January 11, 2014 by Dr. G
Day 2 for the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education was just as busy, engaging, and exhausting as the first day (see my post for Day 1). We started the morning with a plenary talk titled “Undergraduate science education early in the 21st century: No miracles needed, but we do need leaders.” The title was certainly an attention-grabber, and the speaker did a great job trying to get us to “think differently about the usual.” He touched on some similar concepts that we heard from yesterday’s speakers – that we must sustain the disciplines by blurring their boundaries, that technology is changing the way students learn, etc. I appreciated his statements about science/society connections, that integrating the biological, geological, and social sciences to reduce uncertainty about the future of life on Earth is what sustainability is all about. But, to achieve and maintain/sustain sustainability, we need hard work, determination, and leaders. He recommended several books (Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game) and papers (Redefining Medicine with Apps and iPads, Pulsar Discovery by Global Volunteer Computing) that I will certainly follow up and check out.
Next was a 3-person panel that addressed teaching for student success, assessing classroom work, and technology in geoscience education. The first speaker’s take-home message was spot-on — the challenge [for faculty] is not figuring out what effective pedagogy looks like, but implementing it, particularly in the face of increasing class sizes and increased reliance on distance learning. The second panelist emphasized the need for faculty to start by setting learning goals for students in each of our courses (for example, we should be saying that “students will be able to…”). Finally, the third panelist, who addressed many of the technologies I am already familiar with, made this statement: “make the students use the technology in the classroom so they are too busy to go on Facebook” – interesting, and I’m sure controversial to some faculty! The questions for the panel were also interesting, such as suggesting that maybe instead of evaluating the teacher, we should be evaluating the effectiveness of the lesson developed for students. I also liked the question that asked why we weren’t being innovative with technology during this meeting, that we were sitting in an auditorium listening to people speak instead of thinking outside of the box to encourage participation and our own learning (good point! And I have to admit, I was surprised no hashtag was established for those of us on Twitter).
We then broke in to working groups for discussion, which then merged with another group to address the questions under the Pedagogy heading on this webpage. It seems that our group and all of the others had similar conclusions – faculty need to not be fearful of trying something new in the classroom, there should be administrative support and/or rewards for being innovative, faculty should not have to improve teaching in isolation (even create “virtual departments” for people like me that are the only geologist on a campus), and use technologies that are freely accessible to students. There were some interesting questions relating to blended learning, the flipped classroom, MOOCs… all teaching approaches that you students may not be familiar with, but yes, we have names for our teaching approaches! Probably the most thought-provoking comment from this part of the meeting for me was the question/comment: “Are we becoming coaches with our teaching styles? “You don’t play the football game on Saturday if you haven’t practiced all week.””
The late afternoon and early evening focused on the third theme of the conference – broadening participation/retention in the geosciences and preparing future K-12 teachers. I will blog more about this tomorrow, as we have just hit the tip of the iceberg in discussing this topic (it is a complex one!).
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from campus today, but students, you’ll laugh at this one. All of the workshop attendees are staying in either the Hilton Garden Inn or Radisson Hotel in Austin. I’m at the HGI, and in the hotel lobby last evening, after the shuttle bus dropped us off, we were greeted by this sign. We all had a good laugh! This group of colleagues I’m with are not the ones the hotel needed to worry about – and, fortunately, it has been very quiet in the hotel overall.
And tonight, I am going to need a good night’s sleep. We depart the hotel again at 6:45AM, have a half-day of conference activities, and then it is off to the airport to fly home. Unfortunately, there are not any nonstop flights between Austin and Philadelphia, so I need to change planes in Charlotte, NC. I won’t be getting in until 11:45PM on Sunday evening, and I have an appointment at 9:30AM on Monday morning. Hopefully, my flight won’t be delayed (or cancelled!).