December 2016 Spotlight: Leilani Arthurs

The December 2016 GER Spotlight is Dr. Leilani Arthurs, Assistant Professor of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In her profile, she describes the importance of geoscience education research for preparing students to become global citizens, describes her position at UNL, and seeks potential research collaborations around novice conceptions in instruction, science literacy in environmental decision-making, metacognition, and the adoption of evidence-based teaching practices. Her interdisciplinary training in the social sciences, natural sciences, and science education research helped prepare her to be the GER scholar that she is today.

Why is geoscience education research important and what do you see as areas in need of further research?
Geoscience is one of the most relevant areas about which to educate our global citizenry, especially in light of environmental issues such as natural hazards and disasters, access to resources such as potable water and energy sources, and myriad types of environmental impacts due to anthropogenic activities. However, we know from others' research (Hake, 1997) that the highest learning gains from educating through lecture alone is only ~25%. Thus, GER is important because its findings can further our understandings about what impedes and facilitates student learning about geoscience and how we can enhance student learning. While the GER community continues to make strides in deepening our understanding of students' cognitive challenges with respect to applying first principles to novel situations, thinking in terms of three- or even four-dimensions, and working in the field, there remain even greater unknowns about how student affect (i.e. attitudes, beliefs, and values) influences their learning of geoscience. In addition, we have much to learn about how to attract underrepresented minorities into geoscience and have them thrive in it.

What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?
I currently hold the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and am currently the only faculty member hired to conduct GER. I am also affiliated with UNL's Center for Science, Math, and Computer Education. I started the UNL DBER Group (, initially modeling it after the DBER Group at the University of Colorado at Boulder and of which I was a part while a postdoc there. I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to interact and work with other DBER scholars at UNL; for example, a group of us are working on an NSF-funded institutional project to advance the use of research-based instructional strategies in STEM courses at UNL. In addition, the UNL EAS Department now has a graduate-level specialization in Geoscience Education and, thus far, one student earned her Master's Degree in Earth & Atmospheric Sciences with a specialization in Geoscience Education ( and we are looking forward to having more. I invite those who are interested in pursuing a Master's or PhD in geoscience with a specialization in geoscience education to contact me.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?
My current geoscience education research focuses on four different areas: (i) characterizing novice conceptions of Earth processes and integrating them into assessments and constructivist approaches to teaching; (ii) investigating the role of scientific literacy in environmental decision making; (iii) exploring the role of attitudes and beliefs in learning science, and developing strategies to enhance student metacognitive skills that stimulate success in Earth and space science courses; and (iv) promoting research-based teaching and learning practices in post-secondary STEM education. Depending on the nature of the research question or the purpose of the research, I utilize quantitative methods, qualitative methods, or a mixed methods approach. You are welcome to learn more about some of my research and the methods that I use by reading three recent publications. Also, I thoroughly enjoy talking with others about geoscience education research in particular and STEM education research in general, and I am always looking for opportunities to collaborate with others; so, please feel free to contact me ( with questions or ideas that you might like to just bounce around and/or build a collaboration around.

Arthurs, L. (2016). Assessing Student Learning of Oceanography Concepts. Oceanography, 29(3), 18-21.

Arthurs, L., & Van Den Broeke, M. (2016). Novice explanations of hurricane formation offer insights into scientific literacy and the development of expert-like conceptions. Journal of Astronomy and Earth Sciences Education, 3(1), 1-26.

Arthurs, L., Hsia, J., & W. Schweinle, (2016). The oceanography concept inventory: A semi-customizable assessment for measuring student understanding of oceanography. Journal of Geoscience Education, 63(4), 310-322.