ICON Geoscience Education Research Key Points - Final

The comment period is over. The new draft informed by open comments will be posted by November 30th.  


Integrated, coordinated, open, and networked (ICON) processes are valued by, and used in, the geoscience education researchcommunity of practice (CoP).ICON processes do not happen in a vacuum;  they depend on--and contribute to--a strong, connected community. ICON processes and related products result from a CoP collectively deciding and collaboratively building community infrastructure. Use of ICON processes supported critical areas of geoscience education research in the past, and they are important for advancing future geoscience education research.



Geoscience education research (GER) by its very nature is integrated and collaborative. 

  • GER involves investigating education research questions and testing education-related hypotheses in a variety of disciplinary geoscience contexts (e.g., Earth, ocean, atmosphere, climate, space, and environmental sciences). GER also involves the development, application, and evaluation of new geoscience teaching innovations and curricula.
  • GER is important for improving the geoscience teaching practice. GER findings can inform teaching and learning in formal and informal settings; shed light on scientific thinking and practices; facilitate the development from novice to expert geoscience knowledge, skills, and attitudes; and advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts.
  • This inclusive definition of GER is consistent with its use in a series of GER workshops and a survey of GER community needs, with the philosophical foundation for the GER strength of evidence pyramid, and with a recent community-developed vision and research-prioritization framework.
  • Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER) methods used in GER can be quantitative and/or qualitative. These methods often blend social science, educational psychology, and learning science approaches with geoscience contexts. Thus, GER naturally depends on the integration of multiple disciplines and cross-disciplinary research collaborations. 
  • In GER, research designs are framed with theories and models. These theoretical frameworks inform the questions asked, methods used, and interpretations of results. 


The GER community is perceived by other (non-geoscience) DBER communities as having a comparatively strong sense of being integrated, coordinated, open, and networked

  • This is supported by anecdotal evidence. For example, a survey respondent reported that, at a recent X-DBER conference, GER participants often approached speakers and identified people *besides themselves* who the speaker should contact around shared research interests and also offered to make introductions to build those connections. 
  • Similarly, the Journal of Geoscience Education (JGE) review process has been described as especially encouraging for newer authors, including graduate students. This speaks to our community's openness and generally encouraging nature as a relatively young field. This tendency toward connectedness likely stems from our very discipline and geoscientists needing to be interdisciplinary thinkers (Manduca et al 2013).

ICON processes build and strengthen communities; the GER community of practice is evidence of this. 

  • ICON processes are used to build and strengthen the GER community of practice. Given that learning is both personal and social, building networks creates a sense of belonging. Networking efforts in the GER community are based on integrated, coordinated, open, and networked efforts. Most of these efforts were/are supported by the SERC open access online network. Examples of networking opportunities include: 
    • Professional societies / organizations provide nexus points for networking and collaboration.
      • GER Division of NAGT. NAGT initiated the development of the GER community. It was instrumental in establishing community norms, sharing methods, and housing community tools like the GER toolbox.
      • GSA Education Division. GSA has a long history of hosting sessions on geoscience education research. 
      • AGU Education Section. This is a new section. The first geoscience education research session sponsored by this Section - and in partnership with the GER Division of NAGT - will occur at the Fall 2021 AGU meeting. 
    • Workshops are settings for community-building activities.
      • Earth Educators' Rendezvous. This workshop-based conference series has a strong GER presence and has been the host for critical community workshop events that produced community resources and frameworks (see below). 
    • As a community of practice, GER resources and frameworks are developed by the community for the community. 
      • The open access GER Toolbox of resources to help faculty start or improve how they do research on geoscience teaching and learning.
      • A vision and strategic plan for future research "A Community Framework for GER"






