Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Do We Have a 20th or 21st Century Curriculum?

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Do We Have a 20th or 21st Century Curriculum?

Article excerpt

Two of the most pervasive reform movements in higher education are the establishment of formal program review processes and the regular reporting of metrics assessing student learning. In a very general sense, these activities are designed to serve as quality assurance programs. While implemented by university administrators, they have their origin in the activities of state legislatures and boards of higher education. While the growing list of evaluative tasks assigned to academic units can, at times, seem a waste of time, they do provide an important opportunity to think creatively about the ways in which we teach geology.

The American Geological Institute collects data on student enrollment in the geosciences and has reported a steady decline in number of undergraduate students and number of undergraduate degrees granted over the past 8 years. What are the origins of these declines? Without a doubt a changing economy and the decline in minerals and petroleum exploration play a major role. I would, however, suggest that at least some of this change is not driven by external factors but rather is self-induced. What are the factors that draw students to select a major? Clearly, future employment is critical to a student's decision; yet equally important is the attractiveness of the subject mater. Geology, I contend, has one great strength in this area and a critical weakness.

A unique aspect of geology, when compared to other disciplines, is the historical context of our science. At its core, geology is concerned with the integration of physical and chemical observations with an understanding of the temporal laws of geology to create a historical interpretation of a region. Linking together regional studies creates a history of the Earth. The fact that the Earth has a history, and that its history can be understood by the study of the rock record is, in my mind, the most fascinating part of our science. Students are easily excited by this concept and can be drawn into richer understandings of geological materials and processes in order to expand their ability to interpret Earth history. This activity, so central to our science, is not a central component of most undergraduate curriculums. Rather, students move from one traditional course to another: physical, mineralogy, petrology, sed/strat, structure, paleontology, and then a variety of courses with more limited scope, hydrology, geochemistry, solid earth geophysics, geomorphology. …

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