Science Education Resource Center (SERC)
Engaging teaching activities. Effective pedagogy. Transformative workshops.
Director: Cathryn A. Manduca (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vision and Goals
The Science Education Resource Center (SERC) aims to help undergraduate faculty be better teachers; promote learning about the Earth; engage in research that illuminates geoscience teaching, learning and faculty professional development; be leaders in the use of the web and evaluation in education; be a strong partner to Carleton College; and develop and support an on-going geoscience education community.
SERC is an office of Carleton College. The office is led by the Director, Dr. Cathryn Manduca, who reports to the Dean of the College. SERC's fourteen staff include administrative, evaluation, technical, and project support professionals. Sean Fox is the Technical Director. Ellen Iverson is the Evaluation Director. All funding for the office is provided by grants and contracts. These are currently dominated by grants from the National Science Foundation either to Carleton, or to other institutions that sub-contract for SERC services. SERC engages in four major professional development activities:
- Face-to-Face and Virtual Workshops
Workshops are an excellent way to bring people together to learn from one another or to develop a community vision and action plan. They also provide a lower-distraction environment for busy faculty members to come together and create new educational materials or address a particular pedagogical issue. SERC is involved in a wide variety of workshops ranging from one time opportunities (Chronos Workshop) and topical series (Teaching Quantitative Skills), to an integrated workshop series aimed at holistic professional development (On the Cutting Edge).
- Development of Web Resources
SERC has developed websites on scales from a few pages supporting a workshop (e.g. Cows, Colleges, and Curriculum) to large integrated sites with thousands of pages serving millions of users each year. For example, the Content Management System is specifically designed to enable educators across the country to share their knowledge in formats that support easy use by teachers and faculty. The CMS incorporates digital library tools that enable easy referencing, reorganizing and reuse of resources to facilitate the development of new ideas that build on past work. These tools also make web resources on SERC sites easy to find with Google and shareable with other educational digital libraries.
- Development and Assessment of Curriculum Materials
SERC is working with teams of faculty to create and test new curriculum materials that bring together cutting edge science and research-based pedagogy. This strategy is most fully developed by the InTeGrate STEP center which has developed a design rubric, testing procedure, and shared evaluation instruments.
- Evaluation and Research
SERC engages in research and evaluation to guide its work. We have used interviews, focus groups and other qualitative measures as well as quantitative instruments such as surveys and polls along with web statistics to understand how faculty think about teaching, how they use the web, what they find useable and useful in our websites, and how those things impact their teaching. We also engage in the programmatic evaluation of professional development programs and web resources developed by other programs around the country.
Description of Programming
SERC works to improve education through projects that support educators. Although our work has a particular emphasis on undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, we work with educators across a broad range of disciplines and at all educational levels. The office has special expertise in effective pedagogies, geoscience education, community organization, workshop leadership, digital libraries, website development, and program and website evaluation.
SERC's services to the education community lie in four primary areas:
- Faculty Professional Development
Through projects such as On the Cutting Edge Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty, CLEAN Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, InTeGrate:Interdisciplinary Teaching of Geoscience for a Sustainable Future, SAGE 2YC and Starting Point: Teaching Introductory Geoscience, SERC and its collaborators offer a wide range of professional development opportunities for geoscience educators to stay up to date on both geoscience content and pedagogy. We partner with leaders in other disciplines to support similar opportunities for the STEM educational community more broadly through projects such as the SERC Pedagogic Service, Starting Point: Teaching and Learning Economics, Teaching Genomics at Small Colleges, and Microbial Life Educational Resources.
- Bringing Science into Broader Use
Together with our partners, we develop innovative resources that bring scientific research into use in education and by the public. Our staff has put together collections relating to geohazards such as tsunamis and hurricanes as well as other resources for teaching with visualizations. We also play a supporting role in projects such as the Earth Exploration Toolbook, EarthLabs, Integrating Research and Education, and Microbial Life Education Resources which assist high school and college teachers in using scientific data and research results in their teaching.
- Community Visioning
Bringing groups of people together around particular issues to find consensus and a shared vision of future activity is a hallmark of SERCs work. Initiated with our work in the geosciences (see, for example, Building Strong Geoscience Departments), these skills are also brought to bear on more generalized issues in STEM education (see, for example, Using Data in the Classroom, Reconsidering the Textbook, Restrospective Essays on a Decade of Building a National Science Digital Library to Transform STEM Education).
- Research on Learning
SERC is engaged in research projects that seek to develop a stronger understanding of student learning in geoscience and STEM courses as well as how faculty learn about pedagogical practices. Projects such as Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences and Cutting Edge: Classroom Observation Project bring together experts in the cognitive and learning sciences with educators with "front line" experience and engage faculty in educational research
Successes and Impacts
SERC has been a major contributor to a culture among faculty teaching undergraduate geoscience education that supports learning from one another and sharing resources. The SERC Teach the Earth Portal which aggregates resources across all of our Geoscience collaborations contains more than 4000 teaching activities developed and contributed by faculty. Through the On the Cutting Edge project this community is successfully reviewing these activities to make the best resources more easily identifiable and to recognize the contributions of their creators. Multiple professional development workshop programs in the geosciences make use of the model pioneered by On the Cutting Edge for engaging faculty in learning from one another and sharing resource through workshop websites.
SERC now hosts one of the largest on-line collections of resources on teaching methods. Aimed primarily at undergraduate STEM faculty, these resources were visited by more than 4 million users last year demonstrating their value well beyond geosciences or higher education. Evaluation studies show that the website increases instructors knowledge of and confidence in using pedagogies that actively engage their students in learning. The fact that these resources are authored by faculty, for faculty, is a major contributor to their impact. The SERC website and its content management system allow faculty-authored resources to be aggregated and organized into searchable collections both within and across disciplines. By making these tools widely available, SERC has developed a model to that sustains its work while providing needed dissemination of materials and practices developed across the disciplines.
Elements Contributing to Success
- National Science Foundation funding has supported ongoing development of the web development tools, as well as opportunities to explore new models for professional development activities.
- A paid staff focused on supporting faculty delivering workshops and authoring web resources enables projects to move forward efficiently and effectively. These staff also maintain the websites, create linkages among resources from different projects, and create user friendly access to the resources as a whole.
- A strong commitment to engaging and supporting individuals in solving the unique problems at their own institutions and in their own teaching by learning from the experiences of others is the foundational philosophy of the center.
- Workshop programs have been successful in reaching deep into the faculty community by linking learning about teaching to a wide variety of faculty interests and problems.
- Website content has been built by engaging faculty in authoring that supports sharing their best teaching at workshops. This strategy has yielded near 100% participation. We have not been successful in engaging the majority of faculty in follow on activities after workshops, or in authoring that is not supported by a sharing event that drives completion.
- SERC's association with Carleton College, which has a strong commitment to liberal arts education and quality pedagogy, has provided a wealth of opportunities to collaborate with experienced faculty members with a passion for teaching.