Significant advances in geosciences and in STEM education have taken place in the 17 years since the geoscience community last gathered to take an in-depth review of undergraduate geoscience education in 1996. Geoscience has become more interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary, resulting in the need for students to have strength in their discipline as well as the ability to work across disciplinary boundaries. The Earth Systems Science approach has demonstrated the complex interactions between different parts of the Earth system, requiring a better understanding of all aspects of the Earth system including the Earth’s interior and surface, hydrosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere. Our science has become increasingly important in addressing societally important issues (natural hazards, water, energy, climate, sustainability, etc.), which makes preparation in ethics, economics, and communication ever more important skills for our undergraduate students to learn. Yet the importance of understanding deep time, including the Earth’s history and evolution, is still critical.
Given these far-reaching changes in our science, much debate has occurred nationally in recent years on what is needed to prepare undergraduate students for graduate school and/or future careers in the geosciences. What modifications to a traditional geoscience curriculum are needed to encompass these new realities? What constitutes a thorough geoscience curriculum? How rigorous in math and other sciences does a geoscience curriculum need to be? Is there any value in having accreditation (or standardized classification) of undergraduate geoscience programs? How do geoscience curricula meet the changing geoscience workforce needs?
At the same time, undergraduate education is undergoing a transformation with the advent of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC’s), flipped classrooms, crowd-sourcing of open education resources, and new pedagogies for STEM education derived from discipline-based education research (DBER). Broad adoption of these educational approaches and pedagogies has not occurred in the geosciences, and we lag behind other STEM fields (e.g. physics, biology) that are successfully implementing these methods. Additionally, many opportunities exist for developing shared resources and courses with local customization, particularly for 2 year colleges. Major advances have taken place in visualization and geospatial tools, generation and use of massive amounts of quantitative information (big data), and computational modeling and simulation for both predictive capabilities and insight into processes and global-scale events. These advances provide new ways of enhancing student learning, as well as raise the question of the relative value of virtual versus real experiences, particularly in the field. Colleges and universities are striving to prepare undergraduate students to use rapidly advancing technologies and big data in the future.
This summit will bring together a broad spectrum of the undergraduate geoscience education community, from large research universities with undergraduate programs to smaller four-year and community colleges, to address these issues and to begin the process of developing a high-level community vision for the geosciences. Other STEM disciplines, including biology, engineering, and chemistry, are currently undertaking community efforts to develop a vision for their respective undergraduate education systems to address evolving educational changes. The goals for this summit are to take the first steps at developing a community vision for undergraduate geoscience education and build a roadmap for the future that outlines the next steps for refinement and implementation of this emerging vision. Sustained change in geoscience undergraduate education will take the combined efforts of departments and programs, led by administrators, individual faculty innovators, geoscience professional societies and future workforce employers.