Transdisciplinary Science Education Research and Practice: Opportunities for GER in a Developing STEM Discipline-Based Education Research Alliance (DBER-A)

By Shipley, Thomas F.; McConnell, David et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, November 2017 | Go to article overview

Transdisciplinary Science Education Research and Practice: Opportunities for GER in a Developing STEM Discipline-Based Education Research Alliance (DBER-A)


Shipley, Thomas F., McConnell, David, McNeal, Karen S., Petcovic, Heather L., St John, Kristen E., Journal of Geoscience Education


INTRODUCTION

Each science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) discipline has developed a rich, ongoing program of education research and scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Recent interest in connecting separate threads offers some exciting opportunities. In an effort to clearly communicate the new opportunities for science education and practice, we present ideas, implications, and foundational basis without the familiar citations that provide attribution in the surrounding text. Instead, we provide a reference list at the end that is organized by section for the reader to peruse the primary resources and other commentaries that help support the intellectual foundation of this editorial. We consider the opportunity for science education research and practice broadly, the intellectual opportunities available from outside geoscience education research (GER), the value of GER to the broader program, and finally thoughts on next steps.

Education research that has focused on STEM education has been referred to collectively as discipline-based education research (DBER). DBER focuses on (1) how people learn concepts, practices, and ways of thinking within STEM disciplines; (2) characterizing the nature and development of expertise in disciplines; (3) measuring instructional strategies that advance student learning; (4) guiding the incorporation of research findings into classroom practice; and (5) identifying inclusive approaches to STEM education. Developing in parallel with DBER, the field of SoTL focuses on supporting instructors as reflective teaching practitioners who use evidence-based and evidence -informed methods and share these methods with other practitioners to support a community of scholarly instructors. A useful distinction between DBER and SoTL lies in the goals of each: DBER seeks to increase the theoretical and empirical knowledge base of teaching and learning in a discipline, whereas SoTL seeks to improve the effectiveness of individual teachers and the use of evidence-based curricula or pedagogy. However, there is no firm boundary between DBER and SoTL, with many individuals working in both communities.

The geosciences education community has explicitly included both DBER and SoTL under the umbrella term "geoscience education research (GER)" because these approaches to learning contribute to positive feedback loops, with each providing important intellectual resources for the other. For example, SoTL can identify promising practices and puzzling questions that are important and suitable for education research, as well as point to pedagogically grounded research priorities. DBER can study these issues to test or generate theory that may inform or improve practice, and SoTL can use theory and findings to improve or transform practices in the learning environment and provide guidance to instructors on the value of new practices, as well as how to implement them. The integration reflects the value of a bringing together theory and practice in a trading zone to advance both theory and practice. This trading zone supports the nontrivial problem of applying theories to classroom, field, and lab settings in design-based education research and the theoretical payoff for applying research to real-world problems. It is critical to recognize in this idea that we are not suggesting DBER is applied research; DBER research spans the range from deductive theories to case studies. What we are pointing out is the value of a cycle of progress that is supported by improvements in theory and practice.

We speculate that the geosciences may be particularly open to combining theory with individual practice because of the important roles that case studies (e.g., a single outcrop or a specific field location) can play in furthering theory in disciplinary science and, conversely, the important role that theories about Earth in general (e.g., plate tectonics) have in interpreting the geoscience of a specific location on Earth. …

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