May 2019 Spotlight: Steven Semken

Dr. Steven Semken is a Professor of Geology and Education in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. In this GER Spotlight, Dr. Semken discusses his research in place-based and culturally informed geoscience teaching and learning.

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?

My longtime field of GER is broadly described as place-based and culturally informed geoscience teaching and learning, which encompasses (1) study of the sense of place as a learning outcome and assessment measure of place-based geoscience teaching; (2) field ethnogeologic research in different settings to identify culturally and locally situated geological and geographic knowledge to enrich place-based teaching; (3) cross-pollination between interpretation and place-based formal teaching; and more recently, (4) research on ways to make virtual and online geoscience teaching more authentically place-based.

What research methods/approaches do you prefer and why?

I've always been an advocate of mixed methods. If a validated quantitative instrument can be meaningfully applied to answer a particular research question I'll use it, but owing to the complexity of learners' connections to place, culture, and the Earth, I tend to prefer qualitative ethnographic methods such as direct observation in a class or in the field, interviews or Delphi groups, analysis of students' written and graphic artifacts, and so on. Our current challenge is adapting such methods to virtual learning environments.

What is the most interesting paper you have read in the field recently? How did it spark your researcher curiosity?

My distinguished ASU colleague Michelene (Micki) Chi has put forth an interesting new theory that characterizes active learning in terms of how students cognitively engage with learning activities, referred to as ICAP for Interactive, Constructive, Active, and Passive. One of the exciting things about the theory is that it posits that almost any kind of teaching activity can be implemented in ways that foster deep learning. A 2014 paper in Educational Psychologist outlined the theory, and a paper in Cognitive Science late last year translates the ICAP theory into actual teaching practice. The work offers an all-new perspective on active learning, and I am exploring how to effectively integrate ICAP with a set of empirical "design elements" for place-based teaching we put forth in a 2017 paper in JGE.

What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?

I'm a DBER, a tenured faculty member in a trans-disciplinary School of Earth and Space Exploration that blends geoscience, planetary science, astronomy, and engineering for exploration. We have three other faculty who are involved in education research, and quite a large number of grant-supported education research staff as well. I collaborate with DBERs in other disciplines here and also with geography and anthropology faculty. I teach courses in geology and in science education, and have mentored a number of M.S., Ph.D., and Honors undergraduate students in research on geoscience education and ethnogeology.

Read Dr. Semken's recent paper: Mead, C., Bruce, G., Taylor, W., Semken, S., Buxner, S., & Anbar, A. (2019). Immersive, interactive virtual field trips promote science learning. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(2), DOI: 10.1080/10899995.2019.1565285.