Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2015

Keeping Curricula Current

How Can Geoscience Curricula Prepare Our Students for the Future?

Mary Savina
This presentation, by Mary Savina, was given at the April 2007 workshop on Connecting Geoscience Departments to the Future of Science: New Structures for Research and Curriculum. To view a video of her presentation, click on the "play" arrow below. You can also download the original presentation (PowerPoint 571kB Apr26 07) if you like. Alternatively, scroll down to view the slides and a written summary, below.

Video of the presentation

Slides and written summary

The field of geoscience is constantly evolving. How can we design (and revise) our curricula to prepare our students for the future?

My answer to this question has been significantly influenced by my Carleton teachers and colleagues: Dave Bice, Scott Bierman, Shelby Boardman, Ed Buchwald, Liz Ciner, Clint Cowan, Cam Davidson, Bereket Haileab, Cathy Manduca, Julie Maxson, Sarah Titus, and Chico Zimmerman.

First we need to consider what the future will look like (in the geosciences). If current trends continue, future geoscientists will engage in more applied geoscience work, in collaboration with others, studying a broader spectrum of issues. These issues will, in general, have greater societal relevance, and will involve managing more complex data sets.

Next we need to consider curricula and curricular change.

Models of Curricular Change

Sometimes curricular change occurs by catastrophic replacement. The old curriculum goes up in smoke, and new ideas come down from above....

Sometimes curricular change seems to follow a random path....

Sometimes curricular change follows a gradual trend, or a path of punctuated equilibrium.

In all of these models, the changes tend to be additive: there is always more to teach.

Designing a Curriculum

There are several ways to design a curriculum. For example, one can think in terms of course titles and their content.

The content of an individual course can vary quite a lot, depending on one's audience. Probably the most obvious example of this is an introductory geology course. Which courses will be part of the "core curriculum" and which will be electives will also vary depending on context, as will course sequencing. Finally, one must decide how to fit research experiences, independent study opportunities, and other nonstandard courses into the curriculum.

Another way to think about designing a curriculum is to make the most of local geology and geography. For example, what makes a good second course might depend entirely on your location. Capitalize on it!

A third model for curricular design is to focus on goals, skills (geoscience and otherwise), experiences, values, and content. That is, what do you want students to be able to do when they start their senior capstone projects? When they graduate? How do you want your students to be thought of in the world?

A combination of these three models of curricular design is probably most effective.