GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 83-7
Presentation Time: 9:40 AM


SOLTIS, Nicholas A.1, MCNEAL, Karen S.1, FORBES, Cory2 and LALLY, Diane2, (1)Department of Geosciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, (2)School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, 3310 Holdrege St, Lincoln, NE 68583

Earth System thinking, thinking of the Earth as a complex system made up of interworking subsystems, has been shown to be the highest level of knowing and understanding in the geosciences (Stokes, 2011). Previous work has found four conceptual frameworks of Earth system thinking that repeatedly appear in the geoscience education literature (Scherer et al., 2017). This study aims to employ structural equation modeling to understand the current state of Earth system thinking teaching as shown by a recent iteration of a national survey on teaching practices of higher education geoscience professors and instructors (n=2615). Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were conducted on survey items to understand the latent structure of Earth system thinking teaching practices and course changes and innovations. A confirmatory factor analysis was also conducted to confirm a previously reported structure of the teaching style items from the survey. This work revealed a 3-factor latent structure that corresponds to four Earth system thinking frameworks proposed in the literature (two of the proposed frameworks appear to load together) and a 2-factor structure to items relating to recent changes that instructors have made to their courses that also correspond to Earth system thinking. These measurement models were used to build a full structural model, where it was hypothesized that active learning would predict Earth system thinking course changes and Earth system thinking teaching. However, the model revealed that Earth system thinking course changes mediates the relationship between active learning and Earth system thinking teaching. This implies the need for continued efforts to provide professional development opportunities in both active learning and Earth system thinking, as active learning is not enough to implicitly teach Earth system thinking skills or to make changes to current curriculum to include systems thinking teaching practices. This work also revealed that the construct of Systems Modeling has the weakest relationship to the broader construct of Earth System Thinking Teaching, suggesting a need for more professional development opportunities as they relate to systems modeling, quantitative reasoning, and complexity sciences.