Initial Publication Date: July 12, 2018

Grand Challenge 1:

Student Skills: How do we support students in developing their ability to learn, self-regulate, and apply the skills and ways of thinking in the geosciences along the novice to expert continuum?


Part of preparing students for careers and social/civic involvement after college, as well as contributing to students' academic success, is helping them acquire and hone skills beyond domain knowledge and technical skills. Students need adequate "soft skills" that help them succeed when working in teams, communicating information, and managing their own time and effort. Acquisition of such transferable learning skills is critical in helping students advance along the novice-expert continuum. Individually, these learning skills have been shown to be malleable, such as students' ability to self-regulate their learning (Schraw et al., 2006), effectively monitor their metacognitive processes (e.g., Nietfeld, Cao, & Osborne, 2006), and improve aspects of their affective responses to learning science (such as task value, e.g., Zapeda et al., 2015).

Direct instruction of learning strategies has been suggested as the most effective means of improving these student variables for science learning (e.g., Zapeda et al., 2015). Additionally, prior work has suggested that within the sciences, there is domain (i.e., discipline) specificity in the efficacy of certain self-regulated learning behaviors that warrant further investigation (Schraw, Crippen, & Hartley, 2006; Greene et al., 2015). While efforts have been made to characterize student abilities in other domain-specific applications via inquiry specifically related to student approaches to chemistry learning (e.g., Pintrich & Zusho, 2003, Zuscho, Pintrich, & Coppola, 2003), biology learning (e.g., Stanton et al., 2015), and physics learning (e.g., Zapeda et al., 2015), little focused work has been conducted to characterize and improve instruction of many of these skills as applied to the learning of the geosciences. This is not to say, however, that no attention has been paid to any of these endeavors. The construct of the affective domain in the geosciences has been elucidated (van der Hoeven Kraft et al., 2011) and reviewed (McConnell & van der Hoeven Kraft, 2011) in recent work. Future work should seek to similarly investigate students' approaches to the self-regulatory behaviors and metacognitive processes associated with geoscience learning. In addition, acquisition of such transferable skills is critical in helping students advance along the novice-expert continuum (Petcovic & Libarkin, 2007).

In addition, within education psychology, learning skills represent a separate but related construct seeking to understand how students can share their regulatory behaviors via a "Socially-Shared Regulation of Learning" (SSRL; Panadero & Järvelä, 2015 for a review), which can be described as a social-constructivist perspective on learning where students collaborate and work together to form new shared knowledge. Given the importance of collaborative work in the geosciences (both academically and professionally), inquiry into effective teamwork in the geosciences via SSRL would also serve the community.

Recommended Research Strategies

  1. Since there have been few studies in the geosciences related to this field of study, there is a strong need to identify the self-regulatory and metacognitive skills that lead to student success in geoscience learning and to determine if these learning skills are similar or different than those identified in other domain specific fields (e.g., chemistry, biology).
  2. Similarly, it is important to understand what sorts of skills those that are successful in the geosciences employ and to specifically isolate whether these skills are different between different populations along the novice-expert continuum.
  3. Once it is clear what self-regulatory and metacognitive skills are needed by students to succeed in the geosciences, then it will be important to identify ways to support and implement classroom strategies aimed to develop these student skills.
  4. Finally, in order to broader larger adoption and propagation of these approaches aimed to support student affect and development of self-regulatory and metacognitive skills, it will be important to design and assess interventions aimed to foster these skills in a variety of learning settings.