Investigating Student-Centered Teaching in Undergraduate Geoscience Instruction: Observations and Interviews

Project No.
PI Name
Cathryn Manduca
Carleton College

Abstract 1

Investigating Student-Centered Teaching in Undergraduate Geoscience Instruction: Observations and Interviews

Presentation Type
Cathryn Manduca, Carleton College; Julie Bartley, Gustavus Adolphus College; Monica Bruckner, Carleton College; Dori Farthing, SUNY Geneseo; Ellen Iverson, Carleton College; Krista Larsen, Carleton College; David McConnell, North Carolina State University; Rachel Teasdale, California State University-Chico; Karen Viskupic, Boise State University


Studies of teaching practices in undergraduate STEM courses have underscored the value of active learning pedagogies in increasing student performance in STEM disciplines (Freeman et al., 2014; Handelsman et al., 2004). Through a national survey of geoscience faculty, we found that participants of Cutting Edge (CE) workshops who make use of the CE website were 1.5 times more likely to spend more than 20% of class time on student activities, questions, and discussion. While this analysis gave us some indication of the practices of CE participants, it rests on faculty self-report data. Some studies have identified a lack of alignment between what faculty report as teaching and what is observed in the classroom (Ebert-May et al., 2011; Henderson & Dancy, 2007). Through a WIDER supplement to the CE project, we aimed to examine what we learned about teaching practices from faculty self-report with classroom observations.


The goals were to characterize the use of active learning instructional practices within identified segments of geoscience faculty, to understand how teaching differs across a continuum of active learning to more traditional lecture classes, to investigate how adoption of such teaching practices correlate with participation in CE activities, and to investigate how faculty perceive their department, institution, and disciplinary community as influencing teaching practices. This project is currently in the publication phase.


We used the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP; Sawada et al., 2002) as a standardized and validated means for detecting the degree to which classroom instruction used student-centered, active learning practices. We sampled classrooms across a wide range of variation on dimensions of interest (e.g., institution type, years of teaching).With a small sample of observations, we conducted in-depth interviews to examine the interaction between participantsï¾’ department and institutional activities related to teaching and the CE program.


We have collected 205 observations and conducted 15 in-depth interviews. RTOP scores indicate varying degrees of student-centered teaching with 30% of classes with scores ?30, 45% with scores of 31-49, and 25% with scores ? 50. CE workshop participants who make use of the CE website have an average RTOP score of 48, which is >15 points higher than those with no CE involvement. Interviews illuminated how CE enabled faculty to find ongoing support for improving instruction by teaching and demonstrating skills and methods that were directly transferrable to their teaching environment. They attributed CE to giving them the foundation for connecting with other faculty engaged in improving practice. Intentional recognition by their department and institutional-level support for innovative instruction accelerated such faculty adoption.

Broader Impacts

Findings are being disseminated to the STEM community (Teasdale et al., in press). We developed a virtual training curriculum for new observers that includes videos and observer coaching and have trained 37 certified observers to date. The project is training new observers and collecting observations for other NSF-sponsored projects (the InTeGrate STEP Center and Supporting and Advancing Geoscience Education in Two-Year Colleges (SAGE2YC)). All protocols and instruments are available through the CE website (

Unexpected Challenges

We are now well into a transition away from NSF funding to ongoing self-sustainaining program offerings. A committee has been established inside the National Association of Geoscience Teachers of manage the program offerings; a cross professional society committee has been established to manage the program as whole and includes representatives from all groups contributing funds. Program elements have been tested for economic viability and a new, more economic model for simultaneous multiple workshop offerings was tested last summer. The largest challenge is support for the website.


SPORE: Science Prize for Online Resources in Education: On the Cutting Edge: Teaching Help For Geoscience Faculty: Science, v. 327, no. 5969, pp. 1095-1096; Bruckner, Monica, Engaging Students in Learning: Examples from the SERC Sites, In the Trenches, Vol. 3, No. 3, July 2013;
Tewksbury, Barbara, Cathryn A. Manduca, David W. Mogk, R. Heather Macdonald. (2013) Geoscience Education for the Anthropocene. In Bickford B. (Ed) The Impact of the Geological Sciences on Society: Geological Society of America Special Paper 501, p 189-201;
Narum, Jeanne and Manduca, Cathy (2012) Workshops and Networks in Brainbridge, William Sims, editor, Leadership in Science and Technology, A Reference Handbook. ISBN 978-1-4129-7688-6 p. 443-451;
Manduca, Cathryn A. (2011). Improving undergraduate geoscience education - A Community Endeavor: GSA Today, v. 21, n. 9, p. 12-14;
Manduca, Cathryn A., David W. Mogk, Barbara Tewksbury, R. Heather Macdonald, Sean P. Fox, Ellen R. Iverson, Karin Kirk, John McDaris, Carol Ormand, and Monica Bruckner (2010);
Manduca, C.A. (2008). Working with the Discipline - Developing a Supportive Environment for Education. In Evidence on Promising Practices in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education, S. Singer et al. (Eds.). National Academy of Sciences. Washington, D.C.;
Manduca, C., J. Johnston (2008), Engaging Faculty in Discussion of the Affective Domain: A Practical Strategy, The National Teaching & Learning Forum, Vol 17, Num 3;
Manduca, C.A. (2007). Improving Instruction in Mineralogy, Petrology, and Geochemistry - Lessons from Research on Learning. Elements 3(2), 95-100;
Manduca, C.A. (2007) On the Cutting Edge of Teaching About Early Earth. Geotimes 52 (7), 44-45;
Macdonald, R.H., C.A. Manduca, D.W. Mogk, and B.J. Tewksbury (2005). 'Teaching Methods in Undergraduate Geoscience Courses: Results of the 2004 On the Cutting Edge Survey of US Faculty.' Journal of Geoscience Education, 53(3): 237;
Macdonald, R. H., C. A. Manduca, D. W. Mogk and B. J. Tewksbury (2004). 'On the Cutting Edge: Improving Learning by Enhancing Teaching in the Geosciences (Acrobat (PDF) 87kB Apr11 14). In, Invention and Impact: Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education. Washington, D.C., AAAS: 381;
Manduca, C.A., H. Macdonald, D. Mogk, and B. Tewksbury (2004). 'On the Cutting Edge: Leadership development in the Geosciences.' In Project Kaleidoscope Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts. July 23: The work of disciplinary societies in identifying and nurturing faculty leaders.

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