Summary from the final discussion

The question we asked:

What does it mean to teach introductory geoscience in the 21st century?
How do we achieve the long-term impacts we want to have on students in the context of:

  • 21st century geoscience, societal needs, environmental pressures, technology
  • Millennial-generation students and new technologies
  • Current and future opportunities and challenges of your academic setting

Within courses, we seek to:

  • Shift introductory course content as new issues arise to include more about resources and climate change, but without losing the core content.
  • Encourage students to take ownership of their own learning
  • Focus on what the geosciences can offer that is unique, such as a deep time perspective
  • Incorporate what we know from the cognitive sciences and how people learn into our teaching to better reach our students
  • Teach the science behind (and the process of science/knowledge building) of so-called "controversial" issues, like climate change, ethanol production, and evolution
  • Adopt beneficial new technology without leaving some of our students (or ourselves) behind; use technology to give our students new experiences (virtual field trips, Google Earth) and not just for the sake of using technology.
  • Introduce students to 21st century scientific advances by using tools such as online large datasets
  • Take advantage of our local settings as teaching environments
  • Develop courses that build on the background and interests of our student populations
  • Take advantage of our students' technological tools, like cell phone cameras and instant messaging

Within departments, we seek to:

  • Place introductory courses within the context of new curricula: our curricula should help students deal with new problems, and the introductory courses should reflect that
  • Make curricular changes that reflect new directions of science without losing the core - we can't just continue to expand curricula, so we need to make intelligent choices about what should be included
  • Mentor new faculty in their teaching, so that they don't reinvent the wheel
  • Produce technology-literate graduates who are comfortable using Excel, online databases, GPS and GIS, etc.
  • Design the classrooms we want for teaching, including everything from chalkboards to SmartBoards.

Within institutions, we seek to:

  • Promote the geosciences as relevant and important and as critical contributors to the academic setting
  • Determine how to best serve the population we have, not by "dumbing down" content or changing requirements, but by taking advantage of supporting resources such as ESL programs and basic skills courses
  • Breach the walls between departments to help students see the connections between disciplines

Within the broader community, we seek to:

  • Develop strong relationships between 2-yr colleges and 4-yr colleges and universities, including opportunities for research experiences
  • Be active in the development and approval of K-12 state science standards and teacher professional development in order to build the student population of the future that we want
  • Update articulation agreements between 2-yr and 4-yr colleges to allow more non-traditional introductory courses to be transferred with students
  • Expose K-12 students (and their parents and teachers) to geoscience content and careers
  • Diversify the geosciences through active recruitment to bring students into our introductory courses

Challenges we face

  • There is a general movement towards online classes, especially at large state schools and community colleges - these are a challenge both pedagogically and content-wise for a typically hands-on, field-based discipline.
  • We are limited by students we get, who aren't exposed to geoscience early.
  • Colleges and universities are facing budget cuts and department closures; it can be particularly challenging to keep up with technology.
  • The digital divide still exists, and will continue to be a challenge as our audiences diversify.
  • Faculty are often behind their students in terms of computer literacy.