GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 205-12
Presentation Time: 11:15 AM


GILBERT, Lisa A.1, IVERSON, Ellen2, KASTENS, Kim A.3, AWAD, Aida4, MCCAULEY, Emma Q.1, CAULKINS, Joshua L.5, STEER, David N.6, CZAJKA, C. Doug7, MCCONNELL, David A.7 and MANDUCA, Cathryn A.2, (1)Williams-Mystic and Geosciences, Williams College, 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, CT 06355, (2)Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057, (3)Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000, (4)Science, TTCE, 2731 NE 14th St #104, Pompano Beach, FL 33062, (5)Office for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881, (6)Department of Geology and Environmental Science, The University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-4101, (7)Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695,

Solving complex problems often requires complex approaches, especially systems thinking, a skill increasingly desired by employers. Despite the importance of systems thinking, undergraduate instructors struggle with effectively teaching systems thinking. As part of an NSF-funded Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) center, the InTeGrate project developed course materials that sought to incorporate systems thinking resources in materials created for a range of courses involving geoscience themes. These materials, published after internal and external review and evaluated for systems approaches, have been adopted across the U.S. Materials that most strongly addressed systems thinking were explicit about teaching both the terminology and skills of systems thinking, including using and making systems diagrams and models.

We sought to determine if the InTeGrate materials were successfully applied to teach systems approaches using a common essay prompt. Participating students were asked to define a system, explain how the system works, and address the impact of multiple causal factors on one part of the system. We scored essays written by 533 students in 57 undergraduate classes, to assess students’ systems thinking ability. The students also completed a second essay on an interdisciplinary topic, a geoscience literacy exam (GLE), and responded to a demographic and attitudinal survey. The sample population were selected from among the larger InTeGrate student data (n>6,000). We compared our treatment population who were enrolled in courses using InTeGrate materials to a similar group of students taking a course that did not use InTeGrate materials. Both treatment and control groups had equivalent GLE and interdisciplinary essay scores and similar demographic characteristics. However, students in the treatment group scored significantly higher than the students in control group on the systems thinking essay question.