Cross-Theme Recommendations

In addition to research directions that connect themes (addressed in the sections above), there are also strategies for moving forward that are common to multiple themes. Therefore, we provide the following cross-theme recommendations regarding strategies for future research:

  1. Future geoscience education research should be better grounded in theory. Theories and models (e.g., theories on learning, theories on student development, theories on social-cognitive behavior) give a framework for research design that can inform the questions to be asked and the methods to be used. This does not negate or override the real world context in which teaching and learning occur, but gives valuable insights into thinking about research problems, why they exist, and ways to address them. For example, the need to consider social identity theories was raised for research related to student learning of climate change concepts (WG2), for research on access and success of underrepresented groups in the geosciences (WG5), and to help explain the mechanisms through which teaching about the Earth through societal problems leads to student learning (WG4). Substantial testing of theory-informed designs in courses, workshops, and seminar settings can help build a body of evidence that can lead to best practices.
  2. The collaborative network needs to expand within and outside of GER to include additional expertise. Dedicated groups of people working on topics within the same area help propel research forward. Geoscientists are quite used to tackling complex issues through collaborations among researchers with different expertise (e.g., ocean expeditions to recover and study seafloor cores draw on teams of paleomagnetists, paleontologists, sedimentologists, geochemists, and physical property specialists). The GER grand challenges are similarly complex and multifaceted, and addressing them will benefit from teams of researchers, including those from outside of GER. Past research on spatial thinking in the geosciences clearly demonstrates how collaborations with experts from complementary fields (cognitive scientists and education psychologists) can rapidly advance our understanding of how people think and learn. New collaboration should also be made to advance progress in all areas of GER. For example, strategies for geoscience education instruction (WG8) can benefit from effective research-based practices in other domains, such as free-choice, informal education. Research on institutional change and geoscience professional development (WG10) can benefit from collaboration of higher education researchers and organizational psychologists. Research on ESS teacher education (WG3) connects GER to the broader discipline of science teacher education research. And as WG9 noted, many of the questions researchers in the fields of education psychology, cognitive science, and science education still have about matters of self-regulated learning, metacognition, and affect are in direct alignment with the interests of GER. Some of the emergent lines of inquiry in these other fields can inform GER through the use of more-established theories and methodologies. The geosciences may be an important context in which questions of interest can be investigated. Furthermore the findings generated from GER researchers may be of interest to the broader learning science audience which, in turn, may provide GERs new dissemination outlets and interested audiences to publish and communicate their research findings.
  3. More attention needs to be given to assessment to ensure that the most valid, reliable, and up-to-date instruments and techniques are used in GER. This will require identifying established assessment methods, tools, and instruments that other disciplines (e.g., science education, psychology, learning sciences, etc.) have developed, and evaluating them for use within the variety of geoscience learning settings contexts, as well as developing and rigorously testing new instruments and surveys. Grand challenges from several themes directly highlighted these assessment needs. For example, there is a need to develop a stronger methodology for evaluating ESS teacher preparation programs (WG3), so that we can determine and implement the most effective models. There is a need to identify and/or develop instruments that accurately assess the spatial and temporal skills (WG6) required in the various geoscience specialties (e.g., geomorphology, stratigraphy, structural geology). And there are few to no tested, validated, research-grade assessment instruments that tackle quantitative reasoning in the context of Earth education (WG7). In addition, learning management systems are evolving rapidly, especially in the accessibility and usefulness of learning analytics data of all kinds. This creates an opportunity for researchers to collect and measure student's knowledge, skills, and attitudes, before, during, and after class for research and evaluation.
  4. Focusing the power of GER to improve undergraduate teaching and learning about the Earth needs to involve both geo-DBER and geo-SoTL research. The development and testing of GER questions and hypotheses (geo-DBER) is essential to addressing most grand challenges. The results from such research should inform the development, application, and evaluation of new geoscience teaching innovations and curricula (geo-SoTL), as well as professional development of current and future faculty (e.g., TAs), and preparation of pre-service teachers. This need is perhaps best expressed in the point made by WG8 that changes in instructional strategies in geoscience have often come on the basis of instructor experience or preference, or anecdotal knowledge, and less so on a foundation of rigorous research and evaluation. This needs to change.
  5. Future work needs to happen at all stages of the GER strength of evidence pyramid. In some cases the starting point will be at the top (Figure 3) - writing review papers; for example, to characterize what is known about misconceptions of Earth system concepts (WG1 and WG2), and summarize what we know about what attracts individuals to ESS teaching (WG3). Meta-analyses are also called for; for example, of effective research-based teaching, assessment, and professional-development practices in the geosciences and in other domains because it would benefit undergraduate geoscience instruction. However, meta-analyses will depend on access to data (a challenge in GER, as well as in other STEM education fields), therefore current and future original GER studies should work to make their data accessible while still protecting human subjects. Original research at multiple-scales (e.g., qualitative research case-studies to large-scale multi-institutional studies, see Figure 3) is expected across all themes. For example, the application of existing research to the field of teacher education (WG3) may occur in smaller, short-term studies. And research on problem-based learning (WG7) will depend heavily on the context of each unique study case-study site. The need for longitudinal studies were particularly noted in research on institutional change and professional development (WG10), on instructional approaches with larger and more diverse, populations (WG8 and WG5), and to explore learning progression in undergraduate geoscience education (WG1).