Faculty Assess Classroom Experiences in Three-Semester Study

Integrating InTeGrate: Faculty Assess Classroom Experiences

ELIZABETH NAGY-SHADMAN (eanagy-shadman@pasadena.edu), associate professor of geology, Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA; TIFFANY RIVERA (trivera@westminstercollege.edu), assistant professor of geology, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT; CHRIS BERG (cberg5@occ.cccd. edu), instructor, Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, CA; MARK ABOLINS (Mark.Abolins@mtsu.edu), professor of geology, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN; WILLIAM HANSEN (whansen@worcester.edu), professor and chair, Department of Earth, Environment and Physics, Worcester State University, Worcester, MA; DAREN NELSON (daren.nelson@uncp.ed), assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geography, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Pembroke, NC; LAURA RADEMACHER (lrademacher@PACIFIC.EDU), associate professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA, MATHIEU RICHAUD (mathieu@csufresno.edu), associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA.

Introductory, non-major geoscience courses provide a venue where students can develop new and valuable insights about important issues such as global sustainability and environmental challenges. This report summarizes faculty experiences using materials from the InTeGrate Project that actively engage students in learning about the Earth system in the context of societal issues. It is part of a larger study that includes assessing the effectiveness of the materials to improve student content learning and attitudes towards socially relevant issues. Eight faculty members from a range of institution types, class sizes, and course foci participated in a threesemester-long research study designed to test the efficacy of replacing up to half of their existing geoscience course content with InTeGrate materials. Instructors documented instructionrelated reflections and collected pre- and postsemester student performance and attitudinal data. They found that the immersive, data-rich activities were adjustable to fit their specific curricular and logistical needs and could be readily updated to incorporate current events.

Introduction to InTeGrate

The InTeGrate (Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future) STEP Center for the Geosciences began in 2012 and is funded through the NSF STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) Centers program. Cathy Manduca at the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College is the lead PI. Major goals of the project are to (1) increase Earth literacy of all undergraduates using a new approach to curricula development and (2) increase the number of Earth science majors who can address current and future environmental and resource challenges. InTeGrate products, available online at no cost, include models and examples of departmental and institutional level changes that support teaching for a sustainable future (e.g., Orr et al., 2017), implementation programs that involve multiple faculty at a given institution (e.g., Abolins, 2017), outcomes from professional development workshops, recorded webinars, details related to the project's assessment and evaluation policies, and a multitude of links to geoscience education topics and strategies.

This study focuses on classroom materials that use real data to actively engage students in understanding the Earth system in the context of Integrating InTeGrate Caption and photo credit information needed... IN THE TRENCHES — 1 societal issues. Web pages describing the modules are primarily designed for instructors and provide answer keys, slide decks, links to pedagogical descriptions, and supporting materials for students. Stand-alone student materials can be downloaded and posted to classroom management systems or printed and copied to create a customized course pack. There are also "Student Materials" web pages isolated from the instructor versions.

InTeGrate instructional tools that help students interpret authentic data include data puzzles, pooling data (i.e., jigsaws), formulating a decision or recommendation, predict-observe-explain exercises, nested data sets, and deriving new data (Kastens and Krumhansl, 2017). The materials also engage students in systems thinking about interdisciplinary concerns (e.g., Awad et al., 2017), help them to develop geoscientific habits of mind (e.g., Manduca et al., 2010; Manduca and Kastens, 2012), and enhance their understanding of sustainability (Pelch, 2017). Pelch and McConnell (2017) suggest that students' attitudes toward the relevance of science and their understanding of sustainability are positively correlated to a design approach that connects science to grand challenges facing societal concerns (e.g., resource and environmental issues).

