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

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:20 AM


PETCOVIC, Heather L.1, LIBARKIN, Julie C.2, HAMBRICK, D. Zachary3, BAKER, Kathleen M.4, CALLAHAN, Caitlin N.5, RENCH, Tara A.3, TURNER, Sheldon P.6 and WISNIEWSKI, Magdalena K.4, (1)Department of Geosciences and The Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 1187 Rood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (2)Department of Geological Sciences, Division of Science and Mathematics Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, (3)Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, 320 Psychology Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, (4)Department of Geography, Western Michigan University, 3238 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (5)The Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 3225 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (6)Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, Northern Illinois University, 321 Health Services Building, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 48824, heather.petcovic@wmich.edu

What does it mean to be an expert geoscientist? How can we best help students to transition from novice to expert geologist? A crucial gap exists between research on basic cognitive processes involved in complex geoscience activities and instructional design efforts to improve teaching practice. One way to close this gap is to examine how the cognitive processes that underlie geological thinking and skills change in the transition from novice (undergraduate student) to expert (professional geoscientist). Drawing from research in STEM education and cognitive science, we investigate several aspects of expert-novice cognition in the geosciences: problem-solving in the field, spatial ability, domain-specific content knowledge, and working memory capacity.

Thirty volunteers (10 novices, 9 intermediates, and 11 experts) completed cognitive and affective domain tasks plus a 1-day bedrock mapping task in the Tobacco Root Mountains, MT. Data collected from participants included: (1) an experience survey, for placement along the expert-novice continuum; (2) a novelty space survey, to assess comfort and preparation for field work; (3) the Geoscience Concept Inventory, to measure geology content knowledge, (4) two tests from the ETS Toolkit and the Differential Aptitude Test, to measure general (non-geologic) spatial ability, (5) two working memory tasks, to assess general working memory, (6) a block diagram test, to measure geologic working memory, (7) GPS tracks and maps produced during the mapping task, to assess field problem-solving skills, (8) qualitative interview and audio log data, to probe thinking in the field. Preliminary examination of these data reveals that in comparison to other participants, experts have reduced cognitive novelty and report greater comfort in the field, have greater geology content knowledge, have greater geologic working memory capacity, display economy of motion and more purposeful motion in the field, and are more metacognitive during field mapping. However, we found no correlation between spatial ability and expertise, contrary to assumptions that general spatial ability is fundamental to geologic ability. This study is the first in a series of planned experiments working towards development of a research-based model of geoscientific expertise.