Rendezvous 2015 > Program > Oral Sessions > Geoscience Education Research II

Geoscience Education Research II

Tuesday 1:30pm-4:00pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Session

Session Chairs

Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Karen Kortz, Community College of Rhode Island
1:30pm
Assessing the Reasoning Component of Citizen-Level Science Literacy: Results and Implications from an 18,000 Student Study
Edward Nuhfer, U of WY
Karl Wirth, Macalester College
Christopher Cogan, Ventura College

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We report results from a brief 25-item Science Literacy Concept Inventory (SLCI), which is a valid and reliable assessment instrument for addressing core concepts of citizen-level science literacy. The SLCI focuses on the reasoning involved in science's way of knowing as articulated by 12 assessable student-learning outcomes. Our growing database consists of over 18,000 undergraduate students plus additional graduate students and professors. Higher mean institutional SLCI scores strongly reflect increasing institutional selectivity in accord with institutions' higher mean SAT and ACT scores. Where sufficient SLCI data is available, changes across academic ranks serves as one useful assessment of intellectual growth provided by an institution. Socio-economic factors including (a) first-generation students, (b) English as native language and (c) interest in commitment to a science major proved to be powerful factors that accounted for most of the variations in scores across ethnicities and genders. General education science courses do not significantly advance understanding of science as a way of knowing. Rather, the higher educational experience as a whole (the sum contribution from all metadisciplines) better accounts for advancing capacity for such reasoning than do general education science courses. The average SLCI scores of undergraduate students begin to show a significant increase after completing about 4 science courses, which suggests that science majors do make gains in science literacy, but that these gains come slowly. Whether this is because science as a way of knowing is not being taught explicitly or because the intellectual capacity for reasoning that we measured develops too slowly to produce gains in one or two introductory courses remains unresolved. Greater improvements in science literacy might be realized in general education science courses if we employed reflective components with explicit emphasis on science's way of knowing as part of our lessons throughout these courses.
1:45pm
Differences in Spatial Reasoning Skills in Undergraduate Geology Students and the Effect of Weekly Spatial Skill Trainings
Anne Gold, University of Colorado at Boulder
Jennifer Stempien, University of Colorado at Boulder
Carol Ormand, Carleton College
David Budd, University of Colorado at Boulder
Karl Mueller, University of Colorado at Boulder
Katherine Kravitz, University of Colorado at Boulder
Alyssa Quintanilla, University of Colorado at Boulder
Jennifer Stroh, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Spatial reasoning is a key skill for student success in STEM disciplines in general and for students in geosciences in particular. However, spatial reasoning is neither explicitly trained, nor evenly distributed, among students. This uneven playing field allows some students to perform geoscience tasks easily while others struggle despite their own and their instructors' efforts and poses a challenge to instruction. A lack of spatial reasoning skills has been shown to be a barrier to success in the geosciences, and for STEM disciplines in general. Addressing spatial abilities early in the college experience might therefore be effective in retaining students in STEM disciplines beyond the classroom. We have developed and implemented a toolkit for testing and training undergraduate student spatial reasoning skills in the classroom. In the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters, we are studying the distribution of spatial abilities in 374 undergraduate Geology students from 4 introductory and 2 upper level courses with labs at the University of Colorado Boulder. Four treatment groups receive weekly online training and intermittent hands-on trainings in spatial thinking while four control groups only participate in a pre- and a posttest. In this presentation we will describe the distribution of spatial skills in undergraduate students enrolled in geology courses, and discuss the factors (e.g., video gaming, spatial sports activity, playing with construction based toys, or prior classes) that might explain the differences in spatial skill levels on pre-tests. We will further share the effect of the trainings modules on the development of spatial skills. We will discuss our data with a special focus on gender differences. We will also discuss the difference in spatial skills between introductory (nearly all non-majors) and upper level students (all majors). Our work provides insight into what types of interventions are successful in improving students' spatial skills.
2:00pm
Development of Spatial Thinking in Field and Structural Geology Courses
Kim Hannula, Fort Lewis College

