Grand Challenge 2:

How can undergraduate geoscience instruction benefit from and contribute to effective research-based practices in other domains?


Many research-based instructional and assessment practices in other disciplines (e.g., other natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities) and in different settings (e.g., K-12 education, informal or free-choice education, and internships) have been shown to be effective, and merit attention from geoscience educators. For example, Freeman et al. (2014) point out that irrespective of class size and course content, students in traditional lecture-based STEM classrooms are 1.5 times more likely to fail than those in classrooms using active learning strategies. Similarly, reflective assessment techniques like two-stage exams (Wieman, Rieger, & Heiner, 2014) and application of growth mindset (e.g., Dweck, 2006; Yeager et al., 2016) are shown to increase student engagement and learning. However, it is noteworthy that these studies incorporate scant data from teaching and learning in geoscience, and that strategies that have emerged from this research may be little-known and little-used by geoscience educators (McConnell et al., 2017). The realm of free-choice or informal STEM education (museums, science centers, parks, media, etc.) daily engages with a far greater number and diversity of learners than does formal STEM education (Bell et al., 2009), but the two realms tend to operate in isolation from each other.

Meta-analyses of currently effective research-based teaching, assessment, and professional-development practices in other fields and in other settings (e.g., Kober, 2015; Lund et al., 2015; Cleveland, Olimpo, & DeChenne-Peters, 2017), and more direct collaborations with researchers and practitioners in these domains in the future, will lead to fruitful implementation of new instructional strategies in geoscience. In turn, greater dissemination of methods used in and findings obtained from geoscience-education research, beyond our own disciplinary community, would benefit STEM education as a whole. It is clear that there should be many more connections and collaborations (Figure 3) between geoscience-education researchers and colleagues in other domains.

Recommended Research Strategies

  1. Connect and collaborate more with education researchers and practitioners in different STEM disciplines and settings, facilitated by participation in emerging interdisciplinary programs (such as the STEM DBER Alliance) and interdisciplinary professional societies (such as the National Association for Research in Science Teaching and the American Educational Research Association).
  2. Connect and collaborate more with researchers and practitioners in the free-choice (informal) STEM educational community, facilitated by participation in organizations such as the National Association for Interpretation.
  3. Engage with cognitive psychologists who have interests in geoscience teaching and learning (e.g., Jaeger, Shipley, & Reynolds, 2017; Shipley & Tikoff, 2017) in conducting action research on undergraduate geoscience instruction.
  4. Collaborate with K-12, postgraduate, and workforce partners in longitudinal research about transfer of learning (e.g., Kuenzi, 2008; National Research Council, 2013)to enhance the effectiveness of undergraduate geoscience instruction.
  5. Expand on studies of the relative effectiveness of common transdisciplinary teaching and learning strategies in geoscience instruction (e.g., McConnell et al., 2017).


Bell, P., Lewenstein, B., Shouse, A. W., & Feder, M. A., (Eds.) (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Cleveland, L. M., Olimpo, J. T., & DeChenne-Peters, S. E. (2017). Investigating the relationship between instructors' use of active-learning strategies and students' conceptual understanding and affective changes in introductory biology: A comparison of two active-learning environments. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(2), ar19.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415.

Jaeger, A. J., Shipley, T. F., & Reynolds, S. J. (2017). The roles of working memory and cognitive load in geoscience learning. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 506-518.

Kober, N. (2015). Reaching Students: What Research Says about Effective Instruction in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Kuenzi, J. (2008). Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education: Background, Federal policy, and legislative action. Congressional Research Service Reports, 1-18.

Lund, T. J., Pilarz, M., Velasco, J. B., Chakraverty, D., Rosploch, K., Undersander, M., & Stains, M. (2015). The best of both worlds: building on the COPUS and RTOP observation protocols to easily and reliably measure various levels of reformed instructional practice. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 14, ar18.

McConnell, D. A., Chapman, L. C., Czajka, D., Jones, J. P., Ryker, K. D., & Wiggen, J. (2017). Instructional utility and learning efficacy of common active-learning strategies. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 604-625.

National Research Council. (2013). Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education: A Nation Advancing? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Shipley, T. F., & Tikoff, B. (2017). The role of geoscience education research in the consilience between science of the mind and science of the natural world. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 393-398.

Wieman, C. E., Rieger, G. W., & Heiner, C. E. (2014). Physics exams that promote collaborative learning. The Physics Teacher, 52, 51-53.

Yeager, D. S., Romero, C., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C. S., Schneider, B., Hinojosa, C., Lee, H. Y., O'Brien, J., Flint, K., Roberts, A., Trott, J., Greene, D., Walton, G. M., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Using design thinking to improve psychological interventions: The case of the growth mindset during the transition to high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 374-391.