January 13, 2014 by Dr. G
It is always impressive how much information can be packed in to just 2.5 days. I was saturated pretty quickly with some fresh ideas and the renewal of old concepts. As always, it was great to see so many familiar faces in the geoscience community and to connect with some new ones. I found it surprising that, with only 200 people, it took me until the last day to finally speak with some people, such as Dr. Tim Bralower from the Penn State – University Park Department of Geosciences (be sure to take his EARTH 103 course Earth in the Future: Predicting Climate Change and Its Impacts Over the Next Century if you transfer to UP!).
So what did I take home from this Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education?
(1) I need to create a matrix like Dr. Dave Mogk (Montana State). I have seen presentations on creating a Department Matrix in the past, and Dr. Mogk showed us a fantastic spreadsheet he created with each of the courses listed in his department versus to what degree specific knowledge and skills are covered in each course (see the SERC Curriculum by Design page and Part II page). And although I am a “department” of one, this activity would really help me in looking at the suite of introductory-level courses for non-science majors that I teach. I have many students that take me for two or three GN courses, and some have even taken me for four courses (yes, extra Earth science in their lives!). If I am committed to increasing the scientific and geographic literacy of my students (which I am!), how well am I doing this within and across my courses? I look forward to getting started on this project!
(2) Each day, when going in to class, I should have 2-3 student learning objectives with assessments. This was a great idea shared by Dr. Dave McConnell (North Carolina State). OK, I know this is what I should be doing, and I loosely do this already in my head, but I have never taken the time to literally write out what my goals are for each and every class period. Even better, I think, would be to share these learning objectives with the students, so they know where I am heading during each class period and why I give them certain assessments. I always go to class with a plan, and I know what activities I want to do and how they fit in with what I’m trying to accomplish that semester. But since I’m going through a complete redesign of my classes while on sabbatical, this is the perfect opportunity to be reflective, thoughtful, and purposeful with each time I go in front of students. I will certainly utilize the SERC Assessing Student Learning page.
(3) Give digital badges a common name that employers (or in my case, faculty at other campuses) will recognize and understand, so they know what the badge means. Digital badges rarely came up at the Summit, yet I know many universities (including Penn State) are exploring the uses of them for courses and other campus activities. I am exploring the use of badges for my students majoring in the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences. I only have students for their first two years (before they transfer to the University Park campus), and the faculty do not know these students or what they have done while at the Brandywine campus. I think a badge system would be an easy way for students to share with faculty some of the content/skills they have developed with me – and at this Summit, we did talk about making sure that course names clearly reflect what was covered in a course, so employers and graduate programs know what the student learned. I will not be creating badges like “I can identify quartz,” but the badges will be more along the lines of demonstrating a certain proficiency for mapping with a GPS handheld, creating a customized KMZ file in Google Earth, etc. We will see how this goes…
(4) I ought to be in (more) pictures, so I can share them with my institution. Whenever I go on a field seminar or visit a place that is just geologically awesome, I make sure I can get someone to take a picture of me. I use these photos as online profile images or in my classes with my students, as I find a photo that includes myself makes the lecture more “authentic” to students (that I’ve actually been to that location and observed the geology myself). But a great idea was suggested that each of us should make ourselves part of the public image of the university, that when we take photos, we should take many photos and send copies to the University Relations and Admissions offices to (a) educate/inform them of what is going on in our geology programs, and (b) give them an image to use for promotional purposes. Now, I just need to find a geologically-significant place to go to… and soon! Perhaps I should review my notes from the SERC Geophotography webinar first to think about how to take that fabulous promotional image.
(5) I should add “coach” to my resume(?) This was really interesting to me and I know had nothing to do with the overall theme of the conference, but it was the first time I have heard college faculty being referred to as “coaches.” Are faculty becoming more like a coach in our teaching styles, having to find ways to motivate students to learn (instead of students being self-driven)? Dr. David Budd (CU-Boulder) shared an example with our Working Group: “You don’t play the football game on Saturday if you haven’t practiced all week.” For a student athlete, there is a clear motivation to go to practices every day, if they want to play in games. So how do I get students engaged in and out of class with geoscience content, when clearly for some (dare I say most?) students, a grade on a test/assignment/final exam is not enough motivation? How much do I need to give the motivational speech, versus what responsibility is it for students to come to class wanting to learn? A good question with no easy answer…
Of course, there was significantly more material covered at the Summit (such as the sharing of the Be a Geoscientist website and video (below)), and I certainly took away more than these five points. I hope the Summit group can bring in the larger geoscience community for some continued conversations – and, more importantly, that we see some leaders step forward and create these changes we wish to see!