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How I Got Here Part I: Enlightenmentpublished Aug 25, 2009
Midway through my academic career (post-tenure) I had a latent suspicion that things weren't right. I was covering the traditional content in a variety of introductory, mineralogy, and petrology courses, but it was clear that the students weren't "getting it", they were generally uninspired (by the science that I was truly excited about) and often were resistant to my class activities and were sometimes openly hostile ("this is not relevant, I'll never use this stuff"), and I was generally dissatisfied with my own teaching performance and the overall environment in my classes. Then I had a remarkable convergence of three disparate events that fundamentally changed my outlook and practice in education: 1) I had the opportunity to teach a course called "Texts and Critics" in the University Honors Program at Montana State University, and I experienced firsthand Socratic teaching methods as commonly used in the humanities;
3) I saw a notice in EOS that advertised the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) Course and Curriculum Development (CCD) program, and I saw the writing on the wall that I probably would have a difficult time getting continued funding to do field work and research on Archean crustal genesis and evolution. So, why not send in a proposal and see what happens?
I did indeed receive the NSF grant to develop a course in Environmental Geology: A Question-Asking/Problem-Solving Approach Based Upon Topical Issues that largely used the Socratic methods I learned from my experience in the Honors course. A year later I was flattered to receive an invitation to be on the next NSF CCD review panel (although I was later to find that serving on the next panel is typically part of the price you pay for receiving a DUE/CCD grant). Serving on that panel was an amazing experience. We were sequestered for three days in a Washington DC area hotel with a group of dedicated, insightful colleagues who worked in good faith towards a common cause. I served on a panel that reviewed multidisciplinary proposals, and my colleagues hailed from across many of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. We enjoyed each others' company so much that we chose to stay together as a group well after our appointed duties and slowly disbanded only as our flight schedules dictated. But, I had found a new "intellectual home" among colleagues who were dedicated to improvement of STEM education–a very positive group to work with and quite unlike the relatively hostile environment I found in many other parts of my academic life.
The other thing that was quite remarkable about serving on the CCD panel was the revelation that only 7 Earth science related proposals were submitted from among ~500 total proposals, and some small amount of Earth science was typically buried in what was otherwise some sort of Environmental Science proposal. It was very clear that the Earth Sciences were underrepresented in the CCD competition, and as a discipline we certainly were not getting an appropriate share of the funding. I documented this state of affairs in an article published in EOS (Mogk, 1993) to promote awareness of this situation in the geoscience community. A year later, I helped convene (with Gene Bierly, John Snow, Dottie Stout, Ed Geary, Frank Ireton, Marilyn Suiter, and Laure Wallace) an AGU Chapman Conference on "Scrutiny of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, Is the Viability of the Geosciences in Jeopardy?" This conference proceedings report began to articulate the challenges faced by the geoscience community with respect to changes needed in the curriculum, pedagogy, faculty practices, and institutions. We made a commitment to come back in a couple of years to revisit these issues and to measure progress.
It became very clear (to me) that united, proactive community action was needed if we were indeed going to assert the importance and relevance of Earth science education into the larger public discourse about STEM education, public policy (e.g. environmental issues such as natural hazards and resources), and simply how to live responsibly as a society on Earth.
Continue to Part II
AAAS, 1989, Science for All Americans, F. J. Rutherford and A. Ahlgren (eds.), Oxford University Press.
American Geophysical Union, 1994, Scrutiny of Undergaduate Geoscience Education: Is the Viability of the Geosciences in Jeopardy, Report of the AGU Chapman Conference.
Mogk, D. W. (1993), Our educational mission, Eos Trans. AGU, 74(17), 205.