April 20, 2016

Day 1 PM – Service Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences: A Workshop

Posted by Laura Guertin

This post is part of a mini-series where I share my experience at the Service-Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences workshop (pre-meeting, Day 1 AM, Day 1 PM, Day 2 AM)

The afternoon of the first day of the “Service Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences Workshop” had two themed sessions. The afternoon started with Session II: Understanding What is Known about the Impact of Service-Learning Experiences on Students from Historically Under-Represented Populations. The first speaker was Suzanne O’Connell of Wesleyan University, talking about “Participation in geosciences and service learning by historically underrepresented populations.” Then there were two additional speakers that offered comments – Antony Berthelote of Salish Kootenai College, and Ben Cuker of Hampton University. Here, I present some highlights of their presentations and from the Q&A of audience members.

  • Overall, all students have a lack of exposure to geoscience, especially the employment opportunities
  • Geomarketing is needed, especially on department websites. Outdoor images do not appeal to all audiences – needs to be a mix of images that show photos in the laboratory, etc.
  • Students want to pursue a career with more prestige and name recognition
  • Students do not think geoscience is relevant to their lives (but climate change, sea-level rise, water, energy, land use, etc.)
  • We need to be active recruiters – we can’t just wait for diverse students to come to our courses. One example is to visit minority student group meetings on campus, and to be sure to share career information.
  • Perhaps we need to go back and look at the values systems for different groups of people when designing service learning so that it is relevant (more is described in the book Igniting the Sparkle: An Indigienous Science Education Model). For example, Europeans have human-object acquisition values, Africans value human-human connections, Asians value human-group connections, Native Americans value human-multiverse connections (community empowerment and respect for Mother Earth)
  • The four C’s of student learning outcomes (which can be applied to service learning) = critical thinking, communication, culture, citizenship
  • Do we (geosciences) have a PR problem (which we’ve had for 20+ years)? Can/should we change our pitch? We have been trying ways to vary the pitch over the years… so is it really a learning problem?
  • We really also need to be listening to students. What students perceive may not be reality, but it is reality to them!

Antony Berthelote recommends this website for a review of the History of Service Learning. Suzanne O’Connell recommends going back and reading the book (or reading for the first time) Earth in Mind – On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, by David Orr. Suzanne has also written a paper on Diversity and Service Learning in the Geosciences: Opportunities for Exploration (online PDF).

The next afternoon session was Session III: Understanding how the Geoscience Community Defines and Implements Service Learning. Suzanne Savanick Hansen (Macalester College) started off with “Categorizing and synthesizing information about service-learning experiences in geosciences.” Specific examples of service learning were provided by Caroline Davies (Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City) and Bob Gilbert (Univ. of Texas Austin). Readers are encouraged to check out what is on the SERC website for Teaching Service Learning in the Geosciences, which expand upon these general summary comments:

  • Service learning gets real skills across
  • Service learning provides students with mentors and resources (and previous students may come back as mentors)
  • There is an engagement of students and community which can lead to more opportunities for students (internships, employment, etc.)
  • Students realize their impact on and role in the world
  • Challenges need to be addressed (such as coordinating, scaffolding the experience, etc.)

Suzanne and Sarah Fortner (Wittenberg University) have prepared a paper on Geoscience Service-Learning Literature Themes (online PDF).

We had our final break-out session for the day, dividing into three groups to reflect on the common elements of service-learning in geosciences and to consider which aspects are unique to the various groups.

  • Group #1 – Disciplines of Geosciences (oceanography, atmospheric science, etc.)
  • Group #2 – Institution types (community colleges, PUIs, comprehensive universities, research universities, etc.)
  • Group #3 – Types of students (honors, introductory, historically under-represented, local, first generation, etc.)

This was a challenging one to make generalizations about, as there is so much variation even across the same institution type, resources available (time, funding, equipment, transportation), etc. But we heard some new items during the reporting back that had not been mentioned yet, such as safety issues with service learning, IRB/clearances to work with youth or to collect survey/assessment data, transfer of service learning credits from 2YCs to 4YCs, teaching students ethics/responsibility, are we a competitor or an ally when engaging with community partners… the list continues to grow.

Our final session tomorrow morning – understanding how service-learning experiences could enhance the competitiveness of geoscience students in the workforce.