2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 10:05 AM


HERBERT, Bruce E., Geology & Geophysics, Texas A&M Univ, College Station, TX 77843-3115, herbert@geo.tamu.edu

As a research I institution, Texas A&M's Mission includes "providing the highest quality undergraduate and graduate programs", which "is inseparable from its mission of developing new understandings through research and creativity". This is a lofty goal that is not always achieved. A major initiative at TAMU is to embed inquiry experiences in all undergraduate courses, one of the best pedagogical practices to support the development of critical thinking skills and competencies in science learners including problem-solving, knowledge transfer, and decision making. Information technologies are often a central component of inquiry-based learning environments because these tools support student manipulation of data, the development and testing of conceptual models based on available evidence, and exposure to authentic, complex and ill-constrained problems. We are supporting this initiative through our participation in CIRTL (cirtl.net), an NSF-sponsored consortium of research institutions that seeks to develop a national STEM graduate student through faculty with the capability and commitment to implement and improve effective teaching and learning practices for all students.

This talk will discuss current efforts to develop and implement effective learning environments for the environmental geosciences programs at TAMU designed around inquiry-based (experiential) learning. I will discuss the complex nature and design of inquiry activities for geological and environmental sciences using the concept of “an environmental problem space”. A problem space is defined as “a cohesive suite of rules, policies, practices, conventions, standards, concepts, etc. that govern the conceptual domain where a particular problem needs to be solved”.

Finally, I will argue that authentic inquiry may serve as a boundary object to support structured synergy between research and teaching, serving to reduce the major dichotomy in faculty work. Boundary Objects (BO) serve as an interface between different groups in a community of practice. Boundary objects are flexible enough to adapt to local needs and have different distinct identities in different communities, but at the same time robust enough to maintain a common identity across the boundaries to be a place for shared work.