Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to contribute as a research team member on the National Geoscience Faculty Survey project led by SERC and made possible by funding from NSF. As part of this effort, I was fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Karen McNeal, as well as doctoral students Diane Lally (UNL) and Nick Soltis (Auburn University), on analysis of data from the 2016 administration of the survey to investigate U.S. geoscience faculty members’ reported emphasis on scientific modeling and systems thinking in their undergraduate courses. Based on a sample of over 2000 postsecondary instructors, the study shows these elements to be more heavily emphasized by faculty members from certain geoscience subdisciplines than others and who generally show greater engagement with instructional innovation. This was a great experience working with a wonderful team on a unique dataset and we all hope these are findings that will be accessible and useful to postsecondary geoscience faculty nationwide.
Congrats to former Masters student and WELL project team member Destini Petitt on publication of her thesis research conducted as part of the WELL project. Destini’s study explored how undergraduate students from developing and developed countries leveraged their values to reason about socio-hydrological issues. Published in Natural Sciences Education, the article illustrates students’ priority values, alignment between these priority values and their proposed solutions to water-related challenges, as well as similarities and differences in both between the two groups of students.
Congrats to Diane Lally, doctoral student with the WELL project, for being selected by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) for a 2019 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. This award recognizes outstanding teaching assistants in geoscience education. Diane is currently a 4th-year doctoral student who, for the past 3 years, has served as a graduate teaching assistant for the SCIL 109: Water in Society course. Her research focuses on scientific modeling and systems thinking in undergraduate geoscience courses, including work in the 109 course develop and study the impact of course modules in which students use data-driven, computer-based water models to investigate water-related phenomena (e.g., groundwater, regional water balance, etc.).
An article describing our NSF-funded SCIL 109 Water in Society course, part of the WELL project, and its first implementation appears in the September/October 2018 issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching. In the article, we describe core tenets of the course design, present some findings from research conducted during the first year of the course, and share some ongoing questions and challenges associated with the course. This was a great team effort and it’s fantastic to see this manuscript in print. We look forward to building on this work with subsequent publications focused on students’ model-based reasoning about socio-hydrologic issues conducted in the context of the course.
This past year, the E2FEW project has benefited tremendously from contributions of undergraduate research assistants supported through UNL’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program. Over the course of the past 12 months, the UCARE program has funded 4 undergraduate students to collect and analyze data, as well as disseminate project activities and research findings, in collaboration with the E2FEW project team. We are very thankful for the hard work of Holly White, Brooke Mott, Lexy Polivanov, and Saleh Husseini to videorecord CASNR classes, score student work, run stats, and develop posters for sharing our project work with the UNL community. We look forward to Holly and Brooke continuing their work this year as part of the E2FEW project team and Forbes group!
Congrats to Ashley (McKenzie) Sutter for publication of her thesis work in the International Journal of Science Education. Utilizing value belief norm (VBN) theory and construal level theory (CLT), the study explores how undergraduate students reason and make decisions about prairie dog conversation issues. The research, which was conducted in the SCIL 101 course (Science and Decision-Making for a Complex World), is grounded in the use of structured-decision making as a teaching and learning strategy in large enrollment, undergraduate STEM courses. Findings from the study illustrate the interrelationships between students’ values, problemmatization of the issue, and science-informed decision-making.
Congrats to Dr. Jaime Sabel for publication of dissertation work in CBE–Life Sciences Education. This study explored the used of reflective scaffolds and metacognitive tools to support and enhance undergraduate students’ learning in the context of an introductory undergraduate course for non-majors. Study findings provide insight into how students use these tools, how they can be integrated into the design of course activities, and ways in which they productively impact students’ life science learning.
Many thanks to all members of our research and instructional team who collaborated on a study investigating undergraduate students’ reasoning about water-focused socioscientific issues. Carried out in the first iteration of the revised SCIL 101 course (formerly AGRI/NRES 103) with more than 200 students, study results illustrate strengths and limitations of students’ thinking about the use of groundwater for agriculture in the context of a multi-week course module. Thanks to Dr. Jaime Sabel for leading this effort!
Sabel, J.L., Vo, T., Alred, A., Dauer, J.M., & Forbes, C.T. (2017). Undergraduate students’ scientifically-informed decision-making about socio-hydrological issues. Journal of College Science Teaching, 46(6), 64-72.
As part of the WELL project, our team had the chance to teach our new course – SCIL 109 Water in Society – this past spring semester. It was an amazing opportunity work with 45 undergraduate students, both STEM and non-STEM majors from an array of programs. It was also a wonderfully enriching experience to collaborate with colleagues spanning multiple disciplines as part of our instructional team. The course touched on core hydrology concepts, exploration of contemporary real-world water-related challenges, and opportunities to communicate about both the scientific and non-scientific dimensions of these issues. Students used computer-based water modeling tools based upon authentic datasets, worked in collaborative teams on long-term projects, participated in site visits, and developed and presented infographics to attendees at an international water-focused conference. Please see our spring, 2017 syllabus and course calendar here.
In the Fall, 2016 semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach one of four large sections a required course for all CASNR students – SCIL 101 Science and Decision-Making for a Complex World. The class, re-conceptualized and redeveloped from a long-standing introductory course (AGRI/NRES 103 Introduction to Agricultural and Natural Resource Systems), involves students learning to make science-informed decisions about agriculture and natural resource issues. Comprised of four modules designed around food, energy, and water issues, SCIL 101 offers students the opportunity explore these challenges issues from multiple perspectives, ultimately conducting independent research on a question of their choosing. My section of the class this fall had 130 students, almost half of which were CASNR undergraduate students from Rwanda studying in IANR to become future agricultural leaders in their home country. I am also very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with an amazing team of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, including WELL project graduate students Diane Lally and Destini Petitt, and Science Literacy graduate student McKenzie Peterson.