Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences — Education Research

See for a complete list of previous and continuing projects.

See for a complete list of research results from EOAS-SEI 2007-2014, including peer-reviewed publications, undergraduate honors theses, and conference presentations.

Student thinking about climate concepts

Sara Harris, collaborators Anne Gold, Jane Schoonmaker, Stephen Taylor, and student Isabel Shinnick-Gordon have been studing students' ideas about climate concepts.
PDFTalk (GSA 2014): University Students’ Ideas about Climate Concepts Lack Systems Dynamics Thinking
PDFPoster (CWSEI EOY 2014): Student Mental Models of the Greenhouse Effect
PDFPoster (CWSEI EOY 2014): Climate Change Education: Validation of assessment questions and retention of concepts

Workloads and enthusiasm study

Relative and absolute workloads in 25 courses were collected between 2009 and 2014, with densest data in 2009-2011. Results are being summarized and analyzed with the intent to publish. Relative workloads and relative enthusiasm data in nearly all undergraduate courses were collected for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Student Perceptions of Learning study

The Students’ Learning Experiences Survey (SLES) was developed by the UBC Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences CWSEI program and deployed in 48 EOAS undergraduate courses taught in fall 2013 and spring 2014 as part of the impact assessment of the CWSEI. Results based on 2489 student respondents in these courses (representing 4871 enrolled students) are reported in "Impact Assessment of a Department-wide Science Education Initiative using Students’ Perceptions of Teaching and Learning Experiences" by Francis Jones, in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 2016., (preprint available here)

Students’ Perceptions of Teaching & Learning Experiences after 7 years of CWSEI support, Francis Jones poster at the UBC Science Education Open House (April 2016)

Videos of exemplary STEM teaching strategies

Seven short clips produced to help faculty and students new to research-based instructional practices visualize what it’s like to teach and learn in transformed courses. See

Impact assessment

After 7 years of CWSEI support, we are now measuring effectiveness and efficiency of learning and teaching strategies by gathering data from three complementary perspectives: (i) measures of learning, (ii) student & instructor perceptions, and (iii) course observations. Each perspective is being examined in terms of both current practices and changes in practices since 2007.

Case Study of Transformative Educational Change

Carried out September 2014 by Huber and Hutchings: Huber, Mary Taylor, and Hutchings, Pat. 2014. The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative in Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia: Benchmark Report. A Bay View Alliance Case Study. (Unpublished manuscript, Fall 2014).

Enhancing Distance and Face-to-face Education

Enhancing Distance and Face-to-face Education: A two year post-CWSEI project funded by UBC’s Flexible Learning Initiative (2014-2016). This project builds directly upon gains made during the EOAS-SEI to improve courses offered in both distance education and face to face modes.

Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Scientific Reasoning Abilities in large Face-to-face and Online Courses: A two-year post-CWSEI project funded by UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (2016-2018). This project builds on work from EOAS-SEI and the previous Flexible Learning project.

Landscape Identification and Formation

Upper level students at UBC decreased in their confidence with timescales of landscape formation at the end of the term, as measured by the Student Attitudes about Earth Science Survey (SAESS). In order to further investigate this result, the Landscape Identification and Formation Test (LIFT) has been developed. Students view images of various landscapes, identify them, answer a multiple choice question on the time it took to form, and rate their confidence in their answers. The understanding of deep time and interpretation of landscapes is vital to the skill set of the geologist. Both the attitudes and confidence of students greatly impact the learning process, and the results of the LIFT can be used to understand it in greater detail.

Undergraduate Thesis (April 2010): Identifying Landscapes and their Formation Timescales: Comparing Knowledge and Confidence of Beginner and Advanced Geoscience Undergraduate Students - Alison Jolley

PDFPoster (August 2009): Landscape Identification and Formation: The Development of a Test to Measure Student Knowledge and Confidence - Alison Jolley

Student Perceptions about Earth Sciences Survey (SPESS)

We developed a survey to gauge the students' perceptions about learning earth, ocean & atmospheric sciences. Administered in both majors- and non-majors courses early in the term (pre-) and late in the term (post-) to measure the effects of courses on student attitudes. The survey has been administered in >25 courses both at UBC and other institutions. More than 6000 students have participated. SPESS has been fully validated by expert responses and student interviews. The survey consists of 29 statements, which have been grouped in seven categories based on reduced basis factor analysis from student survey responses.

PDFSPESS: A New Instrument For Measuring Student Perceptions In Earth and Ocean Science - Alison Jolley, Erin Lane, Ben Kennedy, Tom-Pierre Frappé, Journal of Geoscience Education, Vol. 60, pp. 83–91 (2012).

measuring student engagement

We developed an objective, quantitative classroom observation protocol to measure student engagement in a large first year Oceanography course. Observation data show that student engagement is strongly correlated to teaching practices and is higher when instructors employ active learning techniques. Observations of three instructors with different teaching expertise showed similar trends in engagement. The classroom observation data help identify best teaching practices and provide continual feedback to instructors.

PDFPaper (2015): A New Tool for Measuring Student Behavioral Engagement in Large University Classes, Erin Lane and Sara Harris, Journal of College Science Teaching, Vol. 44(6), pp. 83-91 (2015).

Understanding Geological Time

Having a firm grasp of geological time is essential to developing a full understanding of the Earth. The proposed 20 question, mainly multiple-choice, assessment mechanism is designed to probe the understanding of geological time amongst beginner (entry-level college) and advanced (graduating) students in a major's geology program. From validation interviews students displayed gaps in their understanding of geoscience terminology and a lack of technical vocabulary when reasoning questions out-loud. The implementation of this assessment should aid in development of the geology curriculum within the Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at UBC by giving instructors a snapshot of student understanding of geological time.

PDFPoster (April 2009): Understanding Geological Time: A Proposed Assessment Mechanism for Beginner and Advanced Geology Students at UBC - Jamil Rhajiak
PDFUndergraduate Honours Thesis - Jamil Rhajiak

Do Critical Incidence Questionnaires Promote Metacognition?

Critical Incidence Questionnaires (CIQs) have been used for a couple of years, but in spite of literature promoting their use, we are not sure if they help students make measurable gains in metacognitive abilities. We are not even sure how to measure increases in metacognition. This project is an exploration of both those questions in the context of our Environmental Sciences course ENVR 200. In this course, CIQs are answered weekly by all students, and contain a few questions like: What about the class this week surprised you the most?

Seminar (Oct 2008): Keeping the feedback loop active: Critical incidents for learning - Sara Harris & Douw Steyn
Poster (Nov 2008): Improving Metacognitive Skills of 2nd year Environmental Science Students: What to Measure? at the workshop on the Role of Metacognition in Teaching Geoscience at Carleton College - Francis Jones, Sara Harris, and Douw Steyn

Other Research

Effects of multiple instructors in single courses; using pair programming in EOSC 211; pre-post test results from various courses; impacts of group exams; effects of instructor interventions on low-performing students; developing field expertise; developing scientific thinking skills; student workloads and comparative workloads; changes in student evaluations.