Ethnographic methods in analysis of place-based geoscience curriculum and pedagogy

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Williams, D., & Semken, S. (2011). Ethnographic methods in analysis of place-based geoscience curriculum and pedagogy. In Feig, A.D., & Stokes, A., (Eds.), Qualitative Inquiry in Geoscience Education Research. Geological Society of America Special Paper 474, 49–62. doi:10.1130/2011.2474(05)
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Place-based education is locally situated, experiential, and transdisciplinary. It is informed not only by scientific knowledge of places and regions, but also by the humanistic meanings and affective attachments (senses of place) that people affix to them. Enhanced sense of place is an authentic learning outcome of place-based teaching. Qualitative analyses of a student’s behavior and attitudes in a place-based learning context can be used to triangulate instrument-driven psychometry of pre- to postexperience changes in sense of place and content knowledge. Two qualitative ethnographic methods, direct behavioral observation and semistructured interviews, were used formatively and summatively in a Southwest-based earth science course offered to in-service teachers in two underserved rural Arizona school districts in 2006–2007 and 2007–2008. Direct observations were obtained as field notes and video recordings, which were transcribed and coded in an ethogram to ascertain engage- ment with curriculum and pedagogy. Ethnographic analysis demonstrated increased engagement with place-based course elements over more globally situated compo- nents. For interviews, a questionnaire was developed to elicit cognitive and affective responses regarding the course, its curriculum and pedagogy, and the student’s sense of the places studied. Verbal, text, and content analyses were applied to the interview data to uncover concepts, patterns, and relationships that were linked into thematic categories. Positive responses to the place-based approach were reported by a major- ity of participants in three areas: enhanced place attachment and meaning, enhanced science comprehension, and enhanced teaching. These ethnographic methods offer a means to evaluate situated, transdisciplinary teaching for which quantitative instru- ments may not capture all relevant outcomes.


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