Study Design

Eight college and university natural science faculty from around the country participated in a threesemester-long research study by replacing 30-50 percent of classroom lectures and/or activities with InTeGrate materials in their introductory geoscience classrooms (Abolins, 2017; Berg, 2017a,b; Nagy-Shadman, 2017; Nelsen, 2017; Rademacher, 2017; Rivera et al., 2017). Study objectives included (1) examining the effect on student content learning, (2) determining any attitudinal changes toward socially relevant earth science issues, and (3) chronicling how faculty new to InTeGrate would effectively incorporate materials into their courses. The group of faculty, hereafter referred to as the Research Team, taught their "normal" classes in Fall 2015 (control semester) and the revised courses using InTeGrate materials in Spring 2016 (pilot semester) and Fall 2016 (treatment semester). None of the Research Team members were involved in the development of the materials, and six of the eight faculty had never used InTeGrate materials before.

The Research Team's institutions, course information, and perceived strengths and drawbacks associated with their use of InTeGrate modules are listed in Table 1. Each member chose materials from the seven modules that were published at the time the study began: A Growing Concern: Sustaining Soil Resources through Local Decision Making (referred to hereafter as Soil Resources), Climate of Change: Interactions and Feedbacks between Water, Air, and Ice (Climate of Change), Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources (Environmental Justice), Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources (Mineral Resources), Living on the Edge: Building Resilient Societies on Active Plate Margins (Living on the Edge), Map Your Hazards!: Assessing Hazards, Vulnerability and Risk (Map Your Hazards!), and Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes (Hurricanes). Modules normally consist of six 1-1.5 hour units that can be used as either stand-alone activities or sequentially over several class periods. Currently there are 37 published modules, including six from GEodesy Tools for Societal Issues (GETSI), a sister program that emphasizes geodetic data and follows InTeGrate design schemes.

Each instructor selected 18 units to teach in their courses. They were not required to teach entire modules and were encouraged to choose units to suit their curricular needs. The two modules used most frequently were related to plate boundaries (Living on the Edge) and minerals (Mineral Resources). Modules addressing climate (Climate of Change), severe weather (Hurricanes), and freshwater resources (Environmental Justice) were favored in environmental, Earth science, and oceanography classes. Soil Resources was used in a range of four classes, and portions of Map Your Hazards! were used in two physical geology classes.

During the pilot and treatment semesters faculty wrote daily reflections about their experiences using the materials. A sampling of these perceptions are noted in Table 1. Detailed stories (Bruckner et al., 2017) created by participants are available online and contain preparation tips, activity durations, modifications, and student reactions to activities. Over all three semesters the Research Team collected pre- and post-semester student data related to geoscience literacy and attitudes toward Earth science (Czajka and McConnell, 2017; Czajka, 2018). Preliminary results from the geoscience literacy-related data suggest that the materials helped to close a gender gap evident in pre-semester data between higher scoring males and lower scoring females (Rivera et al., 2017). Czajka (2018) presents the study's professional development aspects, which involved multiple instructor interviews and classroom observations scored using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (Teasdale et al., 2017).

Instructor Experiences in the Classroom

The InTeGrate modules are designed to be engaging for students and easily adaptable for instructors in a variety of settings. The Research Team generally found both of these to be true. Several participants found it advantageous to incorporate the provided pre-class work into course management systems for quick grading. In some activities instructors added scaffolding—for example, a brief overview of logarithmic scales for an activity that examined earthquake probabilities along the San Andreas fault. Participants agreed that updated data sets might enhance the relevance for students, such as for Unit 2 of Climate of Change that examines El Niño Southern Oscillation data between 1991 and 2000.

Instructors were able to tie instruction to current events and local situations. For instance, in Unit 3 of Hurricanes students examine the path and energy of Hurricane Irene in 2011. One instructor whose campus was struck by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 made an easy substitution with this current event. Another instructor modified a role-playing game on water sustainability from Unit 2 of Environmental Justice by customizing it to that campus's geographic location and working through options for managing a nearby city's water system. Some activities are specifically designed around local surroundings, such as investigating local soil (Unit 4 of Soil Resources) or performing a hazard analysis on nearby active faults (Unit 1 of Map Your Hazards!).

