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GSA Education:

New Directions and Strategies for Excellence

Report of the ad hoc Education Task Force to GSA Council and Management

Education, in its broadest and most encompassing sense, provides the foundation and mechanism upon which the Geological Society of America pursues its highest aspirations. Education, in this inclusive sense, is woven throughout GSA's mission to advance the geosciences, to enhance the professional growth of its members, and to promote the geosciences in the service of humankind. Geoscience education is a foremost function to which the Society reaffirms its commitment and support.

The needs of the geoscience education community have undergone remarkable evolution in the past decade. GSA contributed substantially to educational reform efforts and was at the vanguard of advocacy and outreach activities. Today, many more geoscientists are engaged in all facets of geoscience education. Accordingly, the Society must assume a different role of leadership for the growing cadre of geoscience educators.

GSA Education comprises programmatic efforts that will develop, promote, and support geoscience education via, and on behalf of, GSA members. Such endeavors provide focus and purpose to GSA's relationships with donors and sponsors. Organizationally, GSA Education aligns with other programs to uphold member values and fulfill our profession's contract with society. The chief program officer administers these programs. GSA Education itself will be administered by a director.

In assembling our collective recommendations for GSA Education we were guided by our individual appraisals of the needs and requirements of the program. We submitted "one pagers" about the requirements of geoscience education at GSA — what they have been and what they should be — as well as our thoughts about the responsibilities, roles, and expectations of the educational leadership position at GSA. Understandably, issues and suggestions came from several perspectives: as a member of GSA, as a member of an affiliated association, from a national and public science literacy need, and from the Society's organizational requirements. Although appraisals were drawn from various vantage points, the thoughts expressed were fresh, forward looking, and very helpful. Recurring themes in these submissions gave our recommendations cohesion and focus. It is our view that excellence in GSA Education will require staying informed and competent regarding rapid developments in information technology, assessing the implications of new understandings in cognitive science, and assisting in and developing the wide-scale adoption of curriculum reform efforts. These requisite moves must merge, with purpose and will, into an intangible, irrepressible force as strong as tides. To this end, the Education Task Force and Search Committee offer to Council and management the following recommendations.

GSA Education should be oriented toward providing leadership. Dynamic societies provide direct and obvious opportunities for professional development, both internally for members and externally for society at large. It is the role of all scientists to transmit their knowledge-that is, to educate. In its new leadership role, GSA Education will identify both successful models that support geosocience education and impediments to its advancement. GSA Education will act as a catalyst to engage members, associated societies, and other public and private organizations in a coordinated effort to build mechanisms to disseminate successful models and find solutions to impediments. GSA seminars, workshops, and publications will be important components of this strategy.

GSA Education should have programs that are based on the inherent strength of the Society and on assessment of new opportunities in a changing educational environment. This recommendation calls for one indispensable principle recommended for programmatic change and one that may require immensely strong will. To grow in quality during a time of boundless educational interest, requests, and opportunities requires the principle of restraint. Education programs within professional societies need to develop their programs in better coordination with one another. GSA's involvement in educational activities will require scrutiny, rational selection and assessment of how new opportunities support and contribute to member needs and to the enhancement of the Society's mission. A myriad of activities can fall under the aegis of geoscience education. Most, if not all, are worthwhile activities that help advance and broadly promote geoscience understanding. Yet each of these initiatives requires investment of time, talent, and resources. Strategic planning, or the rational selection of courses of action that are most likely to bring success in the future, is required. The touchstone of programmatic appropriateness needs to be the extent to which an activity visibly and tangibly contributes to fundamental and durable change. If that criterion cannot be established, or at best is tangential to programmatic goals and objectives, then it might be better to help direct the activity to a more appropriate organization or to leave it alone.

