ICON Geoscience Education Research Commentary Final Draft

Lead authors:

Kristen St John1, Bridget Mulvey2, Leilani Authurs3

Contributing authors: 

Laura Lukes4, Katherine Ryker5, Nicole LaDue6, Kaatje van der Hoeven Kraft7

1James Madison University, 2Kent State University-Main Campus,3University of Colorado at Boulder,  4University of British Columbia, 5University of South Carolina-Columbia, 6Northern Illinois University, 7Whatcom Community College


Geoscience education research (GER) is a form of discipline-based education research (DBER) that investigates and tests hypotheses about the teaching and learning of geoscience "using a range of methods with deep grounding in the discipline's priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices" (Singer, 2012, p. 769). GER can also involve the scholarly development and evaluation of teaching innovations and geoscience curricula. GER uses integrated, coordinated, open, and networked (ICON) processes (Goldman et al., 2021) and can further utilize these processes to advance this research field in the future. The word "Geoscience" is used as an inclusive umbrella term that includes science disciplines in which the primary subject of study is the Earth, such as: environmental science, geology, meteorology, and oceanography (American Geological Institute, 2009; Shea, 1995).

To date, the GER field has evolved such that many ICON processes are enacted, but not with equal depth. Integrated processes are at the core of rigorous GER studies as they are multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and/or transdisciplinary in nature (Lukes et al, 2015). That is, the GER community integrates knowledge and practices in the geosciences with those from the social sciences, learning sciences, and/or educational psychology. The GER community also benefits from coordination and networking via the GER Division of National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) and an open-access resource hub via the Science Education Resource Center (SERC). Of the four ICON processes, open and networked processes arguably remain the most aspirational. For example, our research community has not yet established a robust way to openly exchange research software, models, and data (while also adhering to privacy needs of human subject data) throughout the research lifecycle that are findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR). Work remains to coordinate consistent protocols and instruments across systems to generate comparable GER data (although some progress has been made on the design and use of the geoscience concept inventory and other assessment tools). And although individual GER scholars often develop collaborations for research, there are no large-scale formal networks to use in open-access ways to conduct meta-analyses and other larger-scale comparative research.

Here, we address community-informed themes that reflect how ICON processes have contributed to the current state of the GER field and how ICON processes represent aspirations of the GER community and its conduct of research. These themes are not mutually exclusive.

Community of Practice

The GER community of practice (CoP) (Lukes et al 2015) uses ICON processes to collaboratively build our community and GER resources (e.g., Community Framework for GER; St John et al., 2020). They help shape our identity as a CoP, establish norms around GER practices, and drive a collective increase in the quality of GER (Arthurs, 2019). In addition, professional organizations (SERC, NAGT, Geological Society of America [GSA], American Geophysical Union [AGU]) provide nexus points for networking and collaboration (Manduca et al 2013).

Capacity Building

The GER community's small size compared to other DBER communities (NAGT-GER membership reported at 387 in 2021(GER Demographics, 2021)) permits strong coordination and internal communication, but community development efforts have demanded much from a few active community members. Evolving leadership must ensure CoP sustainability and represent the wide range of positionalities of GER community members.

As the GER CoP grows, funding and effort should be directed towards capacity building. Training, mentoring, tenure and promotion of GER scholars are essential components of capacity building, as is the development of a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive CoP that is also international in composition. Attention should be given to identification of communities with whom to collaborate and serve (e.g., K-12 schools, two-year colleges, populations that have been historically marginalized in STEM education, and international populations). Developing integrated and networked partnerships for collaborative action on current and future community-defined research priorities is a key component moving forward. Attention should also be given to strengthening and expanding researcher resources (e.g., instruments, tools, databases) that enable rigorous GER. In particular, the development of a GER data-and-models repository would enable large-scale studies including more systematic reviews and multi-site case studies (St John and McNeal, 2017).


Communication efforts should be strategically expanded to build awareness of GER, further support open, networked processes, and ensure that GER findings inform teaching practice. Communication about what GER is, the possible pathways to becoming a GER scholar, and ways to engage with the GER CoP should be facilitated and promoted, especially in the international arena. Communication and effort should be made towards improving access to GER findings - among both researchers and educators. Access to GER findings would be improved by expansion of GER publication venues beyond the Journal of Geoscience Education (Arthurs, 2019). One avenue that builds on the ICON effort-generated momentum would be publication of GER articles in AGU's interdisciplinary open-access journal, Earth and Space Science; another option is the development of a new GER-dedicated journal. In conjunction, to bridge GER research and teaching practice, the GER CoP should expand opportunities for open Geoscience Education Research and Practice Forums which promote respectful sharing, listening, and problem-solving between stakeholder groups.


The GER field currently utilizes ICON processes to varying degrees and views the ICON framework as aspirational, guiding community-generated recommendations for advancing the field. This commentary identifies several areas of action to expand the GER CoP, build capacity, and improve communication. If realized, these advances ultimately also will benefit the geoscience discipline through GER impacts on teaching and learning.


American Geological Institute, 2009. Status of the Geoscience Workforce Report Summary 2009. Alexandria, VA: American Geological Institute.

Arthurs, L.A., 2019. Undergraduate geoscience education research: Evolution of an emerging field of discipline‐based education research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 56(2), 118–140. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21471.

GER Demographics, 2021. NAGT/SERCkit, accessed by Ian Taylor, November 18, 2021.

Goldman, A.E., Emani, S.R., Pérez-Angel, L.C., Rodríguez-Ramos, J.A.,Stegen, J.C., and Fox, P., 2021. Special collection on open collaboration across geosciences. Eos, 102, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO153180.

Lukes, L.A., LaDue, N.D., Cheek, K.A., Ryker, K., and St John, K., 2015. Creating a Community of Practice Around Geoscience Education Research: NAGT-GER. Journal of Geoscience Education https://doi.org/10.5408/1089-9995-63.1.1.

Manduca, C.A., Tikoff, B., and Hotchkiss, S., 2013. The Evolving Nature of Collaboration in the Geological Sciences, in Baker, V. (Ed) Rethinking the Fabric of Geology. Geological Society of America Special Paper 502, 153-164.

Shea, J., 1995. Forty-Five Years of the Journal of Geological Education. Journal of Geological Education, 43(5), 450.

Singer, J., 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13362.

St. John, K., and McNeal, K., 2017. The Strength of Evidence Pyramid: One Approach for Characterizing the Strength of Evidence of Geoscience Education Research (GER) Community Claims. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65 (4), 363-372. https://doi.org/10.5408/17-264.1.

St. John, K., McNeal, K., Macdonald, R.H., Kastens, K.A., Bitting, K., Cervato, C., McDaris, J., Petcovic, H., Pyle, E., Riggs, E., Ryker, K., Semken, S., and Teasdale, R., 2020. A Community Framework for Geoscience Education Research: Summary and Recommendations for Future Research Priorities. Journal of Geoscience Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/10899995.2020.1779569.