On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning
Carleton College, Northfield, MN
Cutting Edge > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Bosiljka Glumac
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Bosiljka Glumac

Geology Department, Smith College

Bosiljka Glumac
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What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

I am interested in how motivation, attitude and values affect student learning.

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

I bring experience with teaching a geoscience course that is structured around projects with realistic scenarios. This approach considers the affective domain by demonstrating the relevance of the work that students do. I also am interested in effective approaches to teaching evolution. For more details please see my essays.

Essay 1: Designing Geoscience Courses Around Projects With Realistic Scenarios

One approach to considering the affective domain, especially student motivation, in geoscience courses includes designing assignments that demonstrate the relevance of the work that geologists do. The Sedimentology course I teach at Smith College is an example of a course structured around projects, most of which are field based. The projects are carefully designed to take advantage of the local geology and to address a variety of topics. To demonstrate the relevance of the work the students are asked to do the projects are designed to mimic real-life situations: for example, the students address concerns of a local farmer, or have roles as field conference organizers and collaborators (with paleontologists) on a multidisciplinary research project (for details please see: http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/sedimentary/activities/13884.html).

Students seem to enjoy such role-playing. Anecdotal evidence and course evaluations suggest that students perceive that they learn a lot in this course and that the knowledge and skills they acquire are useful for their future as graduate students, professionals and informed citizens. As an example, here is just one comment form a student (sophomore) in my Fall 2006 Sedimentology course:

"Thank you for teaching such an interesting class! The material was difficult, but I feel very accomplished. I remember at the end of my second semester first year my mother wanted to know what I had learned. I was hard pressed to think of something! It was extremely frustrating! Of course I did learn something, but I did not have a feeling of accomplishment or a good concept of what it was! If my mother asks me that this semester I will have so much to tell her! I feel very accomplished and I know that I have learned so much from this class. So thank you for teaching such a fantastic class."

Essay 2 - Introduction to Biotic Evolution: A Case of Cancer

An approach that carefully considers the affective domain in teaching the controversial topic of biotic evolution is described in a short letter by Leo F. Laporte (GSA Today, April 1998). This letter was written in response to Eugenie C. Scott's article "Creationism and Evolution: Still Crazy After All These Years" (GSA Today, January 1998). In his letter Leo Laporte states:

"The approach I have found most useful for my students is to make clear the distinct epistemological differences between the rival claims of creationists and evolutionists. The epistemology of each side is diametrically opposed: what they know, how they know it, and the limits of their knowledge. The creationist is unequivocally committed to textual content, namely the literal meaning of Biblical Genesis, and disbelieves anything that contradicts that content. The evolutionist, by contrast, is thoroughly committed to methods, namely drawing logical inferences from reproducible observations. Whereas the evolutionist will revise current content if the results of the method so dictate, the creationist has no method and simply relies on an inerrant text."

"I have found that focusing on the underlying epistemologies of different realms of knowledge—science, religion, the arts—is more instructive for students as a way for their discovering what is more likely credible and useful with respect to certain aspects of human experience. Thus, one should rely on the epistemology of science for the removal of a cancer; religious belief might console after the death of a loved one; and the arts can enrich aesthetic experience."

When I introduce the topic of biotic evolution to my students I first ensure that they are familiar with definitions of the terms evolution (change through time) and scientific theory (explanation of natural phenomena). I also like to clarify that the controversy among scientists is not whether biotic evolution happened but about how it happened. I then like to continue with discussion of some of Leo Laporte's ideas, with "the cancer case" providing an especially thoughtful and enlightening example.


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