Expanding Collaboration and Further Developing Community

  • The GER community of researchers/scholars is a very small community, especially when compared to other geoscience disciplines and other DBER disciplines. This influences how the GER community engages in ICON processes.
    • On the positive side, the small size means coordination and in-group networking (including mentoring) has been strong. For example, the small size of this community and the strong coordination and communication channels provided through NAGT/SERC has allowed the GER community to, arguably, better engage in ICON processes than larger communities.
    • Limitations and constraints associated with expanding collaborations and further developing the community also exist related to the relatively small size of the GER community. For example, when person power and hours are needed to expand collaborations and develop community, members of a small community that are already stretched thin are limited in their capacity to contribute to growth in these ways (it's not impossible, it's just challenging). Additionally, the different career stages, positions/roles, and types of institutions also influence a community member's ability (including time and power) to engage/lead the community on capacity-building efforts.
  • With the recent establishment of the AGU Education Section, there is an opportunity for international growth of the geoscience education research community; ICON processes can help guide the next steps to do this. 
    • AGU has a larger international membership than NAGT or other GER-related communities. Through partnerships and strategic planning using ICON processes we can become a more inclusive and international GER community. 
  • Meeting the goal of internationalizing the GER community of practice will require overcoming some challenges. The roadmap forward can be guided by successful, strategic advances made in the past, and by capitalizing on existing resources, new partnerships, and ICON processes.
    • One challenge is the lack of knowledge among the US GER community about who does GER in the international sphere. So far, most of the conversations about geoscience education research that have shaped community cultural norms, values, and priorities, and taken place in conferences and workshops (leading to community-developed resources), have largely been US-based.
    • Some of the other challenges that internationalization of the GER community of practice may need to overcome include: recognition of the differences in educational systems and practices, differences in privacy and data management, varied/inconsistent use of terms and acronyms (a common 'language'), and ensuring a common understanding of what constitutes geoscience education research (both spectrum and rigor). This includes tension of perceived similarities and differences between SoTL, action research, and DBER. 
    • Recently new GER-related communities and/or acronyms [see bullet on 'language' below] have emerged (e.g., the Atmospheric Science Education Research [ASER] group; the Earth and Space Science Education Research [ESSER] acronym recently used in the first AGU Education Section sponsored education research session). On its founding, GER was intended to be inclusive of atmospheric, astronomy/planetary/space, geology, etc., but the emergence of other groups and/or new acronyms suggests that public perception may be that GER is limited to 'geology' education research. ICON processes will be important to support the full range of (sub-)disciplinary identities that geoscience education research spans and help with conversations towards common language and convergent education 
  • It is important to develop and leverage geoscience education research to create stronger networks for a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive geoscience community. 
    • We need to find more ways to support inter-institutional collaborations. Innovative things are happening at the 2YC and primary-teaching institutions, but there may be less time/motivation/expertise (in some cases) to be able to share those innovations and measure them effectively. In addition, student populations at 2YC and primarily teaching institutions are often highly diverse. It is important to focus research on these diversion populations. 
    • Development of GER-focused offerings via NAGT's Traveling Workshops, may be an opportunity to expand awareness and grow the community through a workshop venue not previously used for GER professional development.
  • There is a need to bring awareness to those who don't do GER (e.g., colleagues who are on promotion and tenure committees, editors of interdisciplinary journals) that this is research.
    • GER may need a coordinated marketing campaign.
    • How do ICON processes connect to promotion and tenure in different places and from different backgrounds?
  • Capacity building is an important next step for GER. This will take funding, time, use of digital platforms, and bringing more inclusive and international voices together. 
    • The GER community has visions and "needs" documents, and some suggested strategies, but we now need to focus on capacity building/ implementation. Thinking about ICON is calling attention to the need for community conversation about the intersection of research and practice, how to carefully use labels/acronyms, and how to communicate the CoP identity.
    • An important next step for capacity building and internationalizing GER may be a  Chapman Conference (or other internationally-attended and supported conference). Such a conference may focus entirely on GER or span all three areas of the ICON-Education commentaries - such that each area (ICON-GER, ICON-DBER, and ICON-Practice) are the '3 legs of stool' for a Chapman Conference. Specific to GER, such a conference would broaden awareness about the field and the multiple paths to becoming a geoscience education researcher. Invited speakers may include journal editors, funding agency representatives, and researchers representing the breadth of GER and the GER community. An alternative to a Chapman conference may be an NSF funded workshop, however NSF funds typically can not be used to support international participant travel, which would limit international participation unless other ways of support could be identified. 
    • Another capacity building step is to further develop and maintain ways for faculty to develop skills and knowledge important for doing geoscience education research. Currently there are few ways for geoscience faculty to grow their education research 'tools'. Workshops at a wider range of venues (including virtual) and locations (including international) may be one want to support this. 
    • Additionally, these tool building activities may be good to tie into an updated and expanded GER Toolbox, so that it is a go-to active resource for a larger and more international faculty wanting to 'tool up' in GER. Submissions to the GER Toolbox could be the "price of entry" to workshops. 
    • Workshops and resources already have a platform to support them: SERC (and SERC-hosted NAGT GER landing page).
    • Accelerating Systematic Change in STEM Higher Education resources around change theories may be helpful to the GER (and broader DBER) community, and to GER as a potential model for toolbox expansion. 
    • Capacity building initiatives should also involve special issues / submissions in AGU (and other) journals. Possibly also reaching out into AMS and Ocean Science journals as well.
    • Capacity building and ICON processes take time to implement. Therefore any efforts will need funding, partnerships, and move beyond 'low-hanging fruit.'

