Translating GER Results into Practice in a Large Geoscience Department

Kathy Ellins, University of Texas at Austin

I have implemented the published results of geoscience education research into three different courses at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Of these, two courses were specifically designed for pre-service teachers. One course was piloted as part of an NSF-sponsored research project with an evaluation component. The second course was an extension to an active NSF project, which included secondary science curriculum development, teacher professional development, research on student attainment, and project evaluation. Both courses meet the needs of science majors pursuing secondary teaching certification through the University's UTeach program for whom two geoscience courses are required. Student feedback, evaluation findings and instructor experience will inform course revision this year with the expectation that tenured or tenure-track faculty will teach the courses in the future. UT Austin adjusted class schedules and made available the necessary teaching space to accommodate collaborative, hands-on teaching and learning. Going forward, it will be important to communicate the results of the pilot runs and the value of the instructional approach with the faculty in a way that encourages course adoption. Three challenges are anticipated: (1) Identifying faculty who are open to implementing new strategies and materials in a course designed with pre-service teachers in mind; (2) providing the necessary institutional support to faculty teaching the courses in order to sustain changes in practice; and (3) ensuring that their teaching is acknowledged and rewarded.

A third course that examined the impact that connections between the arts and geoscience have on scientific investigation and public engagement was also piloted with upper level undergraduates at UT-Austin. Three instructors—a geoscience educator, geophysicist who is a tenured professor and an artist—taught the course, using a project-based approach. Students worked in groups on three related challenges in a lab setting that encouraged discussion and active learning. The team teaching approach involving instructors from different disciplines was initially challenging but ultimately rewarding and a key factor responsible for successful course implementation. Because one member of the teaching team is a tenured professor, course adoption is expected to be straightforward.

Students initially experienced varying levels of discomfort adjusting to the different class formats, instructional style, and project-based learning activities. However, student evaluations were favorable and the students performed well.