Geoheritage sites have educational value in supporting not only geology and geoscience, but also other science disciplines, as well as history, geography, language arts, and other subjects. Its emphasis on interdisciplinary, place-based learning can help K-12 students meet the Next Generation Science Standards and achieve other state and local learning outcomes, according to the K-12 focus group. The College/University focus group noted geoheritage provides opportunities for research, service learning, and potential career paths for undergraduate and graduate students, and a webinar highlighted its potential to involve underrepresented minorities. Museums and other centers of informal education draw on geoheritage to engage the public, and geoheritage can contribute to research priorities across disciplines, according to the focus groups formed around these topics.
The expertise of the members of the K-12 focus group reflected the full dimension of activities needed to support geoheritage education, including resource design, teacher preparation, in-service professional development, classroom teaching strategies, advocacy, and interactions with allied professional communities, said Ed Robeck, AGI. Aida Awad, American InterContinental University/To The Cloud Education identified a role for geoheritage in seven learning outcomes: it (1) aligns well across all grade levels to support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and other standards, (2) enables students to develop a sense of wonder, (3) gets them outside, (4) develops observational skills and an appreciation for the natural environment, (5) links them with global places and issues, (6) provides opportunities for service learning projects and case studies, and (7) highlights the relevance of science.
The NGSS and state-level adaptations guide science education for 80 percent of U.S. students, according to Michael Wysession, Washington University at St. Louis, and he discussed how geoheritage provides a way to engage students in learning the practices, disciplinary areas, and crosscutting concepts in the NGSS.1 For example, the question “Why are there volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest?” leads to a series of questions in which students engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate concepts and knowledge. “Essential questions start the process of generating storylines,” he said. “Humans are hard-wired to learn though stories; it is how we learn from childhood onward.”
Teachers need support in effectively engaging students in storylines and phenomena, the K-12 focus group pointed out. “Building opportunities to develop community and collaboration on geoheritage topics is critical to improve comfort levels in identifying, defining, and communicating geoheritage,” said Dianna Gielstra, Prescott College. The group called for a
“community of the willing” to include resources and partners beyond the classroom, as well as for the development of a rubric to test for alignment of a potential geoheritage lesson against science or other standards.
This K-12 Education group (and others) discussed the advantages and disadvantages of “online geoheritage.” Virtual learning experiences “are not intended to replace the in-person visit that will provide a deep immersive and emotive experience to a sense of place,” said Dawna Cerney, Youngstown State University. That said, digital tools can expand the places that students encounter, to include distant and unusual landscapes, and also allow them to engage in comparative analysis of diverse sites. For example, Yolonda Youngs (Geoheritage and Geotourism/Outdoor Recreation focus group) built a mobile app for Yellowstone National Park working with a team of university scholars and students, NPS staff, and a mobile app developer; an audio tour, website, and historical GIS maps for Grand Canyon National Park;2 and 3D models of Native American cultural artifacts in museum collections for Grand Teton National Park3(with Donna Delparte, Idaho State University). Virtual reality and other digital tools strengthen the development of different skill sets and content areas but must be designed well and be accessible and affordable to school districts and homeschoolers, the group emphasized.
“Geoheritage is Earth systems science,” emphasized Andy Heckert, Appalachian State University, on behalf of the College/University Education focus group. It can be integrated across the geology curriculum, from introductory to graduate-level courses, with a scaffolding of concepts as knowledge and understanding grow. The intent is not to reinvent the curriculum but to integrate geoheritage into other courses, which Heckert illustrated through his own university’s geology offerings. The group suggested a national clearinghouse of geoheritage sites so faculty at multiple institutions know how to make effective and safe use of sites.
