Cutting Edge > Enhance Your Teaching > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Steven Semken
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Steven Semken

School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University

Steven Semken
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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?

  1. Quantitative research: development and validation of psychometric surveys suited for geoscience teaching
  2. Qualitative research: methodologies for data collection in classroom, lab, and field contexts; coding and interpretation of quantitative data
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 am actively conducting research on the affective domain in geoscience education in the contexts of (1) sense of place and place-based teaching, (2) cross-cultural teaching and diversity, (3) teacher attitudes toward inquiry teaching and learning, and (4) teacher attitudes toward teaching evolution and deep time. I have recently authored or co-authored 3 refereed papers and 4 abstracts on this work and have two other papers in preparation. I have experience in the use and interpretation of psychometric surveys of affective measures in educational settings, and collaborate actively with ASU educational psychologists and statisticians (some of whom are also interested in participating in this workshop). We expect to have some new data to share in February. This field of study is my principal research focus, and I am enthusiastic about the workshop.

Essay: Sense of Place in Geoscience Teaching and Learning

Geoscience educators teach in and by means of places: localities imbued with meaning by human experience. The human connection to places is often described as a "sense of place" that combines intellectual meanings and emotional attachments, and thus bridges the cognitive and affective domains. Some underrepresented student groups with strong cultural and economic ties to land and environment (e.g., American Indians and Mexican Americans in the Southwest) may be dissuaded by geoscience teaching that conflicts with their senses of place (sometimes expressed as a kinship). Place-based (PB) methods actively leverage sense of place (including attachment) and may better engage such students.

My interest in this field began with qualitative studies of Navajo scientific knowledge and teaching methods to inform the design of PB geoscience courses. Since moving to ASU in 2003 I have worked with a more diverse student population, and large enough for quantitative research. My graduate students and I survey place attachment as one of several measures of PB teaching effectiveness. Our lab is a multicultural Southwest PB introductory course I have now offered twice (n = 30 and 220). We administer a valid, generalizable 12-item Likert survey of Southwest place attachment as pre- and post-tests (and in the most recent experiment, at the course midpoint), in tandem with validated quantitative surveys of place meaning and content knowledge, and qualitative surveys of student interest and satisfaction. The initial 30-student group showed significant (p < 0.01) mean increases in place attachment and the other measures. Linked qualitative surveys reported student enthusiasm for the culturally situated focus on regional Earth systems, among natives and newcomers alike. Multivariate analyses of possible correlations and predictive factors are underway. The work will be presented at the April 2007 NARST conference.

We have just extended this project to a group of ethnically (American Indian, Mexican American, Anglo) and professionally (STEM, history, sociology, English) mixed in-service teachers in the Superior copper mining district 100 km east of ASU. Working with ASU educational psychologists and statisticians, we are surveying a broader range of affective measures, including instrumentality (belief that the PB course will be of future benefit) and motivation. We are also helping validate a new survey of teacher attitudes toward STEM teaching. The experimental PB course includes a weekly "learning community" session in which attitudes toward place and pedagogy can be formatively tracked and cultural expertise shared.


For more information:

Semken, S., 2005, Sense of place and place-based introductory geoscience teaching for American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduates, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, p. 148-157.


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