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The geoscience workforce and academic programs responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with a wide range of adaptive strategies - from targeted uses of technology to increased flexibility in work locations and schedules - that are shaping education and the profession into the future, according to the final report of a multi-year study. Geoscientists already are reflecting on the study’s utility for their work.
“This study has been useful to me in my diversity, equity, and inclusion work in helping explore how different the impacts of the pandemic were to different group of geoscientists,” said Sarah Sheffield, an assistant professor in the University of South Florida’s School of Geosciences, who took part in the research project. Sheffield said the experience made her acutely aware of the challenges of building a lab amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, including equipment delays, teaching online, and mentoring graduate students in new ways.
AGI recently concluded the in-depth research project, funded by the National Science Foundation (Award #2029570), examining short- and long-term effects of the pandemic on the geoscience workforce and higher-education programs. The study mapped the journey from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic environments for geoscience employers, non-academic geoscientists, academic faculty, geoscience college and university students, and recent geoscience graduates.
The project collected primary data through a multi-cohort longitudinal survey that was augmented by oral histories and a webinar series focused on gathering information on how study participants managed pandemic-related challenges. This deep dive uncovered lasting changes, explored the evolution of research conduct, pinpointed knowledge gaps affecting geoscience graduates, and identified strategies used to mitigate challenges.
“As we recalibrate our work culture going forward - such as through remote and hybrid work options - studies like this can help inform those processes and decisions,” said Curtis Walker, a project scientist at the U.S. National Science Foundation National Center for Atmospheric Research, who participated in project surveys and oral histories. “Additionally, it is important for project leaders like myself to embrace the tools and best practices available in managing and still promoting an engaging hybrid work environment.”
To learn more, see the Geoscience COVID-19 Impacts Study or contact AGI Geoscience Profession and Higher Education Director Christopher Keane.
Teaching and Learning Academy Evolves for Educators
With an array of program innovations, the 2023 AGI/ExxonMobil Geoscience and STEM Teaching and Learning Academy (TLA) helped strengthen practice among Earth science educators from across the country. Continuous improvement, of course, has always been part of the long-standing partnership between AGI and ExxonMobil that has annually provided K-8 teachers with academies encouraging robust attention to core ideas, practices, and emerging trends in the geosciences. But innovations took on more importance than ever in July 2023, when the TLA hosted elementary and middle school educators who are relatively new to teaching geoscience at the first face-to-face academy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing a new model that extends the learning and support to participants throughout the academic year.
Teacher professional learning opportunities that are specific to Earth science education are both rare and immensely important. While teaching and learning in the geosciences share many attributes with other education situations, there are also important distinctions, such as the focus on temporal and spatial thinking that is common in the geosciences. This year’s TLA, which took place at Georgia State University in Atlanta, addressed such needs of Earth science teachers.
During the weeklong event, two sessions were held - one for K-4 teachers and the other for teachers of grades 5-8 - each for two-and-a-half days. The academy engaged teachers in hands-on activities covering topics across the geosciences, from volcanoes and soils to flash flooding and models of faulting. Activities grew out of AGI’s work with various partners, such as the National Resources Conservation Service, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and others. In addition, ExxonMobil scientists joined in person and virtually to share their experiences as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals. AGI staff selected each activity to focus on specific concepts and highlight aspects of pedagogical knowledge such as the use of physical and conceptual models, which are vital in developing understanding of geoscience phenomena.
Through the TLA, AGI also extended its promotion of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The geosciences enable progress toward achieving the SDGs, and TLA discussions illuminated these connections, giving participants opportunities to identify connections between activities and goals. For example, an activity on soil erosion connects closely to SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and has links to goals such as SDG 11 (Sustainable Cites and Communities) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). This focus on SDGs demonstrates the relevance of the geosciences to many features of society.
The TLA facilitation team included Marcia Train, a recent winner of AGI’s Edward C. Roy Jr. Award for Excellence in K-8 Earth Science Teaching. Train’s work with students exemplifies the connections to real-world science and community-focused problem solving that are central to education for sustainable development. “It was an amazing experience working with fellow teachers who are so excited about learning and teaching,” said Train, who demonstrated her project-based teaching approach. “It was a great forum to present ideas that were then enhanced by the knowledge of my peers.”
The TLA’s impact was extended to students as the teachers greeted new students in the fall. “I am teaching geoscience for the first time and decided to start with teaching about the UN and the SDGs, relating back to Life on Land, Life Below Water, and Climate Change,” said Manda Kassel, a fifth-grade teacher in Alaska. “The students worked in groups and created a poster while using the SDG websites and reading about the goals. As the year progresses, I will be teaching other subject matter for explorations and will add more of the SDGs around the room!”
Under the new TLA model, the summer experience was just the beginning. Participating teachers will continue to gather periodically online during the academic year to share ideas and support one another as they work to enhance students’ knowledge of geoscience and related careers.
