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Seismologists Gather for "Discourse Over Materials"


Posted: Jan 24 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Metacognition, Interpretation/Inference, Collaboration

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Every Friday afternoon, for as long as anyone can remember, the seismologists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have gathered for a lively session of discourse over materials.

"Discourse over materials" is a phrase coined by scholars who use ethnographic techniques to study the behavior of scientists and science students as though they (we) were a recently-contacted tribe with mysterious customs and folkways. "Discourse," in this context, lies somewhere in the triangle bounded by "conversation," "discussion," and "argument." "Over materials" refers to the situation where a knot of people gathers around some physical object or representation, which serves as focal point, statement of the problem, source of evidence, and visual aid in the discussion. This form of discourse includes lots of gestures and pointing, and some bouts of "muddle talk." Meaning-making emerges in some complicated way through the interplay among the materials, the spoken words, and gestures (Roth & Welzel, 2001; Ochs et al, 1996.)

The seismologists don't call what they are doing "discourse over materials"; they call it "record reading." More

My Catastrophe is Bigger than Your Catastrophe


Posted: Dec 16 2009 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Systems Thinking, Solving Societal Problems, Energy, Collaboration, Community

A week ago, in my journalism seminar we did a student-produced case study on loss of biodiversity: "The Sixth Extinction." Last week, the lunchtime seminar in my research division at Lamont was a report from the annual conference from the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. The newspaper this week is full of the United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

I feel as though the scientific community is pulling itself apart, with biologists drawn to to biodiversity loss, geologists drawn to peak oil, chemists and physicists drawn to climate change. Each faction is trying to draw attention of politicians, the public, and media to their favorite impending disaster. More

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"Boring Volcanic Rocks"


Posted: Sep 16 2009 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Collaboration, History of Geosciences

We've been writing a lot on the blog and in Synthesis Project manuscripts, about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaboration. In so doing, we are reflecting an important trend within Geosciences, as the field tries to grapple with problems that are too big for one brain to solve.

Yet even as this trend picks up momentum, there is a discernible countercurrent of colleagues who decidedly do not want to be drawn into interdisciplinarity. I might paraphrase their point of view as: "I study A, and the reason that I'm good at studying A is because I focus on A, and I really don't think that B, C, D, E, and F are as interesting or important as A, and if I did I would have studied them instead of A. So leave me alone, and let me get back to work studying A." Their point is well taken: Deep expertise requires concentrated focus over a long duration, and collaboration takes time. Moreover, without the findings of disciplinary specialists, the interdisciplinary folks would have nothing upon which to build.

Stratigraphic diagram with &quot;Boring Volcanic Rocks&quot;
from Evarts, et al (2009).
Usually this tension between the let's collaborate camp and the let me alone camp simmers quietly, perhaps flaring up behind the closed doors of a staff meeting. I was therefore surprised, while thumbing through the current issue of GSA Today, to find an illustration that seemed to express the latter point of view right out there in public for all the world to see.

In the midst of an intricate stratigraphic diagram of cross-cutting sedimentary relationships there was a minor unit, conspicuously colored in bright red, and conspicuously labelled as "Boring Volcanic Rocks."

Does that really say "boring?" My goodness, how....um...forthright. More

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A Well Graded Trail


Posted: Sep 9 2009 by Cathy Manduca
Topics: Collaboration, Community
This year we took the family backpack into the Spanish Peaks in Montana. Our first day was 9 miles and 3,000 feet with full packs- not much for a geologist who is in shape, but I'm a 51 year old slug who spends her days in the office. However, this all went much easier than anticipated because Montana has come to understand the value of switchbacks - something rarely found on the trails of western Idaho where I had been warming up for the trip. As I plodded along, I found myself thinking about the value of a well graded trail in supporting a sustained effort and wondering what we could learn from this about the way we pace our work. How do we create switchbacks in our professional lives that get us up the steep grades? More

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How I Got Here Part III: Towards Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the Earth Sciences


Posted: Sep 3 2009 by David W. Mogk
Topics: Collaboration, Community

View Part I: Enlightenment. View Part II: Building Community.

The last decade has been a whirlwind of opportunities to work on behalf of Earth science education on many fronts: course and curriculum improvement, pedagogy, integrating research and education, use of information technologies and digital resources to support instruction, faculty professional development, discipline-specific research on learning in the Earth sciences....

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