An Interview with NAGT's new President, David McConnell

published Dec 13, 2018 4:51pm

Dr. David McConnell, succeeding Dr. Don Duggan-Haas as the new President of NAGT, is a Professor of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University. McConnell's research focuses on geoscience education, and in particular, on assessment of learning in introductory courses, the relationship between teaching beliefs and practices, and professional development of graduate students and faculty. To learn more about the new President, the NAGT Executive Office asked David a few questions about what he's most excited about for the future of NAGT, his favorite place on Earth, and more:

How long have you been involved with NAGT, and how has being a part of the NAGT community influenced you as an educator?

David McConnell: I have no idea how long I have been a member of NAGT, it has been many years since I joined and it is certainly a bit different now than it was then. To me, the biggest benefit of being part of NAGT is the opportunity to interact with so many people with common interests in geoscience education. Early on, going to presentations in NAGT-sponsored sessions at professional meetings sparked my interest into looking more closely at the science behind teaching and learning. NAGT-sponsored workshops helped me gain skills and learn more about geoscience education research. JGE, the Association's journal, provided a forum to publish our research results. All of these opportunities helped me make a turn in my career from someone who defined himself as a structural geologist to someone who thinks of himself primarily as a geoscience educator.

What is one of your favorite things about teaching?

DM: First, as someone who was the first person in my family to go to college, I love working in public institutions where I have always taught large intro classes filled with freshmen. Beyond teaching them geoscience, I want to create a welcoming space for those first-time students and help them get off to a good start in university. So, we talk quite a lot about learning and how it happens and, hopefully, give them some skills that they can apply in the rest of their courses. Another one of my favorite things is the creativity that comes with the job. I love the opportunity to design a lesson, to think about the examples, to find great visuals, to generate activities that will help assess learning. Putting that all together, it is a bit of an art form. We all bring different things to it and make different choices and it is fun to play with the ideas. Lastly, after mentoring a fantastic group of graduate students, I have to say that one my very favorite things is interacting with these young education researchers and watching them discussing their research findings at meetings. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to provide them with an environment to explore their ideas and to help guide them along their own paths toward fulfilling careers.

What are you excited about regarding the future of NAGT?

DM: I am excited about the continued growth of the organization and about opportunities to build on the resources we manage. We have had excellent leadership from our Executive Director, past Presidents, and Executive Committee that has resulted in NAGT membership steadily climbing for several years; I would like to see that continue as our members are the heart of the organization. We are going through a transition this year with the search for a new Executive Director. This will present a challenge but also an opportunity to bring in someone with different ideas and perspectives that will help us evolve as an organization. I am also excited about the possibility of exploring how to better curate the rich collection of teaching resources on the Teach the Earth site so that they are more accessible to our members and anyone teaching about the geosciences from K-12 to university and beyond. Geoscience instructors have increasingly adopted student-centered teaching and learning strategies. I would like to see us do more to empower a community of geoscience creators to embrace digital media and merge innovative technology with their effective pedagogy

What is one of your favorite places on Earth, and why?

DM: I grew up in Northern Ireland and got my undergrad degree there before moving to the US for grad school and an eventual career. So I'm going to pick two locations, one from each country. I was introduced to rocks by a high school geology teacher who took us out on field trips were we would examine outcrops along rocky coastlines. Consequently, I have an enduring love of dramatic coastal geology and there are few places in the world that can match up with the basalt columns and cliffs of the Giant's Causeway along the north coast of Northern Ireland. And my other choice would be a bit more abstract, but it's anywhere high with a view. I did fieldwork in the Rocky Mountains earlier in my career, and there are few feelings as glorious as standing on top of some high point and surveying the surrounding landscape. Whether it's the top of a mountain, the rim of a canyon, a high trail or the edge of a cliff, there is something about the combination of the effort it takes to get there and the awareness of the underlying geology that brings a great sense of contentment.