2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 2:45 PM

Undergraduate Student Perceptions of Geology as a Science

KRAFT, Katrien J., Physical Science Department, Mesa Community College, 1833 W Southern Ave, Mesa, AZ 85202, k.kraft@mail.mc.maricopa.edu

Previous research in science education has established the importance of explicit instruction of the nature of science (NOS) (Abd-El Khalick & Lederman, 2000, Lederman et al, 2002, etc). Geology has historically been perceived as an easier and therefore a lesser science. This two-fold study addresses: 1) the possible affect that this reputation has on student perceptions of the geosciences, and 2) how those perceptions influence student understanding of how geologic understanding advances.

Semi-structured interviews with 14 undergraduate students enrolled in introductory geologic disasters classes (n=11, fall; n=3, spring) examined these research questions. Students were asked how they view geology as a science, and if they see its practices differently from other sciences. Student attitudes were found to be primarily positive toward geologists and they saw geology as “more fun” than other sciences. However, perceptions of how geology is practiced, revealed a wide spectrum of conceptions. Some of these ideas included: a) geology is a slow science, therefore, the research is also very slow; b) geology is based purely on observation and does not operate in any theoretical framework; and c) geology is easier than other disciplines because “you can hold samples in your hands.”

Such student perceptions of geology persisted after examining case studies of geologic disasters in which a scientific classroom discourse community was modeled throughout the semester. In these case studies students analyzed real world data from geologic events, read scientific reports, and predicted future hazards of a given region. Some student perceptions may be a function of their prior conceptions and some may be a function of how they perceived the content. With more explicit instruction in the spring semester, there appeared to be a slight shift in student perceptions. This highlights the importance of making explicit connections between NOS in the context specific to the geosciences.