Geoscience is crucial for addressing societal challenges arising from interactions between Earth and
human systems. Ironically, a gap exists between the pivotal role of earth science in achieving a more
sustainable future and the number of students pursuing geoscience careers. This disconnect is highlighted
by closures of geoscience departments and the second-class status of earth science in schools (e.g.,
Center for Geoscience and Society, 2018; Geoscience on the Chopping Block, 2021). How can geoscience
education evolve in both content and pedagogy to address this disconnect?
This question, addressed in a recent report on the future of geoscience education (Mosher and Keane,
2021), inspired us to organize “An interactive walk into the future of applied geosciences education,” a
roundtable at the 2022 Earth Educators’ Rendezvous. Seventeen participants representing diverse
institutions answered six questions regarding the importance of teaching applied geoscience at the
university level; responses are summarized below and in Figure 1.
Applied geoscience education is a way to respond to the needs of society (in orange). To achieve this, it
is essential to know why an applied education is important to students (in purple), what competencies are
needed (in blue), and which teaching practices are most beneficial (in green).
Results: Earth Educators’ Rendezvous Roundtable
1. Why is it important to incorporate an applied approach into teaching geoscience?
Student motivation was the top answer. Participants noted that students are driven to
learn how to address the challenges facing society today. An applied approach to the geosciences can
develop career skills and expose students to the issues they care about as well as a broader spectrum of
geoscience careers, extending far beyond traditional extractive industry career paths.
2. What are the most important skills we can teach to prepare students for careers?
Respondents identified four essential skills:
Geoethics, which is concerned with the standards and values that guide geoscience
research and practice,
is of high importance in connecting geoscience to society and providing a sense of humility and respect
for local interests and community leadership. A geoscience education must include a foundation in
professional ethics, which is required for licensing in many jurisdictions.
Promoting the scientific method and teaching students how to apply it through the
various stages of
investigation is essential for inspiring curiosity and creativity. Analysis and interpretation of results
are other critical skills.
Communication skills were highlighted by many participants, including verbal and written
well as interpersonal communication that enables effective teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Effective communication also helps to transcend cultural and ideological barriers and enhance inclusivity.
Specific technical skills, such as GIS and applied mathematics for problem solving, were
critical. These tools and others are needed to address present demands, continue the evolution of
learning, and view problems from the perspectives of others.
3. What are the best practices for teaching applied geoscience?
The respondents mentioned active learning techniques such as mentorship to create
with students in an apprenticeship-like capacity. Another suggestion was to utilize case
highlight real-world problems. Connecting students with issues specific to their communities can stimulate
interest, make the science feel relevant, and increase awareness and engagement. Field
enhance engagement. Respondents emphasized that hands-on experience with technology and
data management is
4. What resources are the most important and what organizations can supply those resources to help
facilitate an applied approach to teaching?
This question resulted in a familiar list of resources and organizations, but several are worthy of
comment. First, alumni networks are immense sources of wisdom and experience and are
Geoscience needs to be considered in the broadest context to include associated disciplines such as
economics, ecology, land-use planning, and engineering. Colleges and universities should facilitate
networking opportunities by inviting alumni with different perspectives and skill sets to connect and
speak with students.
The National Association of Geoscience Teachers Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College has
produced an extensive collection of high-quality teaching resources. The Geological Society of America,
the American Geophysical Union, and other organizations devote attention to geoscience as a service, as do
the American Geosciences Institute, the International Association for Promoting Geoethics, and Geology in
the Public Interest.
Government agencies offer a wealth of information, and the U.S. Geological Survey is a
Most nations have some form of geoscience survey, and the same is true for states and provinces. Many
universities host extension services that interact locally in their regions.
Last, the sharing of experiences and ideas with those who have “on-the-ground”
experience can provide
useful resources for educators at all levels.
5. What are the most relevant geoscience challenges that appeal to current students?
Responses to this question were driven by what the educators have been hearing from their students: more
than ever, students want to apply what they learn to solve problems in the real world.
include the impacts of climate change, food injustice, and water availability. They also want to help
further energy sustainability and address the need for critical minerals while promoting responsible
mining and preserving ecosystems. Students want to balance the need for natural resources with
environmental conservation and preservation.
Students are especially driven by salient experiences at home, where they have seen local
unaddressed. They understand the need for local action and are ready to put their education to work, which
is something that teaching practices should reflect.
Today’s students are driven by altruism (Carter et al., 2021) and a desire to hold industry and
government to higher standards. They are worried about the future of their children and people far from
home. Research shows that highlighting the social relevance of geoscience also may attract more
underrepresented students (Carter, et al., 2021).
6. What are the biggest barriers to instituting applied geoscience in our teaching and in engaging with
Respondents were nearly unanimous in their primary concern about having neither resources nor
allow any workload changes or additions. Educators are stretched to the limit on all fronts, as was
abundantly clear during the pandemic.
They suggested several reasons why change is difficult, including a lack of awareness of the
between classroom instruction and what graduates will need to know (Mosher and Keane, 2021).
applying geoscience and engaging with society are unfamiliar territories for some instructors. The
momentum needed to overcome resistance to change was also cited, particularly when
applied geoscience is
given a lower status in the academic reward structure.
Many respondents agreed that it would be easier to modify course plans if there were more
resources that address the public good, which brings us back to their primary concern: the need
Summary and Conclusions
There is an urgent need to diversify and strengthen university geoscience departments by reimagining
undergraduate geoscience education to meet the needs of today’s students and of society. As reflected in
the responses above and the Mosher and Keane (2021) report, key barriers include resistance to change,
lack of time, and the need for additional resources. Another challenge is the low visibility of geoscience
both in K–12 education and among the public, emphasizing the importance of actively promoting the value of
geoscience as a viable and societally relevant career path. Ongoing professional development and
opportunities to share concerns and exchange resources will help to catalyze change. The annual Earth
Educators’ Rendezvous provides an ideal forum for open dialog around the future of geoscience education,
and we hope you will join us for a three-day “Applied Geoscience Education: Engaging with Society for
Sustainability” workshop at the 2023 Rendezvous.
- Carter, S.C., Griffith, E.M., Jorgensen, T.A., Coifman, K.G., and Griffith, W.A., 2021, Highlighting
altruism in geoscience careers aligns with diverse U.S. student ideals better than emphasizing working
outdoors: Communications Earth & Environment, v. 2, no. 1, p. 1–7, p. 213,
- Center for Geoscience and Society, 2018, Earth and space sciences education in U.S. secondary schools:
Key indicators and trends 3.0.; Alexandria, Virginia, American Geosciences Institute, 24 p.,
(last accessed 13 Mar. 2023).
- Geoscience on the Chopping Block [editorial], 2021: Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, v. 2, no.
9, p. 587.
- Mosher, S., and Keane, C., editors, 2021, Vision and change in the geosciences: The future of
undergraduate geoscience education: Washington, D.C., American Geosciences Institute, 176 p.,
https://www.americangeosciences.org/change/pdfs/Vision-Change-Geosciences.pdf (last accessed 13 Mar.
Manuscript received 31 Jan. 2023.
Revised manuscript received 16 Feb. 2023.
Manuscript accepted 16 Feb. 2023.
Posted 7 Apr. 2023.
© 2023, The Geological Society of America. CC-BY-NC.