GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 329-7
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


RIGGS, Eric M., Department of Geology & Geophysics, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843 and BOWEN, Gabriel J., Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112,

The SPATIAL short course at the University of Utah is designed for graduate students and professionals in a wide array of fields, all of whom employ spatial analysis of stable isotope geochemical systems. Participants come from the earth, atmospheric, environmental, biological, archeological and forensic sciences, and from around the globe. Part of the broader, NSF-funded Inter-university Training for Continental-scale Ecology (ITCE) project, the course is an intensive two-week field, classroom and laboratory experience with internationally-known researchers as instructors. Participants do not typically know each other prior to arrival at the course, and are often new this research community. One of the stated goals of the overall project is to build a community of practice around these techniques, the intent being to strengthen professional and research ties in this diverse field of practitioners.

Paired pre- and post-tests were administered before the start and after the close of the short courses over 4 years. The survey is a set of instruments adapted from social-cognitive psychology measuring changes in identity and community with other items to measure content knowledge outcomes. The data show the SPATIAL course is very effective at creating a newly coherent community among participants and faculty, and in creating an environment that fosters community and scientific cooperation. We see a subtle, consistent convergence of identities between large-scale isotope geochemistry and participants’ research areas. Results also show that the course generates an increased understanding about potential application of spatial analysis and stable isotopes.

We conducted semi-structured pre-and post- interviews with selected participants to understand the program elements that generated observed gains in learning and community. Qualitative analysis shows that the major factors for participants were 1) ready access to researchers in an informal setting during the course with many substantial opportunities to discuss research, 2) scaffolded, guided-inquiry group research designed to build group cohesion, mentoring and skills, 3) just-in-time teaching at key junctures during lab and field exercises, and 4) access to curated sets of research literature from disparate fields relevant to SPATIAL content.