Date of Award

12-2017

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Geosciences

First Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic

Second Advisor

Dr. Robb Gillespie

Third Advisor

Dr. Sadredin Moosavi

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access

Abstract

Coping with issues such as climate change and depletion of natural resources demands a scientifically literate public. For many students, the only exposure to earth science comes in a college-level general education geoscience course. One way to engender positive attitudes toward and interest in earth science among these students (the future public) is to connect learning to actual places to which students have a personal attachment.

This study seeks to evaluate the impact of a place-based learning project (MyPlace) currently in use in an introductory geosciences general education course at Western Michigan University. Students in the MyPlace project select a physical place that has personal meaning to them. Each student prepares a PowerPoint slide that relates course content to their personal place weekly. Then at the end of the semester, the students give a brief presentation of the key geologic features of their place and describe how human activity impacts their place. This study used an explanatory mixed method design to examine the MyPlace project’s impact on students’ attitude toward and interest in earth science.

This study was conducted in nine sections of the GEOS 1000 (Dynamic Earth) laboratory during spring 2015, using quantitative and qualitative data from three sources: (1) a pre- and post-course content test, (2) a written MyPlace project evaluation survey, and (3) interviews with a subset of students at the end of the semester. Student work was also collected to provide examples of how students completed the assignment. The pre/posttest consisted of multiple choice items designed to measure content gains in the course overall. The MyPlace project evaluation survey provided data exploring the impacts of the project on students’ attitude toward and interest in learning earth science. Likert-type questions on the survey were analyzed statistically, and open-ended items were thematically coded. A subset of volunteers was selected to participate in interviews, which further explored how students viewed the project, its strengths and weaknesses, and how it may have affected their interest in earth science. Interview data were emergently coded and used to support and explain the survey results.

The major finding of this study shows a clear overall enhancement and engagement of the affective domain within the context of this introductory course for non-science majors. This place-based project was successful in enhancing the participating students’ appreciation for, awareness of, and motivation to learn about the earth sciences. Students report that their attitude toward the geosciences was strengthened as they were able to apply the course weekly topics to their personal location. This study also demonstrated that students preferred this place-based project to other classroom projects. Through working with a location that was special to them, students report that their understanding of various topics in the geosciences was increased. Using a place-based approach such as the MyPlace project demonstrates each student's ability to utilize the geologic content they are learning in an authentic and engaging assessment demonstrating critical skills that colleges strive to build. Place-based education is an approach to learning that takes advantage of the earth sciences to create authentic, meaningful and engaging personalized learning for students.

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