February 2016 Spotlight: Rachel Teasdale

Rachel Teasdale, Professor of Geological & Environmental Sciences at California State University Chico, was trained as a geologist and moved into the GER community through efforts to improve and measure the learning happening in her classes. In the Feb. 2016 spotlight, she describes an ongoing analysis and reflection on teaching and learning in the field environment, offers recommendations for maintaining collaborative projects, and encourages others to take advantage of their local teaching and learning centers.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?
I am working on a couple GER projects right now, one uses the RTOP (Reform Teaching Observation Protocol, based on Sawada et al., 2002) to quantify student engagment in geoscience classrooms. In one project, through the SERC Classroom Observation Project, a nation-wide team of observers has collaborated to complete more than 200 RTOP observations. Now we are working to characterize what instructors do in their classrooms to engage their students. We're also interested in learning more about how those instructors have developed their teaching practices. Other collaborative projects that are in development include examination of different observation protocols and the training and development of teaching assistants in the geosciences. Another project I'm really excited about is a self- examination that my geology colleagues and I are doing for our suite of field courses. We have spent a fair amount of time in the field together lately in order to understand what each of us are teaching and how that best develops our students' learning in the field. The project has not only been a wonderful opportunity for all of us to study our field curriculum, but it's also been a great professional development experience for us as well. I highly recommend others try this at their institutions!

What has been the best tool/resource you've found for developing as a geoscience education researcher?
The best resources I have found are my colleagues! Making progress has really been the result of collaborating with others, in which we talk together on best approaches, the data we're examining and new publications; then we assign ourselves "homework" to be completed by the next virtual meeting. This game plan has been really effective in making good progress on several projects I am working on. In addition, the resources available through SERC are fantastic- I really like the newly-published InTeGrate Resources, although, as an author of a module, I'm totally biased. The Cutting Edge/InTeGrate PD workshops have absolutely changed my teaching practice for the better.

What is your advice for an early career geoscience education researcher, or someone who is interested in starting out in GER or the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)?
I am not, by any means, a trained GER researcher. I am still learning statistical analysis and discovering the fundamental papers that GER researchers have long known and used. Fortunately, as previously mentioned, the colleagues I work with are generous with their expertise, which makes GER a tremendous learning opportunity for me. I first got involved in GER through efforts to improve learning experiences for students in my classes as my teaching practice evolved. I started by trying to measure student learning and that has evolved to intentionally studying teaching practices designed to improve student learning and engagement. With that, my advice for early career researchers is to incorporate their teaching in their research. I have a heavy teaching load (4 courses per semester), so teaching is a critical component of my job and the way I spend most of my time. Improving student learning through my research helps my students, keeps me engaged, and has led to presentations and publications, which has helped me successfully move through the faculty ranks.

What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?
I am in the Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences. The college supports teaching-based research and publications focused on student learning are valued along with disciplinary science research. We have a strong Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) on campus, which offers competitive internal funding to help launch research projects focused on student learning (including the field suite project I mentioned above). In January, our college and CELT offered a course redesign workshop specifically for the sciences. The workshop included approximately 20 faculty at all ranks (adjunct to full professor) who learned DBER-based strategies to improve student learning in our courses. This type of support is becoming more and more prominent on campus, which is really encouraging.

Recent Publication of Interest:
Teasdale, R, Viskupic, K, Bartley, JK, McConnell, D, Manduca, C, Bruckner, M, Farthing, D, Iverson, E; (in review, Geosphere), Characteristics of the reformed geoscience classroom: Pathways to student-centered teaching.