Some instructors found the InTeGrate materials fit well within their current course structure, while others felt that adaptation was time consuming. The InTeGrate modules are dense with links and supporting documents, and some instructors may not be familiar or comfortable with the broad array of active learning strategies. A few activities presented logistical challenges (i.e., modular classroom vs. large lecture hall) or technological ones (require students to have laptops/tablets or reliable home Internet access) or might assume students have prior knowledge (e.g., familiarity with geographic locations or current/historical events). There is a significant amount of group work that requires instructors to keep students on task and take more of a facilitator role rather than that of a lecturer.

Certain activities initially took more class time than website estimates, although this improved when materials were taught a second time. The study design necessitated the investment of considerable time and effort by the Research Team, requiring them to replace 30-50 percent of their pre-existing course material with new activities all at once. Participants do not recommend this "firehose" approach but suggest substituting only one or two activities per semester. That said, all of the participants continue to use some of the materials in their courses, and everyone has made modifications to suit their situations.

Student Engagement

The student-to-student interactions promoted by the InTeGrate design worked well to bring most students into discussions. Most instructors found, based on open response course evaluations, that students enjoyed the increased level of group work in the new activities. In settings not particularly conducive to group work (e.g., ~110-seat lecture hall), they still demonstrated an appreciation for the concept of sustainability, the value of scientific thinking, and the applicability of geologic principles to current and future social and economic challenges (Berg, 2017b). In addition, Gilbert and others (2017) link the use of InTeGrate materials to increases in students' performances related to systems thinking. The strongly interactive nature of the InTeGrate activities can result in some challenges. Not all students like to participate in group work; some feel anxious when asked to collaborate. Another problem is that absent students cannot easily make up activities involving hands-on active learning and group work; this is true in any science class with a practical laboratory. The provided short-answer assessments were challenging for some students who were accustomed to multiple-choice and true-false tests and were not accustomed to being asked for open response inferences or interpretations.


The Research Team found that InTeGrate materials are rich and engaging and foster a greater understanding of sustainability among students. Connections can be readily made to current events and local situations, thereby providing relevance to students' lives and communities. Most students liked the engaged pedagogical style of the lessons that focused on investigating real data and thinking about approaches to solving social, economic, and environmental challenges. Instructors unfamiliar with this less-structured style of instruction (less lecture and more group work) may find it more challenging at first but are encouraged to persevere and start small. The enormous collection of InTeGrate materials is customizable to match one's course content, class size, institution type, and student body.


The authors thank the many students who participated in the activities described here. This work is supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) collaboration between the Directorates for Education and Human Resources (EHR) and Geosciences (GEO) under grant DUE - 1125331. Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.


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Awad, A., Gilbert, L., Iverson, E., Manduca, C., and Steer, D., 2017, "Using InTeGrate Materials to Develop Interdisciplinary Thinking for a Sustainable Future" (presentation, AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA). Berg, C., 2017a, "Adapting InTeGrate for the Large Lecture Classroom: Impacts on Engagement and Student Performance" (poster, Earth Educators' Rendezvous, Albuquerque, NM).

Berg, C., 2017b, InTeGrate implementation in a large-lecture course: Assessment of impacts on student attitudes and achievement of learning goals: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, no. 6, ISSN 0016-7592.

Bruckner, M., Manduca, C. A., McConnell, D.A., Hanselman, J., Orr, C. H., McDaris, J.R., and Fox, S.P., 2017: Using instructor stories to demonstrate the adaptability of the InTeGrate interdisciplinary sustainability curricula: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, no. 6, ISSN 0016-7592.

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Pelch, M.A., 2017, How do students define and describe sustainability, and what can we do to better convey the importance of geology in sustainability?: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, no. 6, ISSN 0016-7592.

Pelch, M.A., and McConnell, D.A., 2017, How does adding an emphasis on socioscientific issues influence student attitudes about science, its relevance, and their interpretations of sustainability?: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 65, no. 2, p. 203-214.

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