December 2017 Spotlight: Emily Geraghty Ward

The December 2017 GER Spotlight is Dr. Emily Geraghty Ward, Associate Professor of Geology at Rocky Mountain College and the winner of the 2017 Iris Totten Award. Dr. Ward works with science educators, cultural experts, and tribal college faculty and staff to develop valid and reliable place-based assessments for the geosciences. In her profile, Dr. Ward a describes her work on how place and culture influence geoscience learning, recommends a "must-read" paper on the cultural validity of science assessments, and discusses her position as the only DBER faculty member on her campus.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?
I am interested in how places and cultures influence the way people learn about and interpret the physical landscape. I collaborate with tribal college faculty, staff and students to develop methods to assess geoscience learning in higher education in the context of different places and cultures. These projects have focused on assessing learning in both formal and informal contexts through place-based instruction and research apprenticeships.

What is your favorite or "must read" education research paper? Why is this paper meaningful for your work?
A "must read" education research paper for those interested in assessment development is On the Cultural Validity of Science Assessments by Guillermo Solano-Flores and Sharon Nelson-Barber. This early, pioneering paper is essential in understanding the concept of cultural validity and presents evidence for how language and culture influence the way students interpret and answer questions on science assessments. In terms of more recent research studies on culture and science education, Dr. Megan Bang's work provides ample discussion of situated perspectives related to culture, cognition and learning in the sciences (see Bang, 2015).

What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?
I teach at a small, liberal arts institution in a Geology program of three faculty. While I am the only GER faculty and DBER on campus, I am able to interact with faculty who are interested in improving instruction and student learning within the context of our teaching institution. My GER projects progress slowly because of my teaching load, but I appreciate the opportunity to teach variety of geology courses and keep up-to-date in the discipline through different course-based undergraduate research experiences. My GER inspiration comes from working with my colleagues in the broader geoscience education communities of NAGT and GSA.

Recent Publication of Interest:
Steven Semken, Emily Geraghty Ward, Sadredin Moosavi, and Pauline W. U. Chinn (2017). Place-Based Education in Geoscience: Theory, Research, Practice, and Assessment. Journal of Geoscience Education: November 2017, Vol. 65, No. 4, pp. 542-562.

Learn more about Emily's work on her faculty website,