"Geology undergirds me": using art to deepen connection to geoscience

Wednesday 1:50 PT / 2:50 MT / 3:50 CT / 4:50 ET Online


Andrew Jones, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ethan C. Parrish, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Naomi Barshi, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Colby Schwaderer, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Following the COVID-19 transition to online learning in spring 2020, we teaching assistants designed place-based activities for students to artistically document their natural surroundings and connect them to geological knowledge.

In one project for the 428-student geoscience course, students photographed physical features in their surroundings that they found beautiful, humbling, or noteworthy and related them to Earth system processes. We encouraged students to shift their focus to that which is often overlooked—like cracks in a sidewalk resulting from freeze-thaw processes—to demonstrate that geoscience is all around us, rather than only "in nature." The learning objectives were to show students that they are scientists capable of making valuable observations, and to connect their pre-existing attachments to place with geoscience. Following six weeks of in-person labs (pre-pandemic), students were consistently able to observe concepts from class in their environments.

In lieu of a traditional final exam, students chose from a host of creative options (e.g., a comic, poem, TikTok) to answer open-ended prompts connecting geoscience to their lives, such as "What is the interconnection between artistic expression and science?" Each TA modeled the assignment, culminating in an original song (Jones) and music video (Parrish) that will be used in future lectures.

Our broader-impact goals are 1) to increase scientific literacy by encouraging students to draw emotional connections between themselves and the curriculum, leading to long-term interest and greater depth of understanding; and 2) to challenge the notion that scientists are solely analytic, right-brained monoliths by incorporating art into geoscience curriculum. The sum of this approach is to invite new students into geoscience, thus diversifying the field.

This project was facilitated by tadada Scientific Lab, an initiative to inspire scientific literacy and cultivate emotional connections to science (tadada.net).

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