January 9, 2016

2nd Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, Day 1

Posted by Laura Guertin

You can check out my blog posts from Day 2 and Day 3 of the Summit, as well as my posts from the 1st Summit

January 2014 was a gathering of over 200 geoscientists for the first Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, held at The University of Texas at Austin. The goals of that summit were to address questions of importance to the geosciences and to begin developing a collective vision for undergraduate geoscience education. The GeoEd Trek blog didn’t exist at that point, but I blogged about the Summit over at my Journeys of Dr. G blog for students, for those that would like a quick snapshot of that event. A full summary report of the Summit can be found online (PDF file).

Major conclusion of Summit: Developing competencies, skills, and conceptual understanding is more important than taking specific courses¬† —¬† Survey report

January 8-10, 2016, marks the 2nd Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education – this time, with a focus on Heads and Chairs. Hosted again by UT-Austin Jackson School of Geosciences and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, “this summit will bring together geoscience academic leaders to discuss the developing community vision for undergraduate geoscience education and to develop strategies for implementing this vision in departments across the country.” More specifically, the goals include: (1) a Heads, Chairs & Administrator discussion of general community consensus (skills, competencies, conceptual understandings needed for undergraduate education; effective ways of developing these and how to implement into different undergraduate programs; recruitment and retention of underrepresented geoscience students; empowering transitions between 2YC and 4YC, science teacher preparation); and (2) Implementation of departmental plans (barriers, solutions, incentives, rewards; implementation into own department curriculum, courses, programs).

The morning began with some goals presented by Sharon Mosher, Dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT-Austin and Organizing Committee Chair. In a nutshell, she summarized our motivations for being here into a few simple statements:

  • As research changes, education must change
  • As technology, populations & data change, how and what we teach must change
  • As the workforce changes, student learning must change

She continued with an overview of the results of the 2014 Summit, Survey, and Geoscience Employers Workshop. If you have not seen these data, it is worth exploring online. Survey results show great similarities in the responses provided by academics and those in industry in terms of the most important issues and concepts in undergraduate geoscience education. The Geoscience Employers Workshop yielded a collection of geoscience concepts for department courses/curriculum (listed in order of highest to lowest importance): Earth as a complex system, deep time, climate change, natural resources, surface processes, Earth materials, Earth structure, and hydrogeology. Several technical and non-technical skills were also identified, such as Earth science habits of mind/geoscience thinking, problem solving, quantitative/math skills, field camp/field experiences, GIS, oral and written communication competency, professionalism, global perspective, and understanding societal relevance.

The day continued with a mixture of panels and working group discussions and reports (the full agenda is available online). The overarching questions addressed in each of the panels, which then continued as topics for discussion in our breakout sessions, are as follows:

  • To what extent are curricula and learning outcomes (concepts, skills, competencies) in participating departments aligned with results of the first summit and employer input? Are curricular changes in motion or under consideration? What are key trade-offs in initiating/implementing such changes?
  • Evidence indicates that students learn better from a variety of active-learning strategies than by traditional lecture approaches, as well as from use of real-world data and experiences that are relevant to future careers. To what extent has your department been able to embrace shifts of this nature? What do you see as opportunities and challenges in effecting such changes?

I won’t repeat here all of the information that was presented and summarized in the PowerPoints (*Note that this blog post will be updated with appropriate links as materials/presentations from Day 1 are placed on the Summit website), but here are some of the excellent resources I made note of and recommend for others to check out if you are not aware of them (or as a refresher of all the great resources out there!):

Day 2 of the 2nd Summit will be examining barriers/solutions/rewards, recruitment/retention of underrepresented geoscience students, and transitions between 2YC and 4YC. I’ve been trying to tweet some of the highlights throughout the day on Twitter with the hashtag #geoedsummit16 – feel free to follow along (and you don’t need a Twitter account to view these tweets)!