Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

How Explicit Is the Cognitive Science Foundation of Geoscience Education Research? A Study of Syntactical Units in JGE Articles

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

How Explicit Is the Cognitive Science Foundation of Geoscience Education Research? A Study of Syntactical Units in JGE Articles

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 2012, the National Research Council (NRC) published a report titled, Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering (Singer et al., 2012). This report provided the basis for this study's use of the concept of discipline-based education research (DBER), including its focus on the undergraduate level of education. In the report, the authors stated that DBER "investigates learning and teaching in a discipline from a perspective that reflects the discipline's priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices" (Singer et al., 2012, p. 1). They noted, "DBER scholars typically examine teaching and learning within the disciplines, and are situated in disciplinary departments" (p. 181). With respect to geoscience education research (GER), the report stated that GER "began to coalesce as a recognized field in the 2000s" (p. 28), with fewer than six faculty members nationwide achieving promotion to tenure based on a GER portfolio as of 2012 (p. 29).

Although the 2012 NRC report describes what DBER and GER are, it is worth noting that what GER means to members of the geoscience education community is an active area of discussion. For example, a recent discussion on the matter yielded ideas that included GER is DBER, GER is the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), and GER is both DBER and SoTL (St. John & McNeal, 2016). Although recognizing that different members of the geoscience education community have different ideas about what GER means, GER in this study is discussed in the same terms as it is in the NRC report. In other words, GER is (a) one of the subfields under the umbrella field of DBER and (b) a subdiscipline within the discipline of geoscience (just as physics education research (PER), chemistry education research (CER), and biology education research (BER) are subdisciplines within their primary disciplines).

According to the NRC report, the goals of GER, as with all DBER, are "informed by and complementary to more general research on human learning and cognition" (p. 9). However, the authors stated that the extent to which different disciplines ground their DBER "in broader theories or principles of learning and teaching varies widely" (p. 52). Myriad theories or principles of learning and teaching exist and are directly concerned with or connected to cognition in some way. The purpose of this study is to provide an initial step toward systematically evaluating the degree to which GER studies about undergraduate geoscience education published in the Journal of Geoscience Education (JGE) (a) use general research on human learning and cognition, particularly in terms of cognitive science concepts, and (b) are grounded in theories or principles of learning.

Three research questions drive this study. (a) Over time, to what degree do GER studies explicitly include concepts from a general cognitive theory of learning? (b) What connections between GER topics of research and cognitive processes are represented in the studies' hypotheses or research questions? (c) What theoretical frameworks ground GER studies about cognition-related research topics?

The intended application of this study is to provide an overview of the extent to which GER studies in the area of undergraduate geoscience education draw upon cognitive science concepts, as recorded in published JGE articles. The overview (a) identifies a shared interest among GER scholars in cognitive research; (b) reveals areas of potential improvement in using cognitive science concepts and learning theories in GER studies; (c) makes recommendations for further advancing GER as a scholarly field; (d) provides a basis for more in-depth and/or farther-reaching studies about the field of GER; and (e) provides a basis for cross-disciplinary comparisons with, for example, PER, CER, and BER.

Theoretical framework

This study is grounded in a linguistic theory of representation and a cognitive theory of learning. …

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