During one of the webinars, Mogk stressed the cognitive benefits and affective gains of field work for students and other learners and noted that field work has been central to geoscience education for more than a century. Access to field sites on private and public lands can be difficult, so geoheritage sites that can be identified and preserved are an important way to expand field opportunities for educational purposes (see Figure 3). While noting the value of StoryMaps, virtual field trips and other virtual learning experiences (VLEs), and other web-based resources, he stressed that they should complement or supplement, but not take the place of, field experiences. On the other hand, VLEs help develop the core value of “access for all” in geoheritage, since they open the door to many people who are place-bound due to disabilities, economic limitations, cultural barriers, or other personal circumstances. VLEs include high-tech/high-cost virtual reality options (such as the augmented reality products mentioned by Kristen Janssen, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Informal Education focus group), but there are other lower-tech/lower-cost options such as website animations, Gigapans, and video clips that can be easily accessible via smartphone or laptop. For VLEs to be successful there needs to be an investment in time, effort, and funding. Geoscientists, educators, and film/graphic design/animator experts need to collaborate to create products that are scientifically accurate, visually appealing, and dependable from the users’ perspective. Mogk suggested several ways to share knowledge and information to take better advantage of geoheritage sites, including mobilizing GSA and National Association of Geoscience Teachers section members to identify and develop these sites across the country; developing scaffolded teaching activities; encouraging multiple schools to share these sites; and continuing to grow web-based systems where learners can post and share what they have learned. Mogk and Carol Pride, Savannah State University, noted that students can be engaged in the process of identifying and planning for the development of geoheritage sites as part of service learning projects.4
Several presenters described how geoheritage can contribute to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities who major in geoscience or other STEM fields (see Box 3). Ken Ridgway, Purdue University, said the geoscience program at Purdue University has involved 20 Native American students, with a 95 percent graduation rate. He said it is important to focus on research that impacts their communities and recognize the knowledge embedded in those communities. Carol Pride described the place-based research at Savannah State University, in which African American students study the Georgia coastline’s unique ecology and Gullah Geechee culture. Joshua Villalobos, El Paso Community College (EPCC), explained how EPCC developed a geology program that links students with the University of Texas at El Paso. EPCC
uses place-based and active learning and mentors students and provides them with some funding for research and travel to present their results through the NSF-funded EPCC SOLARIS program. The number of Latino/a students majoring in geoscience went from virtually none to 60 students. EPCC also provides training and field experiences to high school science teachers to improve the pipeline.
According to focus group spokesperson Zachary Salas, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois, informal education is learning that occurs outside of standard formal institutions, involves free choice learning for people of all ages, and includes such settings and opportunities as museums and science centers. The group pointed out state and provincial geological surveys enhance informal education by posting content on their websites, publishing field guides, and working with other agencies. To coordinate existing efforts and broaden access, he said an inventory or clearinghouse of outreach materials, such as field guides and StoryMaps, could help people find resources that are widely distributed across multiple websites. The group also suggested an inventory of facilities that offer virtual visits and accessibility options, such as accessible trails or Braille signage. Chris Higgins noted that there is much “behind the scenes” work that goes into the design of educational materials, especially when the audience is so diverse. Translating education materials into multiple languages was also discussed, as was integrating relevant NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas into exhibits or signage to reach teachers and students in K-12 classrooms. Local sites can be connected to broader geoscience and Earth science narratives, Salas said, with some funding opportunities available through NSF (Advancing Informal STEM Learning and INCLUDES programs), GSA, Paleontological Society, and other institutions. Nontraditional ideas suggested by the group included science cafés and such artistic efforts as murals and sculptures, visual display boards and signage augmented and virtual reality programs, and artist-in-residence programs. Social media and urban geoparks also provide opportunities to engage new audiences, Salas said.
The webinars also featured examples from informal educators. For example, John Scannella, Pat Leiggi, and Angie Weikert, staff members from the Museum of the Rockies, described their pioneering field camps, where members of the public could spend a week digging for fossils. Its site-based and traveling exhibits and live-stream programming also use geoheritage themes to engage the public. The USFS’s “Stories in Stone,” NPS’s extensive in-person and online programs, and the state survey materials described above are other ways that geoheritage reaches multiple audiences.
