Overcoming Narrative Challenges in Geosciences

Wednesday 1:26 PT / 2:26 MT / 3:26 CT / 4:26 ET Online
Teaching Demonstration Part of Teaching Demonstrations


Matthew Oliver, University of Delaware
Jonathan Cohen, University of Delaware


We will take participants through one narrative challenge demonstration where participants will be asked to adopt one of many narratives with different attitudes toward a geoscience data set. Participants will adopt different narratives through roll play, helping them understand different attitudes and cultural differences toward geoscience data


One consequence of living in a highly connected world is that students are bombarded with geoscience information claiming to support or encourage particular attitudes or dispositions toward the natural world. These attitudes are portrayed as structured stories, each have a setting, problem, solution, villains and heroes that are often communicated along with geoscience information. This narrative challenge presses students to not only understand geoscience facts, but their own and others' reactions to them. Imagining a different set of circumstances or point of view in which people have different reactions to the same information is a particular kind of empathy known as "perspective taking". To address this problem, we will demonstrate a narrative exercise that encourages students to see the same geoscience data in the context of different narratives to be better geoscience communicators across different cultures. This activity is a classroom activity in a geoscience course that meets both natural science and diversity breadth requirements.


This activity is an example of an ongoing pedagogy in an undergraduate geoscience classroom. Analysis of narrative structures attached to geoscience data (typically in the news media) allow students to understand why certain datasets are effectively used to communicate certain stories and attitudes toward the natural world.

Why It Works

Students that engage in this activity generally show increased perspective taking and understanding of cultural differences toward geoscience datasets. This technique taps into peoples natural propensity as story processors for understanding geoscience. Recognizing students as story processors as well as data consumers is well supported philosophically, sociologically, historically and economically, and therefore is a powerful pedagogical tool.

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