50 YEARS OF PROGRESS IN HOW UNDERGRADUATE GEOSCIENCE IS TAUGHT: REFLECTIONS ON THE EVOLUTION OF AGENTS OF CHANGE
Individuals have always been important. Many effective and innovative teaching strategies have been invented and implemented by creative individuals to address particular teaching challenges. But, as important as change by individuals is at the local level, “lone rangers” don't transform the system. Broader reach is needed. Cognitive science research into how people learn, plus pedagogical research into effective learning environments, played a crucial role in providing the intellectual underpinning to broadly spread reform. Many of the early advocates of innovative practices in the 1970s and 80s were familiar with results from cognitive science and pedagogical research. These early “pied pipers”, many of them involved in NAGT and the Journal of Geological Education, spread research-based ideas about effective teaching to colleagues in the undergraduate world.
Beginning in the 1990s, widespread change was catalyzed by the exponential development of a networked community of practice. Components included a dramatic increase in the number of geoscience education sessions and workshops at professional meetings, working conferences with widely disseminated white papers about transforming geoscience education, attention to education issues by geoscience professional societies, and rising expectations for teaching at research universities. These resulted in a growing awareness among geoscience faculty of cognitive science research and effective teaching strategies. NSF-funded programs such as the NAGT Distinguished Speaker Series and the decade-long professional development project On the Cutting Edge have raised the level of awareness and interest in reforming teaching, taken advantage of developments in technology to disseminate innovative ideas widely, and built a community invested in sharing ideas and transforming geoscience education.