2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


EGGER, Anne E., Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Building 320, Stanford, CA 94305-2115, annegger@stanford.edu

Geoscientists easily identify how their expertise differs from expertise in other scientific disciplines, but that distinction isn’t necessarily clear for the average undergraduate. Nor does exposing students to the knowledge generated by geoscientists elucidate the skills needed to study the Earth. Familiarity with how geoscientists approach questions, however, is critical to understanding complex socioscientific issues such as natural hazard risk evaluation, the effects of climate change, and sustainable energy production. Hundreds of thousands of undergraduates take introductory geoscience courses every year, offering the opportunity to give a large (and largely non-scientific) audience insight into the unique nature of geoscience expertise and why it matters.

In 2007 at Stanford University, I began a program to enhance and integrate our introductory courses in the Earth sciences along these lines. The first step was to bring faculty from four departments together to develop broad learning outcomes for our diverse course offerings. Despite widely differing backgrounds, we came to consensus that all introductory courses should include:

  • An introduction to the interconnectedness of earth systems and processes, including the role of humans in influencing earth processes and responding to hazards
  • An introduction to the time scale of earth processes, including how the Earth and its biological components have changed over time
  • Active use of the observational tools of the Earth sciences, including tools used in the field, the laboratory, and the computer
  • Assessment of problems in a quantitative fashion appropriate to the Earth sciences, including estimation of uncertainty, relationships to scale, and the use of models
  • Reflection upon the unique aspects of the earth sciences
  • Communication of concepts in the Earth sciences, from fundamental knowledge to complex relationships between ongoing research and societal concerns
Though not all faculty address all six learning outcomes to the same extent in every course, articulating the commonality among our courses and disciplines helped make a very diverse set of courses into a coherent whole that focused on skills vital to geoscience. In addition, these broad learning outcomes proved to be a powerful tool in identifying key activities for development.