GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 223-14
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-1:00 PM


HAROLDSON, Erik, Department of Geosciences, Austin Peay State University, P.O.Box 4418, Clarksville, TN 37044

Students learn best in supportive social settings, yet many classrooms provide individual learning focused on the instructor or exercises. The geosciences have a poor track record regarding diversity. Moreover, to meet a changing workforce it is thought that geoscience curriculum should emphasize building broad skills, yet many classrooms focus more on specific disciplinary content. Presented here are the results from two semesters of nearly daily usage of improv games in upper division geoscience courses implemented to address these concerns.

Improvisational or “improv” theater is a live form where the elements of a scene are made up during the performance. Successful improv is driven by important tenets such as: being accepting of your partner’s offers, and always be adding to the story.

A student perception survey indicates agreement in the usage of improv games in the geoscience classroom towards: 1) fostering a community of practice, and 2) developing students’ transferable skills. The former promotes social learning and may increase retention of a more diverse student body. The latter prepares students to be adaptable in a dynamic workplace, equipped with skills like confidence in public speaking, listening, ability to think on your feet, ability to learn new skills, and appreciation for camaraderie.

In this study, improv games were not employed to directly engage in course content, so they were not considered to be active learning strategies per se. However, an active learning classroom may experience enhanced engagement when it employs improv games concurrently. Student responses and attendance records do suggest the games enhanced emotional and behavioral engagement in the classroom. Furthermore, it is suggested that playing the games allow students to become comfortable with having agency in the classroom.

The games were also implemented in settings outside the classroom, such as on one of the course’s field trips. It is envisioned that improv games could be adapted to more environments in academic geosciences, such as at field camps or in research groups (likely they are already).

Improv games were utilized in this study as non-specific daily warmup activities, but could be utilized or further developed to directly engage in course content. In such instances, instructors should work to include scaffolding on the tenets of improv to ensure the games are best utilized.

  • 2021_Haroldson_improv.pdf (642.0 kB)