Discipline-based education research, or DBER, has received a lot of attention lately. In 2012, the National Research Council published a report on DBER. The report suggests that DBER is both broadly focused on a wide array of sciences (“physics, biological sciences, geosciences, and chemistry”) and narrowly focused on undergraduate settings. Other disciplines, although not discussed in detail, are acknowledged – this is good since education research within math and engineering has a long history in undergraduate settings. Overall, I think the report suggests that DBER is: 1) focused on undergraduate teaching and learning; 2) grounded in deep understanding of natural sciences; and 3) grounded in the science of teaching and learning.

I suggest that DBER is both more and less than the work described in the report. More – DBER scholars already investigate learning in settings far afield from colleges and universities. Less – DBER scholars still struggle to build from pre-existing research paradigms or build new valid and reliable research theories/approaches.

This may sound silly, but I really do love the definition of “education” offered up at dictionary.com: “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” This definition encompasses the classroom, but does not require it, and in fact recognizes that learning occurs as a normal part of maturation and simply living. I would argue that limiting DBER to undergraduate settings fractures a community of scholars. Under this model, researchers of learning in undergraduate science are embraced by DBER scholars. In fact, DBER communities often include only those scholars who study undergraduate science learning within Colleges of Science. Other researchers of learning in higher education coalesce around higher education groups, such as the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Those people who study science learning in K-12 settings will find an intellectual home among traditional science education scholars housed in Colleges of Education (see NARST, for example), other communities embrace scholars studying museum learning (ASTC), or learning in parks (VSA), or even the scientific literacy of the general public (a journal example).  Each of these communities then works mostly in isolation from each other – it would be far better to build a larger community that embraces each of these sub-fields. The very similar research questions and methodologies suggest that these groups might be better off working together, recognizing the commonalities of scholarship in these different fields rather than re-inventing the wheel. This working together would naturally require building a common set of theories, research methods, and analytical techniques that all communities can value.

I leave with some questions: What does it mean for a field to have emerged as a new research discipline? Has DBER actually emerged as geophysics once did, or is DBER still, much like a butterfly in its crysalis, struggling through a metamorphosis?

EarthLabs paper in press

Our latest paper stemming from a collaboration with TERC is in press with the Journal of Geoscience Education:

Ellins, K.K., Shapiro-Ledley, T., Haddad, N., McNeal, K., Gold, A., Lynds, S., and Libarkin, J., in press, EarthLabs: Supporting teacher professional development to facilitate effective teaching of climate science: Journal of Geoscience Education.

Learn more about EarthLabs through the EarthLabs site!

New chapter in AGU book on the Anthropocene

A new chapter on assessment has been published in an American Geophysical Union book focusing on the anthropocene.

Libarkin, J.C., 2014, Evaluation and Assessment of Civic Understanding of Planet Earth. In G. Roehrig, D. Dalbotten, & P. Hamilton (Eds.) Future Earth: Advancing Civic Understanding of the Anthropocene, p. 41-52.



Two chapters in new geoscience education book

We are pleased to announce that two chapters have been published in a new book on geoscience education published by Springer.

Libarkin, J.C., 2014, The role of scholarly publishing in geocognition and discipline-based geoscience education research. In V. Tong (Ed.) Geoscience Research and Education: Teaching at Universities, p. 69-76.

Libarkin, J.C., Jardeleza, S.E., McElhinny, T., 2014, The role of concept inventories in course assessment. In V. Tong (Ed.) Geoscience Research and Education: Teaching at Universities, p. 275-297.


Science & Education publication on genetics education is out!

We are pleased to announce that our publication is finally out in Science  & Education.

McElhinny, T.L., Dougherty, M.J., Bowling, B.V., and Libarkin, J.C., 2014, Genetics curriculum and assessment: The status of instruction for bioscience majors in the United States: Science & Education, v. 23 (2), p. 445-464. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11191-012-9566-1

Earth Systems Science Education in Research Handbook

Dr. Libarkin has co-authored a chapter on EARTH SYSTEMS SCIENCE EDUCATION with Nir Orion for the Handbook of Research on Science Education, Volume II. This chapter provides a new look at latest developments in Earth Systems Science education and is a companion to the chapter co-authored by Nir Orion in 2007. Learn more about the book here: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415629553/


I wanted to remind everyone how to subscribe to the community email listserv for people interested in Geoscience Education Research and Geocognition Research. Here’s how to subscribe:

To subscribe to this list send an email to listserv@list.msu.edu  with the following text in the first line of the body of the message:



WRITING IN UNDERGRADUATE BIOSCIENCE: New paper published in CBE Life Science Education (2012)

A new paper, coauthored by GRL Director Julie Libarkin and colleague Gabe Ording, documents the impact of writing assignments on student learning. Three writing assignments generated significant change in student ability to write scientifically, although our results suggest that three is an insufficient number to generate complete development of scientific writing skills.

READ AT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: The Utility of Writing Assignments in Undergraduate Bioscience

The Utility of Writing Assignments in Undergraduate Bioscience

ABSTRACT. We tested the hypothesis that engagement in a few, brief writing assignments in a nonmajors science course can improve student ability to convey critical thought about science. A sample of three papers written by students (n = 30) was coded for presence and accuracy of elements related to scientific writing. Scores for different aspects of scientific writing were significantly correlated, suggesting that students recognized relationships between components of scientific thought. We found that students’ ability to write about science topics and state conclusions based on data improved over the course of three writing assignments, while the abilities to state a hypothesis and draw clear connections between human activities and environmental impacts did not improve. Three writing assignments generated significant change in student ability to write scientifically, although our results suggest that three is an insufficient number to generate complete development of scientific writing skills.

INVISIBLE LIGHT CONCEPTIONS: New paper published in Astronomy Education Review (2011)

A new paper, led by GRL Director Julie Libarkin, documents conceptions of invisible light held by middle and high school students as well as teachers. This paper identifies common issues students have with infrared and ultraviolet radiation, including ideas that persist into adulthood.

READ AT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: Invisible Misconceptions: Student Understanding of Ultraviolet and Infrared Radiation

Invisible Misconceptions: Student Understanding of Ultraviolet and Infrared Radiation

ABSTRACT. The importance of nonvisible wavelengths for the study of astronomy suggests that student understanding of nonvisible light is an important consideration in astronomy classrooms. Questionnaires, interviews, and panel discussions were used to investigate 6–12 student and teacher conceptions of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR). Alternative conceptions about the characteristics and human sensual perception of visible light, UV and IR, were observed in many students and in a subset of teachers. Instruction involving electromagnetic radiation should first address preexisting alternative conceptions, and conceptual questionnaires such as the one used here can help teachers to identify student ideas prior to instruction.