Initial Publication Date: September 25, 2014

Building Stronger Geoscience and Environmental Science Departments Workshop Sessions

Core Sessions

All Building Stronger Geoscience and Environmental Science Departments traveling workshops include three Core Sessions:

Core Sessions

These sessions are included in every workshop, and are designed to ensure that every participating department is exposed to the core ideas of the Traveling Workshops Program.

CORE session
All workshops include this opening session.

Envisioning your program

How does your program fit into the world and work your students will experience? Geoscientists and environmental scientists are good at looking at the past to understand the present and predict the future Earth. We need to use those same skills to envision what the future will hold and how our departments and programs fit in that future. This activity will help foresee the kinds of knowledge and skills future graduates will need and how your department will contribute to filling this need. This core session will produce a set of touchstone ideas that will guide later sessions.


  • Building a department team
  • Develop a coherent articulated program where success depends on everyone's engagement
  • Thinking beyond the problems at hand

See an example program »

Learn more on this topic: Envision your Department (From "Building Stronger Geoscience and Environmental Science Departments" archive)

If your department already has clear programmatic
goals, a curriculum matrix, and/or aligned assessments, this
session may be bypassed or shortened.

Program Design

Department faculty members agree that graduates should leave having learned something. This learning might include content knowledge, specific geoscience or environmental science skills like map making or mineral identification, general skills like problem solving, teamwork or communication skills, and professional ethics and values. Articulating a consensus about what students will know and be able to do when they leave a program guides the department in developing its programming and evaluating its success. This session will guide participants through a strategy for articulating a specific list of student learning outcomes. We will then use a matrix based approach to map how the goals are currently addressed and demonstrate how this map can be used to strengthen program design, design program evaluation, or test hypotheses about student experiences. This planning is conceived in the framework of helping all students thrive throughout your curriculum.

This session can be shortened or eliminated depending on the situation in individual departments.


  • Introduce backwards design, matrix documentation and assessment as tools for designing programming
  • Establish alignment between departmental goals, programming and assessments
  • Introduce whole student model as framework for design of student experience
  • Establish program elements that can be tuned to goals as combination of courses, co-curricular activities, mentoring, and advising

See an example program »

Learn more on this topic: Design Degree Programs (From "Building Stronger Geoscience and Environmental Science Departments" archive)

CORE session
All workshops include this closing session.

Action Planning and Departmental Management

Creating an action plan to guide the work of the department going forward is one of the primary outcomes of each workshop. Each Core, Foundation, and Elective session will have contributed something to the action plan - strategic priorities for change, the context in which that change will occur, as well as actions that the department will take to address challenges the group has articulated. The action plan will also include guidelines for determining when your department has met your goals. The outcome of this closing session will be a finished action plan to guide the work of the department going forward.

See an example program »

Learn more on this topic: Action Planning (From "Building Stronger Geoscience and Environmental Science Departments" archive)

Elective Sessions

The following seven sessions are entirely optional; you may expand the program of your workshop by choosing one or more. Each session will add approximately half a day to the length of your workshop. The final agenda will be negotiated between the facilitators and the department once an application is accepted and take into account the desired length of workshop as well as the needs of the department.

ELECTIVE session

Increasing the Diversity of your Majors

Using information on student enrollment, gender and ethnicity, participants will: 1) determine if their introductory courses (a potential source of majors) mirror the student population at their university and the students taking other introductory science classes and 2) track how the student population changes as students declare majors and move through their academic program towards graduation. These data will allow participants to formulate or re-align diversity goals within their program. Participants will then examine the challenges that students face in their program and barriers to student success based on relevant resources that summarize common student problems and the participants' own interactions with their students and produce an action plan that (a) identifies specific areas in their program where change will help them meet diversity goals and (b) includes program outcomes that are measurable to assess the success of implemented strategies.

Learn more on this topic: Increase the Diversity of your Graduates (From InTeGrate archive)

ELECTIVE session

Preparing Students for Careers From Day One

How can you best include the help your students need to prepare for careers and/or graduate school in and beyond your curriculum? Participants will leave the session with a plan for integrating students' development as self-directed geoscience professionals into their program. Using a four-stage model, this session explores ways to obtain feedback about career preparation from employers and graduates that can be used to develop more effective curriculum and departmental activities to better prepare students for employment opportunities. In addition, we will identify sources outside your department that can be used in the workforce preparation process. Finally, participants will determine methods to assess any changes they plan to implement to help prepare students for the workforce.

Learn more on this topic: Strengthen Professional Preparation in your Program (From InTeGrate archive)

ELECTIVE session

Embedding Sustainability in your Program

In this session, leaders will help you assess the best approach for incorporating sustainability in your program, and determine what steps are necessary to do this. Prior to this session, participants will be asked to identify the institutional context for a sustainability program, what the existing opportunities are, and who potential partners might be on their campus. During the session, leaders will guide a review of case studies of existing programs that have successfully embedded sustainability into their programs using a variety of strategies. Following a discussion of theses examples, the specific goals of the department and the identified opportunities on their campus, participants will choose what part or parts of their program they will focus on. Examples of possible focus areas are curriculum, co-curricular activities or campus-wide initiatives. At the end of the session, the department will have produced an action plan for including sustainability, and this action plan will be incorporated in the overall action plan for the workshop.

Learn more on this topic: Program Design: Laying the Foundation for Tomorrow's Sustainability Workforce (From InTeGrate archive)

ELECTIVE session

Building a Thriving and Valued Department or Program

Thriving departments and programs are valued by their institution, take charge of their own destiny, and manage change creatively and willingly. In this session the department will identify their attributes in the context of strong departments, characterize attributes valued by the institution and create a plan to use or enhance department strengths or strengthen departmental weaknesses to promote the institutional value of the program. The department will create an action plan that helps link departmental strengths to institutional values and identifies additional areas where department value can be increased and how this will be accomplished.

Learn more on this topic: Becoming a Valued Member of Your Institution. (From "Building Strong Departments" archive)

ELECTIVE session

Pedagogies of Engagement

The material for this session draws from the NAGT Traveling Courses program and explores the relationships between content, pedagogy and learning. Leaders will provide an experiential introduction to resources on research based pedagogy; addresses pedagogies of engagement in classes of all sizes. The session introduces several strategies for self diagnosis of teaching proficiencies as well as peer-to-peer feedback for teaching strengths and weaknesses. The session can address different class format types, including e-learning.

Learn more on this topic: Pedagogy in Action.

ELECTIVE session

Course Design

This session is designed to provide practical and effective help for faculty members interested in designing or redesigning a course. We focus on using reformed teaching pedagogies and synthesis of information learned in a decade of geoscience professional development workshops to for development of new curricula. Participants will learn a "backwards' course design process beginning with articulating goals for student learning, assessing learning using methods that align with target outcomes, and designing instructional activities that promote engagement and deep learning.

Learn more on this topic: the Course Design Tutorial.

ELECTIVE session

Program Assessment

How do you know whether your geoscience program is working, or which parts are working best and which could be more effective? This session is designed to ensure the time and energy you put into your program is achieving your departmental goals. We will include articulating goals, planning for assessment and appropriate assessment strategies for your program elements, so that you can maximize the return on your investments. An effective assessment process begins with effective planning. What is your program trying to achieve, and how will you know if it is successful. choose an instrument or group of instruments for collecting the necessary data. Consider how your assessment plan may contribute to your needs for accreditation.

Learn more on this topic: Program Assessment and Review.

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