March 2018 Spotlight: Christopher Atchison

Dr. Christopher Atchison is an Associate Professor of Geoscience Education in the School of Education and Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the International Association for Geoscience Diversity (IAGD). In this GER Spotlight, Atchison focuses on the importance of inclusive design and the need to think beyond the traditional, and often exclusive approaches, to teaching and learning in the geosciences.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?
My research is focused on improving access and inclusion in the geoscience disciplines for students, faculty, and practitioners with disabilities.

How are you working to broaden participation in the geosciences?
By looking beyond the traditional perspective of field-based learning. The "way we've always done it" does not work for those who are unable to physically access our current instructional methods, be it in the classroom, laboratory, or the field. Personally, I have worked to show that universally-designed instruction can increase access to the content for every student, regardless of physical ability, by mitigating barriers to the most basic learning objectives. Along with several extremely supportive colleagues, I have been fortunate to offer several accessible field trips and courses to help students with disabilities learn in the natural environement. Many of these field opportunities require students and faculty to work together to share knowledge of content and accessibility through first-hand perspectives of their personal experiences. Doing so helps expand our understanding of access and accommodation, as we learn directly from student experts on how to best modify our instructional practices to include each diverse perspective in the learning community.

How did you get involved in this work?
While collaborating with a group of students on a virtual field course project, I noticed that so many students weren't given equal opportunities and access to geoscience field studies. Students with disabilties are often marginalized by the traditional approaches to geoscience teaching and learning, especially in the field. After a little investigation, this certainly wasn't something new. So many instructors have been working hard to create resources that engaged and included all students in their learning classrooms. The only problem was that once these students moved on from their course, these resources were never used again, and were either filed away or discarded. From this, I started an advisory group to help faculty both seek and share resources and ideas for accommodating and including students with disablities in their courses. As this network continued to grow, the International Assoication for Geoscience Diversity has become more widely known and is focused on supporting and learning from all students, faculty, and practitioners in the geosciences, from K12 to the workforce. Now in it's tenth year, the IAGD network is represented in over 30 countries with a new IAGD Chapter in the UK beginning in June, 2018.

What type of project would you like to collaborate with other researchers on?
I am open to collaborating with anyone interested in working with and creating opportunities that are inclusive of students and faculty that have diverse physical abilities. Those who are working to challenge the traditional ability-focused culture of our discipline and break down the barriers to active engagement and participation in field-focused sciences. I would love to work with any K12 teacher, Earth and Envionmental Science Faculty, and Graduate Teaching Assistants who would like to improve their instruction and impliment more inclusive instructional approaches. But more importantly, I am most interested in collaborating with students with various disabilities who are intersted in making a difference in the future of the geosciences. These students will bring a diverse perspective to any geoscience course, and are the future of scientific innovation within our discipline.

What is your advice for someone who is interested in conducting inclusive geoscience education research?
Identify a focus, learn as much as you can about the barriers and issues of inequality, remain open-minded, and get started! Connect and collaborate with others who share similar interests. Above all, realize that you must collaborate with, listen to, and learn directly from those you are working to engage, accommodate, and include in your learning community. Remember, they are the experts!

Learn more about the IAGD at, through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, check out the recent literature review published with doctoral students Ivan Carabajal and Anita Marshall:
Carabajal, I.G., Marshall, A.M., & Atchison, C.L. (2017). A synthesis of access and inclusion in geoscience education literature. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65, 531-541. DOI: 10.5408/16-211.1.