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Spatial thinking skills are a fundamental part of the competencies expected from Geoscience majors, and field experiences are thought to play a critical role in developing spatial thinking skills. This study examines the development of penetrative thinking and perceptions of horizontality in two courses: a sophomore-level field course, and a junior-level structural geology course. Two sections of a sophomore field course (33 students) and one section of structural geology (27 students) were given the Geologic Block Cross-sectioning Test (GBCT; Ormand et al., 2014) and the water-level task (Piaget and Inhelder, 1956) as pre- and post-tests during Fall 2014. The sophomore course was the first time that the students engaged in geologic mapping, and is a pre-requisite for structural geology. Results of the GBCT showed improvement in both courses. The sophomore field class improved from a pre-test mean of 34% to a post-test mean of 45%; mean improvement was 2.87 out of 16 points. Structural geology students also improved, from a pre-test mean of 47% to a post-test mean of 63%; mean improvement was 2.38 out of 16 points. In both classes, the pre-test results on the water-level task showed that most of the students were very high performers (deviations of less than 5 degrees from horizontal), with little room for improvement. Improvement in the GBCT was nearly equal in the field course and in structural geology. Furthermore, the post-test scores for the sophomore course were statistically similar to the pre-test scores for structural geology (p=0.73). This suggests that the students' penetrative thinking skills improved in steps through the sequence of courses. Engaging students in spatially intense field work early in their geoscience major prepares them to continue improving their spatial thinking through the rest of the major, and prepares them for the spatial thinking demanded of professional geoscientists.
2:15pm
Teaching Spatial Thinking in Mineralogy, Structural Geology, and Sedimentology & Stratigraphy: Tools and Strategies from Cognitive Science Research
Carol Ormand, Carleton College
Tim Shipley, Temple University
Barb Dutrow, Louisiana State University
Laurel Goodwin, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tom Hickson, University of St. Thomas (MN)
Basil Tikoff, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kinnari Atit, Northwestern University
Kristin Gagnier, Temple University
Ilyse Resnick, University of Delaware

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Spatial visualization is an essential skill in the STEM disciplines, including the geological sciences. Undergraduate students, including geoscience majors in upper-level courses, bring a wide range of spatial skill levels to the classroom. Students with weak spatial skills may struggle to understand fundamental concepts and to solve geological problems with a spatial component. However, spatial thinking skills are malleable. We developed a set of curricular materials designed to improve students' abilities to reason about spatially complex 3D geological concepts and problems in Mineralogy, Sedimentology & Stratigraphy, and Structural Geology. Our curricular materials are based on several promising strategies that have emerged from cognitive science research on spatial thinking. These strategies include predictive sketching, making visual comparisons, gesturing, and the use of analogy. We conducted a three-year study of the efficacy of these materials in strengthening the spatial skills of students in these upper-level geoscience courses at three universities. Our methodology relies on a pre- and post-test study design, using several tests of spatial thinking skills administered at the beginning and end of each course, and on embedded assessments within each of the courses. In 2011-2012, we used a "teaching as usual" approach to gather baseline data, measuring improvement in students' spatial thinking skills with the existing curricula. In the two subsequent years we incorporated our new course-specific curricular materials, which can be found on the project website: http://serc.carleton.edu/spatialworkbook/activities.html. Students in all courses, over all three years, show improvement in spatial thinking skills. Embedded assessments show that students exposed to our new curricular materials are better able to solve some spatially challenging geological problems than students from the baseline year. Teaching spatial thinking in the context of discipline-based exercises has the potential to transform undergraduate education in the geological sciences by removing one significant barrier to success.
2:30pm
What geoscience experts and novices look at and what they see when viewing geoscience data visualizations
Kim Kastens, Columbia University in the City of New York
Tim Shipley, Temple University

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This study investigated how geoscience novices and experts approach data visualizations made from an important type of geoscience data: shaded relief images made from a digital elevation model using a scientists' data visualization tool. The novices were undergraduate psychology students with little to no Earth Science education. The experts had at least ten years of professional research experience. Participants viewed a global map and then four high-resolution maps, showing portions of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Valley & Range province, the Columbia River and tributaries, and a cluster of seamounts. Their gaze location was recorded by an eye-tracker, and their voice and gestures were video-recorded as they answered questions designed to probe their observations and interpretations. Not unexpectedly, all experts were more skillful than any of the novices at describing and explaining what they were seeing. However, the novices showed a wide range of performance. Along the continuum from weakest novice to strongest expert, proficiency developed in the following order: making qualitative observations of salient features, making simple interpretations, making quantitative observations. The eye-tracking analysis examined how the experts and novices invested 20 seconds of unguided exploration, after the image came into view but before the experimenter began to ask questions. On the cartographic elements of the images, experts and novices allocated their exploration time differently: experts invested proportionately more fixations on the latitude and longitude axes, while students paid more attention to the color bar. In contrast, within the parts of the image showing the actual geomorphological data, experts and novices on average allocated their attention similarly, attending preferentially to the geologically significant landforms. Combining their spoken responses with their eye-tracking behavior, we conclude that the experts and novices are looking in the same places but "seeing" different things.
2:45pm
Break
3:00pm
Tracking the Degree and Career Progress of Former Two-Year College Geology Students
Eleanor Camann, Red Rocks Community College

