Changing the Learning Environment by Developing a National Cross-Disciplinary Course in Geohazards

Jostein Bakke, Åse Hestnes

Geological and environmental hazards (i.e. earthquakes, landslides, floods, etc.) are a threat to society, and bound to increase in a changing climate. Therefore, we need competent Earth scientists to help society tackle these challenges. Hence, it is a pertinent question how educational institutes can fulfil the obligation to create a learning environment that helps to equip students with the relevant knowledge and tools to understand geohazards and implement necessary mitigation measures (Boulton, 2009. University world news). Our vision is to help students build broader skills and competencies, integrating a strong theoretical basis with real-life work and research experiences (Kastens & Manduca 2012. Earth and Mind II). Therefore, iEarth is developing a cross-disciplinary national online course on geohazards, including a two-day hands-on excursion. A unique feature of the course will be that students will benefit from the expertise of all partnering institutes (UiB, UiO, UiT, UNIS, NVE), exposing students to the research environment beyond their home institution and outside of academia. A digital platform is being developed to provide the basis for activities, webinars and group work. The focus is on research-based active learning and the use of information and communication technology. All teaching will be tailored to reduce threshold terms (Meyer & Land, 2003. ETL Project report) and redundancy in the curriculum.

This course leaves a good opportunity to research the challenges and opportunities such a course poses, being multi-institutional, combining several techniques new to the teachers and distance learning with local teaching. Building the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) structure leaves some questions: 1) should the research be carried out by separate institutional teams or as one investigation? 2) Who investigates – bachelor/master students, iEarth or the course teachers? And 3) what is investigated – student learning outcomes, barriers to teachers implementing a new teaching form (or many new methods) with many colleagues, or challenges with the webinar form?

With this course at the core of iEarth we want to initiate a shift in Earth science education in Norway towards an inter-disciplinary Earth System approach. We aim introduce a more holistic perspective to change education from a teaching culture to a learning culture, creating a student-active research-based learning environment that is supportive of innovation and delivering graduates with a broad understanding of key issues in the Earth sciences, as well as future societal and industrial needs (Barr & Tagg, 1995. Change 27).

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