As an example, it might be argued that helping to establish geological awareness in the development of a park's new visitor center or new interpretive trail is a worthwhile endeavor, because a large sector of the public will benefit. Yet, it must also be recognized that the benefit is, at best, a second derivative, one that might have a limited contribution to professional development and other established societal programmatic goals. For a contrasting example, a geoscience education effort directed toward enabling faculty to establish programs to help geology majors obtain teacher certification in conjunction with their geoscience degrees can be shown to provide direct benefits to a much larger sector of societal members. Preparation of competent earth science teachers attracts students, contributes to departmental growth, and develops a cadre of professionals who can further contribute to the mission of the Society. This second initiative also contributes to an expressed national need.

Finally, if knowledge acquisition and transfer of information is the core business of the world today, an initiative that brings greater attention to teaching and learning clearly provides dividends throughout all programmatic areas of the Society. Reorientation of GSA Education in the new millennium may not be a zero-sum game, but the overwhelming amount of time on any task will almost always, unavoidably, be derived from internal realignments. Therefore, it is important to assess a project's potential contribution and impact right from the start.

GSA Education should support and publicize the educational activities of member organizations, but it should avoid redundancy. The Society is fortunate in that several associated societies also have long and active involvement in geoscience education. GSA Education should support and publicize the activities of these societies, but should avoid redundancy. The National Association of Geoscience Teachers, should be viewed, fostered, and developed to be more of a direct "working arm" of GSA Education because it has a large congruent membership and a long period of advancing geoscience education. Other associated societies, such as the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and related professional organizations, such as the American Geological Institute and the American Geophysical Union, have active offices of education and contribute significantly to geoscience education. GSA Education must maintain positive and mutually cooperative relationships with each of these organizations (and with some that are outside the direct geoscience sphere, such as the National Science Teachers Association).

GSA Education efforts must be considered in relationship to established priorities and the activities of associated societies and related organizations. Each associated society brings with it a certain constituency of interest and competency. In the myriad of educational levels represented and activities addressed, it is necessary to mutually determine areas of focus for each society. Enhancement of geoscience education at all levels will largely be determined by the extent to which societies can identify and mutually support each other's areas of educational interest, activity and influence. In this regard, GSA Education should facilitate discussions helping to identify, support, and respect societal spheres of educational interest and influence.

GSA Education should establish affiliated academic centers for geoscience excellence. GSA Education, in its new leadership role, should work to establish academic partnerships in which the research and development activities of geoscience education take place at academic institutions.

At a time when extraordinary developments are occurring in information transfer, a more integrated perspective is also bringing significant contextual change in geoscience education. Earth system science is contributing to important understandings of the interactions among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and solid Earth. As research moves toward an integrated Earth system approach, so too should our educational efforts. We stand at a potentially unprecedented juncture of content and pedagogical reform. Geoscience education's fundamental objective of fostering the development of an informed and geoscience-aware public is inherently linked to our ability to unite the elements of content, information acquisition, and educational practice.

Education's unique contribution lies in understanding the mental operations that underlie learning and the processes of knowledge acquisition. Therefore, GSA Education must be able to link the science of learning and cognition with the development of technologies for teaching and learning. What individuals show enhanced development of cognitive facilities when presented with various modes of learning? Why do they show that development? For the long-term success and contribution of geoscience education, it is important that we consider how data acquisition, analysis, and visualization technology have beneficial effects on students' problem-solving skills and on their ability to transfer these skills to new situations. GSA Education should work to find more effective means of addressing the needs of diverse populations in diverse cultural settings. GSA does not have — nor should it have — the depth of personnel resources required for such research and development. The work of affiliated academic centers can provide important benefits to the Society and many of its members. Recent collaborative initiatives by the physics community could provide a possible model for GSA. Some forward-thinking departments are making important moves in this direction, and it would be mutually beneficial to them as well as to the Society to have such formal partnerships. In turn, establishing such affiliated centers will send a powerful signal to other academic departments throughout the nation. Such an initiative by GSA Education would be transforming leadership at its finest.


Robert W. Ridky, Chair, GSA Education Task Force
Gail Ashley, Council representative
Holly Devaul
Steven C. Good
Judith L. Hannah
Cathleen L. May
Judith G. Scotchmoor
William Prothero
Michael J. Smith
Gregory R. Wheeler