Mary Savina. Photo courtesy of Mary Savina and Carleton College.
Keeping Curricula Current
How Can Geoscience Curricula Prepare Our Students for the Future?
One Example: Carleton's Geology Curriculum
Carleton College has a remarkably strong geology program.
Why is it so successful at producing graduates who go on to earn geoscience PhDs?
- because we don't try to produce geoscience Ph.D.s;
- because we teach the liberal arts through geology;
- because we teach introductory geology as if it will be the students' terminal geology course (and for most of them it is);
- and because we emphasize practical skills and experiences, such as collaborative mini-research projects and community-based service learning projects.
At this point in Mary's talk, workshop participants were asked to generate a list of (geoscience-specific) skills they thought geoscientists should have. This slide shows a compilation of the workshop participants' lists.
The Carleton College geology faculty generated a similar list at a recent departmental retreat. (To read their list, click on the image of the slide to the left. It is a thumbnail of a larger image.)
Next, workshop participants were asked to list general skills they thought geoscientists should have.
Once again, the list generated by Carleton's geology faculty is quite similar.
Having identified the skills we want our students to learn, the next question is how to develop those skills.
Carleton's curriculum helps students to develop those skills through a variety of experiences, including numerous research projects, courses that integrate lectures and labs, collaboratively solving complex problems, and lots of field experiences. (To read the complete list, click on the image of the slide to the left. It is a thumbnail of a larger image.)
The Carleton geology faculty have also articulated their goals for the program, which include that their students learn to think like scientists, that they develop life skills, and a few others. (To read the complete list, click on the image of the slide to the left. It is a thumbnail of a larger image.)
The Carleton Geology faculty have identified eight content areas that they feel are essential components of their curriculum: time; Earth as a dynamic system; tectonics; climate, including climate change and climate history; deformation; surface processes; rocks and minerals; and chemical differentiation and phase diagrams.
Finally, the Carleton Geology faculty have identified a number of values they wish to espouse and model in their program: an excellent learning environment for all students, integrity, collaboration, and respect.
One unusual aspect of Carleton's curriculum almost requires a collaborative atmosphere. The curriculum is nearly "flat," meaning there are very few prerequisites. So students in the upper level geoscience courses range from having had only one previous geology course to having nearly completed the curriculum. Collaborative work allows the less experienced students to learn from the others, and gives the experienced students opportunities to teach their peers.
The Carleton Geology Skills Matrix
Having identified skills you want your students to develop in your geology program, how do you go about making sure that they have sufficient opportunities to develop those skills? Carleton's geology faculty developed a "skills matrix" to address this question.
The rows of the matrix are skills to be developed; the columns are courses in the major. The premise behind this approach is that students do not need to practice every skill in every course, but they do need to practice each skill in multiple contexts.
You can design a skills matrix to look at skills at a general level...
... or to look at the specific components of a single skill, such as the documentation and presentation of one's learning. (In the matrix shown at left, "a" stands for always and "s" stands for sometimes.)