Bridges: Connecting Research and Education in the Earth System Sciences

Recommendations from the pre-planning committee of the "Geoscience Education in the Next Millennium" meeting at the National Science Foundation (April 28, 2000) (Go to summary)


A pre-planning meeting was held at the National Science Foundation on April 26, 2000 to focus on the topic "Geoscience Education in the New Millennium". The purpose of this planning meeting was to explore the next steps in advancing the interests of geoscience education, and to determine whether or not a community-based workshop was necessary or desirable. The discussions at this workshop were informed by the recommendations of previous workshops sponsored by the GEO and EHR Directorates, including Scrutiny of Geoscience Education (AGU, 1994), Shaping the Future of Undergraduate SMET Education (NSF 96-139), Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education, Innovation and Change Using an Earth System Approach (AGU, 1997), Geoscience Education: A Recommended Strategy (NSF 97-171), and Portals to the Future, A Digital Library for Earth System Education (1999; A list of participants at this planning meeting is appended.


This planning committee recommends that a community-wide workshop be held in the summer of 2001 to address the theme of BRIDGES: Connecting Research and Education in the Earth System Sciences.

Earlier workshops on geoscience education have focused on content and curricular issues, and on the application of digital technologies in service to geoscience education. BRIDGES was identified as an important next step to promote cooperation and sharing between the "research" and "educational" interests of the geosciences. The purpose of this workshop is to explore the cultural relations, along many dimensions, that will promote synergistic collaborations to the benefit of the entire geoscience community. The workshop format was viewed as the best forum to articulate the diverse contributions, interests, and needs from all parties interested in geoscience education at all instructional levels and settings. An essential outcome of the workshop will be an action plan to develop mechanisms to allow continued work in critical areas beyond the workshop itself.


Numerous opportunities and incentives converge to commend the BRIDGES workshop at this time:

  • Recognition that discovery is common to both the research and educational mission; it motivates, enriches, and sustains the research community; it is an essential component of the process of learning science.
  • Numerous recent studies and reports (e.g., all those cited above) have emphasized the need to "change the culture" of scholarship particularly with respect to the reward and recognition system in the academy. Part of this cultural change must also be focused on diversity issues to facilitate inclusion of a more diverse student population in the geosciences.
  • Value is added to the research enterprise by expanding the impact of scientific discovery through educational experiences in classrooms and informal education; value is added to the educational experience by translating the excitement of discovery to students, and by showing the "human face" of science as it is being done.
  • Collegial value accrues, recognizing that no single person or group can do it all. Collaborative partnerships among those who discover new knowledge (i.e., researchers) and those who translate and deliver this knowledge (i.e. educators) are essential. Good, reliable scientific content and the ability to target the needs and interests of specific groups of learners (e.g. level of delivery, diverse learning styles, addressing the National Science Education Standards [NRC, 1996], and tracking into existing curricula) are equally important. Contributions of all should be valued and respected.
  • Application of a systems approach--as geoscientists, we are increasingly drawn towards multi- and interdisciplinary studies of the whole Earth system, which requires sharing information and working together in new ways. This approach naturally carries through into the educational arena, as well.
  • Inculcation of "scientific habits of the mind" for ALL students (e.g., Project 2061, AAAS 1989; Shaping the Future of Undergraduate SMET Education, NSF 96-139). All students should be given the opportunity to learn science through direct experience with the methods and process of discovery and inquiry. This will help students develop an appreciation and understanding of the processes and products of Science, which will carry forward into the larger community.

Workshop focus

Numerous permutations of research and education were explored as important components of the workshop, each with different significance and impact.

Research in Education

This focus area concerns ways to optimize opportunities for students to actually do science. In some settings, students will be able to contribute to new knowledge (e.g., Project GLOBE for K-12 students; true research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students). In other settings, simulation, replication, modeling and visualization allow students to engage research-like activities to (re) discover scientific principles.

