GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 322-5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


ARTHURS, Leilani1, CAULKINS, Joshua L.2, AWAD, Aida3, STEER, David4, VISKUPIC, Karen5, IVERSON, Ellen6 and MANDUCA, Cathryn A.6, (1)Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 330 Bessey Hall, P.O. Box 880340, Lincoln, NE 68588, (2)Department of Geosciences, University of Rhode Island, 9 Greenhouse Road, Tyler Hall, Kingston, RI 02881, (3)To The Cloud EDU, Pompano Beach, FL 33062, (4)Department of Geosciences, The University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-4101, (5)Department of Geosciences, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83725, (6)Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057,

A five-year community-based project to design curricular materials that connect geoscience to current societal challenges produced more than 30 sets of curricular materials that can be implemented in a wide range of college science, engineering, humanities, and social science courses. Participating curriculum developers were selected from a range of institution types across the US. The curricular materials that they developed were designed to teach students about Earth-related grand challenges facing societies; have students work with authentic and credible geoscience data; and develop students’ interdisciplinary problem-solving skills, geoscientific thinking skills, and systems thinking.

To evaluate the impact that these materials had on college students’ systems thinking, a free-response essay item was administered to students at the end of courses where these materials were implemented (treatment group, T, n≈1,200) and at the end of a single large-enrollment course where they were not implemented (control group, C, n=74). All responses were independently scored by at least two raters using the same scoring rubric in which the highest score possible was four. The item and its rubric were developed through a process that drew on the project’s definition of systems thinking and an iterative process of in-class piloting and revision.

A preliminary comparative analysis for a subset of the treatment group’s responses (n=253) and the control group’s responses (n=74) showed that both groups shared the same difficulties in demonstrating systems thinking. In both groups, approximately the same percentage of students: correctly described a natural system and its components (23% T, 20% C); discussed correct interactions between a system’s components (40% T, 42% C); correctly used systems-related concepts, such as feedback and flux (13% T, 12% C); and correctly discussed multiple causal factors (6% T, 5% C). In addition, the same types of misunderstandings and alternate conceptions about systems emerged from the responses from both groups. These preliminary findings suggest that additional research is needed to further understand student learning difficulties associated with systems and to develop more robust curricular interventions that enhance students’ systems thinking skills and dispositions.