Demonstrating DBER Leadership

  • Because GER uses ICON processes, it is positioned for leadership in the broader DBER community. 
    • Cross-DBER exchanges (e.g., X-DBER) in open, coordinated, and networked ways could position all DBER for its next advance. Individual DBER communities (e.g., PER, BER, CER, GER) have traditionally operated independently, but there have been several calls for, and some initial steps of cross-DBER efforts that seek synergies. ICON processes can be utilized to bring together DBER disciplines to leap forward in our collective understandings and ultimately inform teaching and learning across a wide range of disciplines. 
  • ICON approaches may improve the transfer of best practices across disciplines.
    • Using ICON approaches to discuss, evaluate, and disseminate best practices in teaching can aid in their adoption across disciplinary boundaries. This could ensure that geoscience students benefit from best practices identified in other disciplines and that the geosciences will be a source for best practices that can obviously be adopted in other disciplines.


Improving Access to Geoscience Education Research Data and Findings

  • There are limited journal venues for publishing GER. 
    • Several tensions exist in the publishing world, such as the desire/need for open access vs reality that society journals depend on the funds from publications to support other society activities. Open access doesn't mean free - the associated fees that are sometimes required to obtain open access isn't possible for many authors. Additionally, NSF requirements for open access to data/sharing of results must be followed, but the community may need clarification on how the requirements are best implemented.  
    • The physics education research (PER), chemistry education research (CER), and biology education research (BER) research communities are larger and have multiple dedicated journals. GER is not there yet, but maybe we should be. An alternative approach would be to regularly welcome and support GER articles in interdisciplinary geoscience journals. Additionally, the possibility of X-DBER journals is important to explore. Existing discipline-based geoscience education research journals are:  
      • The NAGT Journal of Geoscience Education is the primary journal for disseminating GER, but it is behind a paywall (previously NAGT membership costs, now T&F costs). There is an opportunity for an increase in open access publications that will support the community building off of previous work rather than reinventing the wheel because access to the articles is limited. JGE does have open access publication options, but it has a high cost for authors, further limiting who can participate, thus limiting the scope of GER
      • Additionally, the fee-based open access Clute Institute Journal of Astronomy and Earth Science Education also exists, published twice a year and based on internal editor/review team reviews. Controversy exists however as the Clute Institute has been called out (New York Times reference to the Beall List) as a possible predatory scholarly open-access publisher.
      • The open access GSA journal Geosphere has published some GER articles (including a theme issue), but has been inconsistent in welcoming and supporting education research submissions.  
      • Currently, AGU does not have a dedicated GER journal. The AGU Education Section does have a newsletter called Perspectives on Earth and Space Science Education Research (PESSER). Not a research journal, PESSER is a venue for opinion pieces on recently published educational research studies in the field of Earth and space sciences. Because the Education Section does not have a journal, education research may be perceived by the broader AGU community as not important enough to have a journal, and/or that we don't do research.
    • If AGU is to take a leadership role--in partnership with NAGT and GSA--in the growth and internationalization of the GER CoP, it may be important to look at what the AGU publication landscape is like now and determine if there is any place for GER articles in an existing journal now? Or does it take something new? Could the set of ICON-Education commentaries that (presumably) will be published in AGU's open-access journal, Earth and Space Science, be a foot in the door for future publication of GER articles in this journal? Many types of research are intended to inform practice; therefore the argument that education research in Earth and Space sciences should have a place in interdisciplinary AGU journals can be made.
    • High profile interdisciplinary science journals Nature and Science Advances have published some DBER articles; this includes a few GER articles such as those on the impact of inclusive field trips and on improving STEM education through professional development. Such publications are important for improving the visibility of GER. 
    • In the effort to increase visibility of GER, careful attention must be given to how GER is represented/presented. It is important to ensure that the broader geoscience community understands it is a valid and rigorous interdisciplinary research field. Therefore attention to publication is important. Distinction between peer reviewed journals/articles and opinion pieces/newsletters is important. 
  • There is a need for a comprehensive and well documented GER data repository to build capacity in the community. 
    • This would allow data sources to be attributed and cited, and large scale studies on key GER topics to be conducted. It would enable geoscience education researchers to conduct more systematic reviews and multi-site case studies. GER scholars collect and analyze large amounts of data, but access to these data by other researchers is currently limited. There is no GER-dedicated repository where raw data can be stored and made accessible to researchers at other institutions with appropriate metadata. Having such available datasets could open up participation in GER to more individuals who may not have (or be able to seek) NSF-type funding. With careful attention to Institutional Review Board (IRB) and other privacy concerns (e.g., Canada has different privacy laws than the US, especially concerning where data lives in/outside of Canada), the community could organize efforts to contribute to and leverage existing repositories, and/or develop a new dedicated repository to better serve our GER scholar research needs. Examples of centralized data repositories include: 
      • Partnership for Expanding Education Research in STEM (PEERS) Data Hub. This group does work to support ICON-efforts in STEM-Education. It is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The Data Hub provides centralized access to multiple archives, databases, and repositories that serve as topical collections containing studies, datasets, and other research-related documents.
      • Registry of Efficiency and Effectiveness Studies (REES). A database of causal inference studies in education and related fields. 
      • Databrary. A social science repository. 
      • Learning About STEM Student Outcomes (LASSO). Developed by the Learning Assistance Alliance, it includes contributions from physics, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry and biology, but no geoscience. 
      • Earth and Space Science Open Archive (ESSOAr). A community server established by several partners (including AGU) to accelerate the open discovery and dissemination of Earth, environmental, and space science research by archiving and sharing early research outputs, including preprints, presentations from major scientific meetings, and documents of scholarly societies. At present, the collection of research outputs do not seem to include datasets. It does not appear that education research is a significant subject within this server. 
      • The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR). This provides mechanisms that enable NSF-funded investigators to meet the deposit requirement and to include the relevant information in their project reports.