  • All students at all levels should be able to experience science in instructional settings (classroom, lab, field) as it is actually done--by asking questions, collecting evidence, making interpretations. This requires more than just "hands-on" exercises, which are often prescriptive in nature. Discovery-based exercises need to be developed for learners at all levels, from K-16 through life-long learning.
  • Scientific habits of the mind-- we include: reasoned use of evidence; collection of verifiable data, testing, proof, prediction; curiosity, skepticism, openness to new ideas; integrity, fairness and the ability to identify and avoid bias; computational and estimation skills; the ability to observe, measure, and manipulate data; to make connections to new situations; and to communicate ideas and interpretations. As with athletics, music and art, these skills need to be developed with practice and performance (repeatedly and in a coordinated, integrated manner).
  • The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) provide an important entree for engaging students in research-like projects.
  • Similarly, Research Experience for Undergraduates provide important opportunities for students to participate in research activities.
  • Teacher preparation; workshops and internships for teachers to be involved with research experiences are important to give them the knowledge base, skills and confidence to teach in a discovery-based mode.
  • Internships and mentoring programs in research settings provide one important mechanism for addressing diversity of underrepresented groups in the Earth sciences.
  • Service learning is one example of instructional strategies designed to engage students in active learning about science while performing meaningful service for the community.

Research and Education

This focus area concerns mechanisms to translate new scientific discoveries into a variety of instructional settings.

  • Delivery of cutting edge research as real-time (or near real-time) data is made available to students (e.g., Jason Project).
  • Predictions and projections--forefront scientists can provide indicators of scientific advances, and suggest new and innovative ideas about what the future holds.
  • Effective translation between funded research and educational materials. A critical question remains to what extent does (or should) EHR funding of educational programs track with research funded by GEO? Are there mechanisms to coordinate the mission of these two directorates towards mutually beneficial goals? Should funded research be encouraged (or required) to develop instructional and outreach materials to complement the outcomes of research projects? Can the NSF review Criterion 2, "What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?", be defined and applied more uniformly in support of broad-based geoscience education objectives? These latter points are sure to be controversial, but are worthy of discussion at a community-wide workshop.
  • Tools and interfaces; continued work is needed to provide the tools needed to effectively use scientific databases in effective instructional practice.
  • Brokering collaborations; how can we facilitate partnerships to facilitate the rapid translation of scientific knowledge and practice into effective learning activities? Educational components should be built into research projects from the start, not just appended as an after thought.
  • Science and Technology Centers and other major facilities (e.g., UCAR, IRIS). These centers and facilities have made important contributions to geoscience education in the recent past. What can the larger community learn from their experience?
  • Confronting pseudo-science (e.g., Creationism). What efforts should the geoscience community, educators and researchers alike, do to combat pseudo-science in the larger public discourse?

Research on Education

There is a tremendous need to understand how learning is actually achieved in the Earth sciences. We have much to learn from cognitive psychology and sister disciplines (e.g., physics) that have established a research base on student learning. In the Earth sciences, we can benefit from the experience of these related fields, but we must also focus on learning about an Earth system that is dynamic, heterogeneous, complex, and often chaotic. Areas identified for further attention include:

  • Visualization as an instructional tool as representations of Earth processes that occur on time and spatial scales beyond direct human experience.
  • Spatial and temporal relations in the Earth system; application of GIS, 2 and 3-dimensional representations of Earth structures; the concept of "deep" geologic time; the evolution of components of the Earth system.
  • Diversity issues. "What works" for students a) who utilize different learning styles, and b) have been raised in diverse cultures? Is there a need to alter the language, examples, and metaphors we use in our educational activities to engage an increasingly diverse group of learners?
  • What are the misconceptions and preconceptions that students bring to our classes?
  • Assessment--formative, summative, longitudinal. Assessment tools, and training in their use, should be made broadly available for anyone engaged in geoscience education. Without assessment, there is no basis for quality control, nor the ability to measure changes and impacts on student learning.
  • Pedagogy--what works, what can we do to make education more attractive or interesting to students, what can we learn from other disciplines?

Education in Research

What happens in the classroom (or other educational settings) necessarily impacts the research enterprise. The knowledge base, skills, and attitudes imparted in educational activities, in many ways, dictates whether or not students may consider careers in the sciences, or more generally, develop an appreciation of science as they enter their civic lives.

  • Are our educational activities adequately preparing the next generation of scientists? What is the profile of students graduating with a BS, MS, or PhD degree--what should they know, what should they be able to do? Are we adequately preparing geoscience majors for careers in research or the general workforce?
  • Are we adequately preparing non-science majors for the workforce of the future? Obviously, most students will not aspire to careers in the sciences, yet science will impact their communal lives. Can we better prepare future citizens to recognize the importance of the geosciences in teaching, law, public policy, business, etc.? Are we preparing students with the necessary life-long learning skills needed for the future workplace--information gathering (and prioritizing) skills, quantitative skills, communication skills, ability to work collaboratively?
  • What we learn about student learning, may ultimately impact how future research is done. The ways in which learning strategies are developed and employed by students may well set the stage for their participation in future research contributions.