As reported by Laura Crossey, University of New Mexico, and other members of the Research focus group, geoheritage sites provide natural laboratories to test theories and models, observe past and present natural processes, reveal important events and places in Earth’s history, and study current active processes such as climate change and land use changes. Potential research opportunities at geoheritage sites extend beyond the traditional fields of geology and paleontology, to research in sister disciplines such as evolutionary biology, learning sciences, cultural and human history, and indigenous knowledge, as well as to ecology and other sciences, she said. Related to geoscience research more specifically, the group noted geoheritage sites provide already identified places that have special scientific value without having to “re-invent the wheel.” They provide science infrastructure and facilities, such as a place to enable observations and experimentation in the same place over time or data repositories to share. Training can be facilitated through research at the sites, including using a place-based approach to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within the earth science community. Partnering with
NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and other training and pipeline programs are another opportunity, Crossey said.
NSF does not have a specific program for geoheritage, but support for geoheritage-related education, conservation, and research is embedded across many directorates, explained Lina Patino and M. Brandon Jones, both of NSF, at the last webinar in the Fall 2020 series. Patino noted that the GSA Policy Statement on Geoheritage (2012, revised 2017) aligns closely with NSF’s mission related to research, workforce development, and greater public understanding of science and technology.5 While only one NSF award has specifically called out “geoheritage,” and it is the one that supports this workshop, many other proposals with closely related terms, such as “national parks,” have been funded as far back as 1974. NSF geoheritage-related funding opportunities relate to core disciplinary research and others have specific emphases (e.g., Coastlines and People, Navigating the New Arctic, and Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change). Jones said the Directorate for Geosciences has its own programs and works with others at NSF to support students, such as the Directorate of Education and Human Resources’ programs with minority-serving institutions. GEOPAths provides participants opportunities to engage in geoscience research and learning activities with an emphasis on service learning and workplace skill building. The Directorate for Geosciences also participates in the INTERN program, which is a supplemental funding opportunity for nonacademic graduate internships. NSF also has programs related to community engagement and business innovation.
Looking at geoheritage in the 21st century, Jones noted NSF support on issues related to accessibility, history and culture, and inclusion.
When asked about the feasibility of a geoheritage-specific NSF program, Patino suggested there are more opportunities when looking broadly across the agency, rather than advocating for a small program with limited funding (e.g., in the Directorates for Education and Human Resources, and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences). She recommended researchers look creatively at how their geoheritage proposals fit within the many existing programs. On a related note, Cathy Whitlock, Montana State University and planning committee member, suggested seeing how geoheritage fits into other national goals and programs, such as the Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTER), the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), Critical Zone Collaborative Network (CZCN), and others. “We want to look not only for interdisciplinary research but also trans-disciplinary research and whole new ways of thinking,” she said.
In 2018, the National Academies convened an expert committee to conduct a study for NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences entitled A Vision of NSF Earth Science, 2020-2030: Earth in Time.6 Study committee member Donna Whitney, University of Minnesota, highlighted the major findings and recommendations. An overall theme, she said, was the urgent need to support research of Earth as an integrated system. In addition to identifying gaps and needs related to infrastructure and partnerships, the committee delineated 12 questions that are poised for major advances in the next 10 years. “We don’t use the term ‘geoheritage’ in the report,” Whitney said, but she pointed to relevant text related to citizen science, making information more accessible to decision makers and the public, deep engagement with affected communities, and the benefits of diverse perspectives. The Research focus group began a process to map how geoheritage can help answer many of the questions contained in the National Academies report.
The fact that geoheritage is less often identified as a specific field of scholarship in the United States than in other countries means that the U.S. body of research has a lower global profile than that of other countries, observed José Brilha during his plenary talk. When he analyzed the more than 500 papers published in the journal Geoheritage since 2009, he found that only 16 were written by U.S. authors. He suggested one reason that papers from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil are more frequently published is that these countries have more geoheritage-focused university programs, societies, and conferences than the United States.
As discussed by participants in the Research focus group, geoheritage has great potential to demonstrate the broader impact of research and to build human infrastructure in science. Geoheritage sites promote formal geoscience education at all levels and recruitment and training of the next generation of geoscientists. Geoheritage also offers the general public informal education opportunities that demonstrate the importance and relevance of geoscience to their communities, such as informing planning and policy and citizen science programs. Geoheritage can also engage indigenous community members to demonstrate indigenous ways of knowing and inspire people from minoritized communities and diverse economic statuses to engage in the geosciences.
This page intentionally left blank.