Programs supported by the National Science Foundation

  • On the Cutting Edge Program for Geoscience Faculty Professional Development–NSF CCLI/TUES funding (Phase III) that supports workshops and websites on a) managing your career, b) enhancing your teaching, and c) geoscience topics.
  • Starting Point–Teaching Introductory Geoscience
  • Pedagogy in Action–tutorials that demonstrate "what", "why" and "how" to utilize over 50 different teaching strategies with numerous examples.
  • Earth Exploration Toolbook–modules and tutorials with step-by-step instructions on how to find, access and use modern Earth datasets for classroom use.Using Data
  • Using Data in the Classroom Portal–funded by the NSF/NSDL program, provides access to ~600 Earth data sets, tools for using these data, teaching activities and worked examples.
  • Integrating Research and Education–funded by NSF/NSDL, this site explores numerous strategies for using digital media to integrate modern research results in geoscience instruction.
  • InTeGrate–Interdisciplinary Teaching About Earth for a Sustainable Future–an NSF STEP program that "supports the teaching of geoscience in the context of societal issues both within geoscience courses and across the undergraduate curriculum. Our goal is to develop a citizenry and workforce that can address environmental and resource issues facing our society."
  • Macdonald, R.H., Manduca, C.A., Mogk, D.W., and Tewksbury, B.J., 2005, Teaching Methods in Undergraduate Geoscience Courses: Results of the 2004 On the Cutting Edge Survey of U.S. Faculty, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, n. 3, May, 2005, p. 237-252. Download the PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 4.3MB Jan1 14)
  • Drummond, C.N., and Markin, J.M., 2008, An Analysis of the Bachelor of Science in Geology Degree as Offered in the United States, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 56, n. 2, March, 2008, p. 113-119. Download the PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 151kB Jan1 14)

The New Geoscience Cyberinfrastructure and Geo-Education

  • Geoscience Education and Cyberinfrastructure. Report from a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation, April 19-20, Boulder, CO., 2004, Marlino, M., Sumner, T., and Wright, M., Digital Library for Earth System Education Program Center; University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, 43p. Download the PDF.
  • Planning the Future of GeoCyberEducation: Report from a Workshop, 2010, Ryan and Erickson (eds)–addressing the opportunities and potential barriers to student learning. Download the PDF
  • EarthCube Education End User's Workshop Report, 2012, Kastens, Krumhansl, Peach (eds); Download the PDF

The "Literacies"

Earth Science disciplines have engaged community wide discussions to develop these series of "literacies" that define what every scientifically literate citizen should know about the Earth:

Research on Learning

Resources from the National Research Council

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  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, Expanded Edition, 2000, Bransford et al. (eds); Link to National Academy Press
  • Promising Practices in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education: A Report From Two Workshops. 2011, Download the PDF
  • DBER Cover Discipline-Based Education Research Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering, 2012–an emerging field of scholarship that requires deep knowledge of the discipline and collaborative work with cognitive and learning scientists. Link to the National Academy Press to obtain a copy. Access a summary of the major conclusions of the DBER report and Contributions by and Opportunities for the Geosciences in DBER.

Resources from the Geosciences

Bringing Research Cover

About Departments, Professional Organizations

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Preparation for the Geoscience Workforce

Teacher Preparation and Enhancement

  • NSF Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation (CETP)–during 1993 to ~2000 the CETP program sought to develop teacher preparation programs by linking resources from STEM departments and Colleges of Education; there was an emphasis on reform of introductory STEM courses as many pre-service teachers take these courses; these courses were to model "best practices" in pedagogy. 17 Collaboratives were funded at $1 million/year for up to 5 years. SRI International (March 2001) published the Summative Evaluation of Excellence in Teacher Preparation report for a summary of the major outcomes of this program. Download the PDF
  • Preparing Teachers to Teach –portal developed via the DLESE Community Center
  • NAGT Teacher Education Division– a newly formed division of NAGT seeks to improve geoscience teaching by improving teacher content and pedagogical knowledge and by encouraging research on best teaching practices.
  • Teacher Preparation Modules and Courses–from the InTeGrate project; this project is developing modules aimed at courses for pre-service teachers including both content courses (usually taught in science departments) and methods courses.

Recruitment and Retention of Students in the STEM Disciplines

  • Tobias, Sheila, 1990, They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier, Research Corporation. This is the is the ground-breaking study of why college students abandon science for other disciplines. The keyS to retaining the "second tier" (those students who are not at the top of their class, who have been discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM disciplines) are: 1) Engaging teaching practices, 2) Efforts towards recruitment and retention,3) Increased dialogue and demonstrations in class,4) Greater emphasis on independent thinking and context,5) Encouraging cooperation rather than competition among students. See books by Sheila Tobias

  • Seymour, E. and Hewitt, N., 2000, Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences, Westview Press, 444 pp. "Poor teaching was the most significant influence on STEM majors' decisions to switch fields." Jay Labov writes (Cell Biol Educ. 2004 Winter; 3(4): 212–214). "One of the most discouraging aspects of this loss is that students who enter college with intentions to major in science and then change their minds following completion of introductory courses have academic credentials equal to those who continue to major in the natural sciences (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997 ). Thus, poorly taught introductory courses could be contributing to the loss of a significant and more diverse talent pool from the STEM disciplines."

Diversity, Recruitment of Underrepresented Groups

  • National Science Foundation, 2000a: Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2000. National Science Foundation Report NSF 00‐327, 254 pp.
  • National Science Foundation, 2000b: Report of the Geosciences Diversity Workshop. National Science Foundation NSF 01‐53.
  • Holmes, M. A. and O'Connell, S., 2003, Where are the Women Geoscience Professors? Download the PDF
  • National Research Council, 2007, Understanding Interventions that Encourage Minorities to Pursue Research Careers, a Workshop Report. Download the PDF
  • Resources and Strategies for Recruiting a Diverse Workforce–advice to Department Heads/Chairs and Search Committees to help recruit a diverse professoriate.

Scientific Portals (including education and outreach services)