Learn more online about the Ed RobeckTeaching and Learning Academy and other programs of
AGI’s collection of Open-Access Journals/Series, a powerful geoscience information tool, has expanded significantly to increase access to research resources. The collection is part of GeoRef, the primary bibliographic database for the geological sciences. Unrestricted access and the absence of paywalls can be especially useful for students working on a limited research budget, as well as geoscientists, policymakers, educators, industry professionals, and members of the media and the public.
AGI has expanded the total number of journals and series in the open-access collection by 35 percent, from 448 to 606, in the past year alone. Over that period, the collection’s numbers have more than doubled for geological journals, increased by 45 percent for journals in related disciplines, and grown by 40 percent for geological survey publications. The collection also features newsletters and conference abstracts and proceedings.
Because the collection is highly valued by researchers, AGI made the deliberate decision to focus on expansion in the past year. So far in 2023, for example, 163 new titles have been added - 83 percent more titles than were added over the same period in 2022.
The collection is valued perhaps as highly by publishers as by researchers, since it can increase discoverability and expand audiences. “The list has been helpful in my editorial capacity, as Seismica launched in 2022,” said Sam Teplitzky, an Earth sciences librarian at the University of California, Berkeley, and editor of the journal Seismica. “We were glad to have Seismica added and to be in the company of other open-access titles in the Earth sciences.”
AGI invites you to peruse the Open-Access Journals/Series collection, click on items of interest, and instantly visit these research resources online. The list, updated monthly, includes only journals and series that provide stable open-access, have multiple issues available, and appear to plan to remain free.
Go online to learn more about AGI’s Open-Access Journals/Series and additional programs of AGI’s Scholarly Information Program. For more information, contact AGI Director of Scholarly Information Tia Colvin.
Task Force Explores Collaboration by Geoscience Societies
Rather than individually tackling challenges common to societies such as organizing conferences and increasing membership, can geoscience societies work together to forge effective solutions and leverage economies of scale? That is the question that the new AGI Task Force on Collaboration Among Geoscience Societies is exploring. And the initiative already is showing signs of promise.
“Multiple member societies have voiced interest in cross-society collaboration as societies work to grow within an evolving geoscience world,” said task force co-chair Rebecca Caldwell, who also serves as secretary and member of the AGI Board of Directors. “We formed this task force to address this need.”
AGI kicked off the initiative by sending a questionnaire to member societies and other geoscience societies in May 2023 to assess interest in potential areas of collaboration, existing partnerships, and related topics. Thirty-six societies responded. “Response to the questionnaire was significant, indicating strong interest in collaboration on the topics raised,” said Sandra Carlson, co-chair of the task force and member of the AGI Board of Directors.
The effort has pinpointed key areas of interest voiced by multiple societies. Working groups of volunteers are focusing on three topics in which survey responded indicated the greatest interest: meetings and publishing; administration and potential mergers; and membership and other areas of collaboration.
As the effort progresses, task force leaders invite societies to continue exploring opportunities for cooperation. “Our hope is that the results of the taskforce’s work will support organizations in making connections, identifying common needs and solutions, and leveraging working relationships to support the future of the geoscience community,”" added Caldwell, who sees the task force as a logical extension of AGI’s mission to represent and serve the geoscience community by providing collaborative leadership.
To learn more about participating in working groups, contact the leaders of those groups: for Meetings/Conferences and Publishing, contact Kevin Johnson; for Membership and Other Areas of Collaboration, contact Michelle Sutherland; and for Administration and Potential Mergers, contact Howard Harper. To learn more generally about AGI Task Force on Collaboration Among Geoscience Societies, contact AGI Geoscience Profession and Higher Education Director Christopher Keane.
Donated Stock Funds Support Geoscience Education
While many AGI programs are supported by traditional funding sources such as federal or foundation grants, donations by individuals, and contracts with private sector organizations, AGIs education and outreach programs have received support recently from a more unusual, unexpected source: donated stocks.
Proceeds from a recent donation of stocks - a financial security that gives stockholders a share of ownership in a company - are being used to establish an AGI Education Partnership Fund, which will focus on strengthening AGIs connections with education organizations and individual educators. Specific uses of funds will include the purchase of items for educators who receive teaching awards sponsored by AGI member societies and contributions to facilitate education events, such as the annual reception at the National Earth Science Teaching Association reception at which AGI’s Edward C. Roy Jr. Award for Excellence in K-8 Earth Science Teaching is presented.
“Having a specific fund will enable AGI to continue to support the geoscience education community,” says AGI Education and Outreach Director Edward Robeck. “Though the contributions will remain relatively modest, they will encourage the great work of various member societies and other partners. Often it is not the size of a gift or contribution that matters as much as the fact that AGI cares enough to recognize the ways others are encouraging geoscience awareness.”
The stocks - donor-restricted solely for AGI education and outreach programs - will generate enough interest, year after year, to acknowledge the kinds of activities that are essential to education efforts in the geoscience community.
Learn more about the work of AGI Education and Outreach online. To discuss how you can make a difference for geoscience education, contact AGI Education and Outreach Director Edward Robeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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