Workshop Synthesis

In a final session of the 2015 workshop on teaching quantitative skills in geoscience using MATLAB, participants reflected on what they learned and what they will be bringing back to their colleagues. The following list summarizes some of the common themes of that discussion.

Effective course structures and strategies

  • There are common skills and operations faculty members across Earth and Geoscience sub-disciplines want their students to have, and that are expected of geoscience graduates in their post-graduation careers in industry or graduate school. This aligns with findings from other workshop groups focused on teaching Geoscience with visualization tools, models and computational approaches.
  • Sequencing opportunities for students to practice quantitative skills (and use MATLAB) over a series of courses is important for sustaining student learning outcomes. Students need to see the use of the quantitative skills (and MATLAB) several times over their academic career, even if the specific application is different each time.
  • There are multiple purposes for courses that will help define teaching practice and how MATLAB is introduced and used, as well as how it relates to the course content. Courses may focus on:
    • Coding and computational skills, possibly using a specific program such as MATLAB. In this case, examples could be from geoscience or focus on geoscience ways of thinking.
    • Teaching geoscience concepts, with a tool like MATLAB supporting operations geoscientists need to know how to do such as data visualization or data analysis.
    • Data science and dealing with large data sets that could include geoscience approaches and/or specific skills that support pathways into geoscience careers.
  • The purpose of a course will dictate the balance of coding vs. data visualization or analysis and when is each emphasized. This should be explicit in the course design.
  • Standardizing how students are introduced to quantitative skills and the programs they are introduced to could increase efficiency in their learning experience.
    • Many different skills (visualization, data manipulation, statistics etc.) can all be done within one program such as MATLAB instead of having students learn a new program in each course.
    • This requires faculty co-ordination across a program.

Making change happen

  • Having a comprehensive collection of teaching activities, approaches and specific examples with code that is sorted and categorized by the common skills we identified that many instructors want their students to learn would facilitate more people using this approach effectively. We have started this collection, but it is not complete or sufficient.
  • Bringing new colleagues in to a plan to teach with similar tools across the curriculum will require providing them with a strong rationale for making a change that includes strong pedagogy and an understanding of the affordances of a program like MATLAB, as well as a pathway for making a change. This needs to address possible concerns about learning a new tool like MATLAB, a supported approach for moving what they already do to a new format and a consideration of the usual constraints (time, funding, limits on new courses) that faculty members face when making changes.
  • Examples and support should be available both across the breadth of courses and levels: introductory through graduate training.
  • The practices here should be aligned with what we already know about best practices recruiting and retaining students. Students who are inclined to learn and use quantitative skills may not recognize geology as their home discipline. We need strong strategies for recruiting and retaining these students. This strategy should be based on strong pedagogy such as using examples that are relevant to the student experiences, providing hands-on activities and authentic research experiences. MATLAB is a powerful tool for providing such authentic experiences.
  • Growing the community of people involved in this discussion of teaching in this way will be valuable. Strategies could include:
    • Future face-to-face workshops, such as one associated with a national meeting.
    • Information and approaches from this workshop could be included in ongoing professional development activities through NAGT and other similar efforts.
    • Possible future workshops could address adapting existing curricular material with technical and pedagogical support.
  • The breadth of Earth Science and Geosciences was not represented by the participants in this workshop. Broadening the conversation to allied fields would be valuable for strengthening the community.

Community resources

  • We support building a community (of geoscience faculty using MATLAB in our teaching) that shares examples and best practices, including links to good pedagogy and updates as practice evolves. There are other communities that intersect with this one with which we can interact.
  • Having resources that demonstrate current practice, with concrete examples, is important to moving the community forward. We have the beginnings of those resources:
  • Still needed is a set of teaching resources for using large data sets. This is an important aspect of teaching quantitative skills. A central set of data sets that are accessible and comprehensible to introductory students, along with related teaching activities, would be valuable. The materials may already exist, but not in a centralized location that is easy to find and use.
  • MathWorks has resources to send representatives to campuses to meet with faculty and provide demonstrations.
  • This participant group can continue to work together as a community to share resources, experiences and ideas.
  • Groups with synergistic interests include:
    • SIAM's Mathematics of Planet Earth
    • 2013 MAA's Sustainability in Math Workshop
    • SENCER's Engaging Mathematics
    • NAGT professional development program.