November 2017 Spotlight: Eric M. Riggs

Dr. Eric M. Riggs is Associate Professor of Geoscience Education in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at Texas A&M University. The Riggs Group studies how people learn in complex geological settings through the lens of embodied cognition, culturally-mediated cognition, and the emergence of expert behaviors. In his profile, Riggs emphasizes the importance to GER faculty of cultivating committed and flexible collaborators, colleagues and graduate researchers in building research programs and fostering professional growth.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?
The work in our group is broadly focused on understanding geologic thinking, problem solving and science identity related to learners' culture, gender, educational or personal backgrounds. Recent projects include examination of the gender-specific factors that lead men and women to choose geology as a major, the use of gesture and other embodiment of cognition in field and classroom/lab problem solving, and looking at more advanced geoscientific communities (seismic interpreters, isotope geochemists) as cultures of practice with specific language, actions and workflows that map to expertise.

What research methods/approaches do you prefer, and why?
I am definitely more of a qualitative researcher than quantiative, but I have used approaches from both traditions in mixed-methods studies. I am a particular fan of video data captured in naturalistic and authentic geoscience work and learning settings. How people physically engage and communicate with their geologic spaces is something I find fascinating, especially because it is often linked to culture, language and preparation and each individual's experience in working with geologic information. I am open to the use of all kinds of tools in research, provided one understands the theoretical and methodological implications and intersections.

What has been the best tool/resource you've found for developing as a geoscience education researcher?
My best resource has been my colleagues from within our GER community, as well as willing partners from outside our field, especially those from educational, social and cognitive psychology. Good partners who share your goals are the best resource in my experience, especially those who bring really different tools than yours to the table.

What is your advice for an early career geoscience education researcher?
Understand your professional environment and what it takes to thrive and advance where you are. We all work in such variable academic and professional settings, and we're also often a "black sheep" in most geology departments. This makes it especially important to understand the metrics of success, where the bar is for promotions, and where the resources are. Educate your colleagues on the value and rigor of your work, and cultivate allies and mentors. These people can guide you through the hoops unique to your work setting - much career advice is local and doesn't transfer well between departments, colleges or universities.

What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?
I am the only exclusively GER faculty member in my department, but I am lucky to have a number of DBER/SoTL-inclined colleagues across my deparment and our college who are interested in collaboration, and good partners in other colleges on campus. My graduate students work toward degrees (MS, PhD) in Geology with completely GER-based projects. I am actively working to build this program at TAMU, especially as I steadily increase my faculty role and shed administrative duties over the next year. After a long stint in the Dean's office, it's nice to be back. Inquiries from prospective graduate students and collaborators are always welcome!

Learn more about Eric Riggs work on his websites, and Also, check out his forthcoming publication, Wolfe, B.A., & Riggs, E.M. (2017). Macrosystem analysis of programs and strategies to increase underrepresented populations in the geosciences. Journal of Geoscience Education special theme issue "Synthesizing Results and Defining Future Directions of Geoscience Education Research," to be published 11/2017.