Bridging geoscience education research and geoscience teaching practice 

  • ICON processes are important to ensure researchers understand the needs and concerns of educators, and for educators to understand and apply the findings of researchers. 
  • There are many critical and timely, unanswered research questions for GER to address that impact teaching practice.
    • In addition to the priority research themes laid out in the GER Framework the follow examples are illustrative of the relevance of GER to teaching practice: 
      • A timely research question example: What are the appropriate balances of virtual and in-person field teaching for different educational outcomes (that might range from basic geoscience literacy to professional geoscientific training). How far can we go in using VFEs before we "must" get our students out into the field? Creation, dissemination, and use of virtual field experiences and virtual field trips has flourished recently owing to a combination of factors including advances in technology, greater interest in increasing accessibility, and the COVID-19 pandemic that abruptly shut many field programs down. There is great enthusiasm for virtual field education, but in-person field work is still recognized as essential, especially for educating future practicing geoscientists.
      • Another example: Much of the published GER research focuses on 4YC undergraduate (and some on graduate) education levels. There is much to be done that focuses on K-12 and 2YC, especially in connection to research on broadening participation. At the K-12 level collaborative research among educators and education researchers that center on the Next Generation Science Standards for Earth and Space Science (NGSS ESS) would also be useful. 


Giving attention to terminology and acronyms

  • ICON is not a new idea, but it is a new acronym. Similarly, the geoscience education research community needs to consider the value and potential challenges that exist in the acronym(s) used for our education research community. 
    • The term "geosciences" is used in the NSF as an umbrella term. NAGT changed from "geology" to "geoscience" to be more inclusive. The AGU community uses the term "Earth and Space Sciences."
    • Because the international AGU community defines itself as a global network of Earth and Space scientists is GER too narrow a term if we are to be open and inviting to the broader, international Earth and space science education research community? 
    • To better align to the AGU identity should GER evolve to ESSER (Earth and space science education research)? Does this add value and broaden identity or does it create unnecessary confusion? What is more open and strategic to grow and support the community of practice of education researchers in our diverse discipline?  
  • Language changes, just as our science changes, and we should acknowledge these changes.  
    • It is important when we cite past work that we contextualize the terms/language. For example, "underrepresented minorities" should no longer be used just because previous literature has used this term (and other terms) that are no longer seen as appropriate (Bensimon, 2016).