January 13, 2014 by Dr. G
Here it is, the final day of the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, held at the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin. I had to laugh as I spent my final hours on campus today, wondering what my students would say about two signs I saw – one in the Advising Center, and the other around campus. Students, would a sign like the one of the left placed in my office help you get through calculus? I included the photo on the right, as I know there is a group at Penn State Brandywine starting discussions about making our entire campus a non-smoking campus. If a university the size of UT-Austin can do it, maybe PSUBW could be successful?
The morning started off with breakfast at the UT campus, where I had a great informal conversation with other participants about “math” for geoscience majors – what math do they need, should there be a separate math and/or calculus course for geoscience majors (like statistics has biostatistics, psychological statistics, and I took engineering statistics in college myself), etc. We also talked about the “good” and the “bad” of science specials and “documentaries” that are on TV. With television programming that ranges from scientific-based NOVA episodes to SyFy’s Sharknado, how much time do we spend in class addressing the accuracies and inaccuracies of these programs, especially when students volunteer these subjects and *want* to talk about them? How do we help students be selective in what they watch to improve their scientific literacy – especially when you think you can trust stations like the Discovery Channel, and then they show Megalodon during Shark Week…
But back to the Summit! We went back to our Working Groups for the final time to finish our discussion on Broadening Participation and Retention and Preparing K-12 Science Teachers of the Future (see the list of questions we based our discussion on at the bottom of this page). There is so much to address here – and first, I’ll start with my overall disappointments. First, I think this is way too broad of a topic to throw together in to one session. Recruiting and retaining students in the geoscience major is not the same as pre-service education majors taking gen-ed courses. Second, although I realize this conference focused on undergraduate education, if we don’t start paying attention to the in-service teachers (most of whom do not have degrees (some only one course) in geoscience), how can we expect them to get their students excited about a discipline and future career options if they don’t even know about them? This is where AGI’s publications such as Geoscience Currents can come in handy for distribution to not only teachers and students, but also to guidance counselors, principals, and yes, even parents. We engaged in a really thoughtful discussion about the influence of parents, especially for students still living at home with Mom and Dad, and/or for students from certain cultures where the parents may not view geology as an acceptable profession. We also talked about the benefits in some regions of using someone that can speak the local language visiting a local school (for example, someone that can speak Spanish visiting and speaking to ESL learners). I know that one site that looks like it contains an amazing wealth of information for me to use to explore increasing diversity in STEM is the Institute for Broadening Participation‘s Pathways to Science – check it out!
Summaries of these sessions will be posted on the Summit website, but for now (as I know some of my geoscience colleagues are looking for the final outcomes), I’ll share some of the final notes from the meeting’s final plenary. I don’t have this flushed out as complete sentences, but these were the points from the slides.
What is the future roadmap for sustained change?
Is history repeating itself?
– Some have done this before
– Many were not involved 18 years ago
– Geoscience research has changed
– Technology & data has changed
– Culture, motivations changing
How do we learn from the past?
– Have recommendations broadly embraced and implemented
– Requires combined efforts of all of us
– Professional societies & industry roles
And then, in an unexpected turn of events, someone jumped up and said their Working Group made an additional PowerPoint slide with the following:
What did we NOT talk about in this meeting that are potential emerging issues?
Hybrid, flipped, non-traditional lectures
Integrating new technologies
Connections with industry
– keynote speaker
– industry disconnect
– relevant student skills and competencies
Internationalization of the discipline
Interface between geosciences and grand challenges
– climate change/mitigation
– alternative energies
– disaster resilience
– space exploration, planetary geology, remote sensing
So, in the end, did we make any progress? Did we discuss everything that we should have? Have we figured out the preferences and balance between teaching content and competencies? Will we actually be able to move forward from here? Do we have any emerging leaders – and what will they lead? I ran in to several of the Summit participants at the Austin airport (very easy to do, as it is no where as large as the Philadelphia airport!), and many had a sense of incompleteness, not really having a good feel for the next steps and what we really were able to accomplish. It will be interesting to see if any self-reflections over time will change that uneasy feeling among individuals, and to see what those “next steps” are and when they happen. At least I know I can do something at my local/campus level, and I’m really looking forward to teaching my water/marine science courses again!