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For two-year college faculty, there is no easy way to find out whether or not our students who say they want to pursue geology-related 4-year degrees and careers actually end up doing so. It is also difficult to assess the long-term impact of our geology programs on such students. At Red Rocks Community College, a pilot project was undertaken to attempt to obtain some of this information. During the past 4 years, I collected data via a series of e-mailed annual surveys sent to my former students who had self-identified as planning geology-related careers. An initial survey with a 54% response rate over 3 years was first sent within a year of course completion. Slightly different follow-up surveys were sent to the respondents of the initial survey in order to continue to track their progress and solicit their opinions in subsequent years. 67% of the respondents to all surveys were "Extremely Satisfied" with how well our classes helped to prepare them for the next step in their studies and none were dissatisfied. Open-ended questions elicited many responses with advice that is useful in helping our current students prepare for the next steps in their academic pursuits. For some of our former students who did not complete a survey, National Student Clearinghouse data made it possible to compile information about transfer schools and degrees earned. In addition, a Facebook group has been used to maintain contact and build alumni networks. Initial results from these efforts have been promising, so I plan to continue this work.
3:15pm
The impact of inclusion: A student's perspective of participating in a fully-accessible geoscience field course
Charles Paradis, The University of Tennessee
Christopher Atchison, University of Cincinnati-Main Campus
Brett Gilley, University of British Columbia
Anthony Feig, Central Michigan University
Alison Stokes, University of Plymouth (UK)

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Students with disabilities are commonly marginalized from full participation in field-based geoscience courses due to the inherent challenges of accessibility. However, in order to increase the number and diversity of students in the geosciences we must address such challenges by designing and implementing field-based courses that are more inclusive to a full range of student abilities. Therefore, case studies of such courses are critical in terms of providing quantitative and qualitative data for educators to utilize in order to provide a more inclusive student learning experience. Moreover, the student perspective of such case studies can provide important feedback to educators in order to create an iterative approach to optimizing fully-accessible field-based geoscience courses. In this study, an international team of geoscience education researchers collaborated in the design and implementation of a single-day and fully-accessible field course conducted in Vancouver, BC. Of the 30 participants, 18 self-disclosed having a sensory, physical and/or cognitive disability. The field trip curriculum included stops at numerous geological points of interest where collaborative geoscience teams of students and faculty observed coastal, glacial and volcanic processes. Student and faculty partners discussed geological process mechanisms and impacts on the environment and civilization. Observation of each stop were facilitated by flat-area access sites, near-range bulk features, field-scout hand samples, tactile maps, and real-time digital audio-visual communication. Pre-course field scouting and post-course interviews were also performed to compile a rich and complete data set. The design, implementation and post-course insight from this case study will be presented from the student perspective. Lessons learned from this study will be emphasized in order to better inform educators on ways to ensure field-based courses are more inclusive to a full range of participant abilities.
3:30pm
Characterizing the teaching beliefs of today's geoscience graduate students and tomorrow's professors
LeeAnna Chapman, University of San Diego
David McConnell, North Carolina State University

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The next generation of professors will be drawn from today's graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. However, research into the pedagogical beliefs of geoscience graduate students and post-docs is lacking. This study seeks to characterize and determine the range of the teaching beliefs of geoscience graduate students and post-docs. The Beliefs about Reformed Teaching and Learning (BARSTL) survey was administered to 609 geoscience PhD students and post-docs from various institutions across the U.S. The BARSTL is a 32-item Likert-type questionnaire designed to determine how aligned an instructor's pedagogical beliefs are to reformed-based teaching of science. Possible BARSTL scores range from 32 to 128 points, with higher scores reflecting reformed, student-centered beliefs. The average BARSTL score of the study population was 85.3, with a minimum of 61 and maximum of 115. The BARSTL has four sections: how people learn about science, lesson design and implementation, characteristics of teachers and the learning environment, and the nature of the science curriculum. Participants scored lowest on how people learn about science and highest on the section about teachers and the learning environment. To further investigate the pedagogical beliefs of this population, a subset of the participants (n=60) were interviewed using the Teacher Belief Interview (TBI), a semi-structured interview with coding maps designed to capture the epistemological beliefs of teachers. We will compare BARSTL and TBI scores between groups including demographic information (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, and citizenship), academic status (Post-doc, PhD, or Master's student), years of graduate education, teaching assistant (TA) experiences, and participation in professional development opportunities related to teaching. BARSTL data will be presented to characterize and highlight variability in the population, while TBI data offers detailed insight into the differences between these groups.
3:45pm
Changing the Science Teaching Beliefs of Pre-service Teachers
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia

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The science teaching beliefs of pre-service teachers play a profound role in impacting the way in which science content is taught (Bleicher, 2010; Joseph 2010). In this study, we examine the way in which pre-service elementary teachers' (n=203) science teaching efficacy beliefs change over the course over the course of a semester while taking an Earth Science course designed for future teachers (Fall 2014, Spring 2015), and to what these teachers attribute the changes. We use the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs Instrument (STEBI; Enoch and Riggs, 1990), as well as qualitative surveys that allowed participants to explain perceived changes in science teaching efficacy. We also examined weekly lab submissions and overall course performance to compare participants content knowledge. Participants in this study have all had at least one other college-level Chemistry or Physics course and intend to teach K-7 grade. Factors which participants attribute to impacting their science teaching efficacy include lab experiences which directly translate to their future classrooms,positive experiences with college instructors, and multiple opportunities to practice content, especially when laden with misconceptions. While future teachers acknowledge misconceptions as an important reason to emphasize inquiry-based learning, their own work remains plagued by several pertinent misconceptions about how science works (e.g. Tekkaya et al, 2004).
4:00pm
Discussion