2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 88-8
Presentation Time: 9:45 AM


MCNEAL, Peggy1, PETCOVIC, Heather1 and REEVES, Patricia2, (1)Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 3225 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (2)Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology, Western Michigan University, 3571 Sangren Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, peggy.m.mcneal@wmich.edu

This study brought together groups of middle school teachers to discuss climate change education. Using focus groups to meet and collect data, teachers were invited to share their perceptions and points of view. The meetings used a videoconferencing service that allowed participants from diverse backgrounds and geographic areas to convene. A rich portrait of teacher experiences resulted. Qualitative analysis of recorded conversations revealed common dispositions and motivations of teachers currently teaching climate change along with strategies for success. The results are informative for geoscientists, geoscience education researchers, teachers, and education professionals.

The focus group methodology was specifically employed to create a cooperative discussion as a source of data. The videoconference format allowed participants to see and hear each other while supporting spontaneous responses, a high degree of interaction and quality engagement. The moderator purposefully guided the conversation to elicit shared experiences and co-construct meaning from them. Techniques that required involvement beyond responding to questions produced additional insightful information. A “share screen” function was used to create and view bulleted lists of participant input; from these lists, participants formulated unifying statements. Ideas suggested by teachers outside of the focus groups were displayed and participants were asked to discuss advantages and disadvantages of each. To these lists, participants added their own ideas. Throughout the study, the voice of the teacher was acknowledged, supporting a collaborative atmosphere amidst a potentially controversial topic.

This study provides an example of an uncommon research method with potential broad use in geoscience education research. In addition to purely qualitative studies, focus groups are ideal for developing meaningful instruments or to inform subsequent action. When combined with other methods, focus groups aid in interpretation of results and clarify perplexing information. The additional online component used in this study, was a unique dimension that broadened the participant base and increased the potential to include diverse ideas and discussion.