By Way of Introduction

Cathy Manduca
Author Profile
published Aug 13, 2009
Blogging is mostly a new thing to me, my primary experience being reading my son's blogs while he was traveling in China. With that as background, my hopes for this blog are that that my posts will help you see the world differently and lighten your day. The motivation for the blog as a whole, which comes from Kim, is to explore new ways of sharing ideas about geoscience thinking and learning. I am totally enthusiastic about the idea. From my point of view, the blog is like a sketch book where we can explore and get feedback on ideas, some of which can become part of complete works. Like an artist who more completely explores ideas by sketching, I am hoping that I will more completely explore ideas by writing. From a community point of view, I hope that the ideas in the blog foster discussion that might not have taken place and lead to a richer community discussion that elevates ideas from all who are participating. Usually we develop our ideas alone or in very small groups, write them in papers, and hope for some written feedback in other people's papers. This is a long slow loop that I hope the blog can shortcut and expand.

What will I write about? From my point of view, an individual's interesting ideas come from the unique perspective they develop through their life experiences. I am not convinced that genius has anywhere near as much to do with interesting thoughts as does experience. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in his recent essay, "In the Air" and expands on the idea in his recent book, "Outliers." He suggests that breakthough ideas are a reflection of the perspective of a field. For example, the double helix became obvious in the field of biology because of the maturation of the underlying evidence. Leaders in the field, whose perspective or experiences allowed them to see the evidence laid out before them, jumped to the obvious conclusion. He claims that is why scientific discoveries are so often made simultaneously by mutiple individuals. While I (and Gladwell) would argue that 'genius' has some bearing on what is obvious, I fundamentally adhere to the notion that what you perceive in the world reflects your vantage point, the particular mountain of experience that you are standing on.

So, what about my vantage point and experiences could make for interesting reading? Arguably the most interesting thing about my career is the opportunities I have had to interact with faculty across institutions and across disciplines. Most of you have spent your teaching careers within one or a few institutions striving to improve teaching of geoscience for your students within your departments. You have developed deep skill in teaching a relatively small set of courses in a specific circumstance and have learned from others at other institutions when appropriate. Serendipity dictated that I would have a different focus, working with faculty teaching a wide range of topics in a wide range of situations. I have none of the deep skill of teaching geoscience that comes from practice, but I do have a very wide perspective of what is taking place in our community. So, one thing I will try to do in this blog is to talk about ideas that emerge from that wide view. What are important ideas that emerge when we consider the similarities and dissimilarities in the teaching of geoscience across our country (and when possible beyond our country).

Similarly, each of you has a research focus or a disciplinary specialty. My original disciplinary specialty lay at the boundary between igneous petrology, structural geology and geochemistry. I studied the evolution and growth of continental crust through the interplay of magmatism and deformation. However, as things played out, I have not only spent more time learning about education and learning, but have had fabulous opportunities to work with geoscientists from the full spectrum of disciplinary and interdisciplinary foci. The time spent running the Keck geology consortium allowed me to visit all kinds of geologists in the field. The work with On the Cutting Edge and other projects has allowed me to work closely with leaders in areas as varied as processes at continental margins, climate change in the quaternary, issues of groundwater contamination, and atmospheric modeling. In recent years, I have had really interesting opportunities to work with leaders in cognitive scientists, physics education, genomics education, social science education and others. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities to learn from all of these individuals and will use the blog to share some of this richness with you. I hope we can explore questions of what is unique to geoscience, where we can make important contributions beyond our discipline, and where we have strong allies and common ground that can help us address either our own disciplinary challenges, or those facing STEM education, and higher education more broadly.

A third unusual feature of my career has been the focus on organizing community action. To understand where this comes from, you need to know that my father was a politician and my mother the consummate community volunteer. I grew up in a very small town far away from any larger towns—not only was the organization of the towns workings relatively visible, if you wanted something to happen, you needed to organize it. I got lots of practice in middle and high school. Our interesting individual perspectives arise from more than our professional experiences. So, another feature of this blog will be thoughts on our community: how it functions, and how we can individually and collectively make things happen.

Knowing a few other things about me will help us make the most of this blog.
First, I am extrinsically motivated to a fault—I always do the things people ask of me before I do the things I know I should do, even when the things I should do are more fun. The upside of this is that if you have a topic you would like me to write about or to write more about, all you have to do is ask. You can provide this feedback to me in the response to this post, or in the response to later posts.
Second, I would like to release myself from being an expert. Part of the power of the internet is that it supports constructing of shared knowledge that transcends the expertise of the individual participants. I am good at synthesis, comparison, and the big picture. I'm really bad at detail, citations, and accurate recall. I will undoubtedly make misstatements. I'm looking to you to make sure that they don't survive uncorrected. That said, I hope we will discuss the ideas in a civilized way. In the ease of rapid response on the internet we sometimes forget that there is a person on the receiving end. I suspect that I'm not the only one in our community with a surprisingly thin skin.
Third, I think the power of my contributions will come from my interactions with all of you, but I don't want this blog to interfere with our ability to share, discuss and be honest. I will focus on things that emerge from looking across individuals, not at particular ones. I will not refer to anyone by name in this blog unless you ask me to. I will use my best judgment to protect your own work and ideas, and if at any time should you tell me not to mention something I will honor that request.

With that by way of introduction, let the fun begin.

By Way of Introduction --Discussion  

Cathy, all this time I've known you and I never knew about your politician father and your consummate community volunteer mother. That makes sense, actually. I've been reading Barack Obama's memoir, "Dreams from my Father," and just finished the section about his years as a community organizer in Chicago. Community organizing takes a special skill set and personality, and geo-ed is lucky to have you. I don't think that science, or academia, attracts or develops many community organizers.

I like the comparison of: "Like an artist who more completely explores ideas by sketching, I am hoping that I will more completely explore ideas by writing." Check out this page of Leonardo's sketches , headed by the highly relevant quote: "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding."



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My mom is also an artist -- she studied watercolor at Berkeley and spent summers when I was a teenager painting.



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