Potential Participants

The planning committee recommends that participants at the BRIDGES workshop be broadly representative of the education and research communities in the geosciences. In addition, they felt that it was extremely important that a number of carefully chosen experts on human cognition, and educational researchers from other disciplines be included. Other external expertise that was suggested includes representatives of marketing/advertising agencies who understand how to reach broad audiences, and publishers, who may need to make fundamental changes in textbooks and related instructional materials. This approach was effectively used at the Portals to the Future workshop, where geoscientists, educators, information technology specialists, and librarians came together to form an action plan for the development of the Digital Library for Earth System Education.


The panel recognized that perhaps the most exciting aspect of the BRIDGES workshop is the opportunity to learn more about what advances have been made in related disciplines--in part, in the field of human cognition, and in part in sister science disciplines. Carefully chosen keynote speakers will serve to inform participants of new possibilities and approaches. This was viewed as an opportunity to establish ownership and buy-in among leaders in the geoscience community. The expectation that participants would learn something new and meaningful from experts outside of the geoscience community was viewed as sufficient incentive to attract wide interest in the BRIDGES workshop.


Numerous outcomes should derive from this workshop:

  • A published report that will be distributed as a printed text as well as posted on a web pages. This report will build on and complement the earlier reports cited above. These reports have served multiple functions: to inform the community, to motivate further participation, to catalyze new activities, and to provide leverage for individuals and institutions to enable the recommendations that derive from the workshop.
  • Networks of focus or working groups will be established to carry on the work that will be initiated at the workshop.
  • Based on the results of the workshop, recommendations will be made to the National Science Foundation about community needs that may be translated into future Requests For Proposals.
  • By inviting speakers and participants external to the geoscience community, we hope to recruit advocates for the geosciences who will help us make connections to our sister disciplines. Not only can we learn from the experiences of the related sciences, we can provide Earth-based examples of general scientific principles.
  • Building leadership capacity--now is the time to develop a new cohort of geoscience leaders who can promote geoscience scholarship (e.g., Scholarship Reconsidered, Ernest Boyer, 1990) in service to the entire geoscience community through complementary research and education initiatives.
  • Develop a close relationship with current and planned NSF/GEO initiatives (e.g., EarthScope) to build an educational component into research missions from the start.

Next Steps

To initiate the planning of the Bridges workshop:

  • Recruit a small group of conveners (2-3) to begin to plan the workshop, and to submit a proposal to GEO and EHR to enable the workshop.
  • Establish a broadly representative organizing committee to set the workshop agenda and develop a participant list.
  • Conduct a careful search for nationally recognized experts in a) human cognition and b) science education (from other disciplines) to set the tone of the workshop
  • Establish pre-meeting communication networks (e.g., email listrs) to promote focused and moderated discussion on topics defined by the organizing committee.
  • The workshop itself should be designed to include a balance of plenary sessions, focused break-out sessions, sessions for cross-group interactions, and time reserved for informal "mixers".
  • Post-meeting activities should include preparation of the workshop report, continued work by the focus groups, and dissemination of products via a webpage and other printed contributions.

Cross Cutting Issues

Diversity - The committee spent a great deal of time discussing diversity, or demographic, issues. This is recognized as one of the primary challenges to geoscience education that is facing us in the new millenium. It was the sense of the panel that a single workshop dedicated to diversity issues would not be sufficient, and other initiatives in the GEO Directorate are already being considered to address this issue. However, to the extent possible, diversity issues should be addressed throughout the BRIDGES workshop. Opportunities arise to do so in focus areas such as mentoring programs, internships, and in research on learning styles of different student populations.

Outreach - Outreach is an important component of the overall geoscience education mission. In part, outreach can be directed towards the general public in informal educational settings such as museums, aquariums, and parks. Outreach can also be directed towards our sister disciplines in the life, physical, and social sciences and engineering disciplines. The panel recognized the need for the geoscience community to be proactive in its outreach activities to raise the public awareness about the relevance and importance of geoscience contributions to the public health, safety and welfare.

Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) - Significant advances have been made in the past year towards the development of DLESE with funding from the GEO and EHR Directorates. DLESE is currently working on mechanisms to a) collect, review and deliver "best practice" educational materials, b) develop tools and interfaces for the delivery of real-time and archived data sets for instructional purposes, and c) to serve as "the intellectual commons" for the geosciences by providing communication networks among all interested parties. The BRIDGES workshop should utilize these resources, and work in concert with DLESE efforts to effectively develop new materials and approaches that can be disseminated through the DLESE networks.

NSF-Wide Initiatives - The BRIDGES workshop provides an important venue to explore new ways to support NSF-wide initiatives such as Biocomplexity, Life in Extreme Environments, Environmental science initiatives, and multidisciplinary initiatives in GEO such as EarthScope.

Relations between GEO and EHR - The committee recognized the significant progress made over the past number of years in the cooperative approach to geoscience education supported by the GEO and EHR Directorates. These efforts are greatly appreciated and encouraged. In this, the committee felt that this was a model for both NSF as an institution, and for the geoscience community. This record of cooperation also provides opportunities that do not presently exist elsewhere in NSF and among other science disciplines, and the BRIDGES workshop will provide one more venue to further this tradition of cooperation and synergy.

Summary report

Prepared by: Dr. David W. Mogk
Montana State University

Panel Participants:
Dr. Gail Ashley
Rutgers University

Dr. Michael Bergman
Simon's Rock College

Dr. Michael Forrest
Rio Hondo College

Dr. Bruce Fouke
University of Illinois

Dr. Ed Geary
CSMATE, Colorado State University

Dr. Frank Ireton
American Geophysical Union

Dr. Susan Humphris
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Dr. David Simpson
IRIS Consortium

Dr. John Snow
University of Oklahoma

Summary Recommendations--Pre-Planning Committee "Geoscience Education in the Next Millennium" April 28, 2000

This planning committee recommends that a community-wide workshop be held in the summer of 2001 to address the theme of BRIDGES: Connecting Research and Education in the Earth System Sciences.


Numerous opportunities and incentives converge to commend the BRIDGES workshop at this time. This workshop responds to the broad interests of the geosciences community by seeking new ways to strengthen connections and relationships between our research and educational missions:

  • Discovery is common to both the research and educational mission.
  • Numerous recent studies and have emphasized the need to "change the culture" of scholarship particularly with respect to the reward and recognition system in the academy. Part of this cultural change must also be focused on diversity issues to facilitate inclusion of a more diverse student population in the geosciences.
  • Value is added to both the research and educational missions.
  • Collaborative partnerships among researchers and educators is essential.
  • Application of a systems approach--as geoscientists, we are increasingly drawn towards multi- and interdisciplinary studies of the whole Earth system, which requires sharing information and working together in new ways. This approach naturally carries through into the educational arena, as well.
  • Inculcation of "scientific habits of the mind" for ALL students-in preparation for careers as scientists, and for the general public.

Workshop focus

Numerous permutations of research and education were explored as important components of the workshop, each with different significance and impact:

  • Research in education-developing new ways to optimize research experiences for students at all levels of instruction; direct experience in discovery and inquiry-based activities, including true research, simulation, replication, modeling, and visualization of research-like activities.
  • Research and education-developing mechanisms to effectively translate exciting new scientific discoveries into formal and informal educational settings, including tools and interfaces to access and use real-time and archived data sets.
  • Research on education-establishing a coordinated research program to discover how students actually learn about the complex concepts of the earth system such as deep time and 3-d structures of the earth. Experts in human cognition, and science educators from related science disciplines will be asked to contribute their expertise in these areas.
  • Education in research-are our educational activities providing appropriate training in knowledge, skills and attitude for future careers a) in research, and b) for the larger workforce?


  • Conveners for the workshop should be recruited immediately, and an organizing committee formed to plan for the workshop. Agenda for the workshop and potential participants should be identified in the near future.
  • Expected outcomes will be a workshop report, networks of working groups to address emerging issues, and other publications to be distributed in print and on the web.
  • Workshop activities should complement and build on other NSF-wide activities including addressing diversity issues, outreach programs, initiatives on biocomplexity and environmental sciences, and the Digital Library for Earth System Education