The aim of iEarth is to build a national consortium with broad international networks and to transform Earth Science education in Norway. The proposal recognises that there is an on-going shift in emphasis in Earth Science away from exploration for fossil fuels and minerals, to environmental issues, and that traditional geology teaching needs re-assessment. The proposal suggests achieving this by connecting excellence in research with excellence in student-active learning by: 1) creating a national competence centre for earth science education, 2) developing a generic approach to cross-disciplinary earth science education, and, finally, 3) establishing a coherent system of evaluation to foster teaching excellence and identify best practices to disseminate worldwide. The proposal is a collaborative effort of four institutions, to be hosted at the Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen.
Strengths and weaknesses
The proposal demonstrated very solid quality of input, process factors and outputs, and this led the assessment panel to view the written application most favourably. At the site visit, the panel was impressed by a number of factors – most notably the students and the quality of the lecturers at Bergen who would be delivering the project. However, there were a number of areas where the panel would have liked to have seen a tighter presentation of the operationalization of the project, particularly around the pedagogic focus.
Students (all from Bergen) were very satisfied with the current provision, and there was not any drive from the students for a culture change. They did express, however, a desire for better links with employers and more access to real-time case studies. The panel heard that there had been limited student input to the development of the SFU proposal – the Student Council had been shown a copy of the proposal and asked for comments. Most students were unaware of the proposal until being asked to take part in the meeting with the panel. Student engagement appeared limited, and restricted to, primarily, traditional feedback methods.
In discussion with stakeholders, the panel was impressed by the extent of dialogue between employers and the department already in place. There had been some input from some employers into SFU proposal, with some stakeholders having good ideas for possible real-time projects (but they did not provide convincing answer to the question “Why have these things not already happened?”). Stakeholders suggested they would like more input into the curriculum – as they, too, want to see more applied learning since there was a feeling that some students are not able to transfer their theoretical knowledge into practical application.
In the meeting with teachers and staff (all from Bergen), there was huge enthusiasm and commitment from those present – however, the expert panel were disappointed not to meet teachers from other consortium institutions. Curriculum review had commenced and had already produced some good outcomes and the panel was pleased to hear intelligent and considered approaches to a set of questions around this review. However, the means of delivering work package 3 in terms of culture change did not seem to be fully thought through. The need to challenge individual ownership of parts of the curriculum and create shared ownership of all the curriculum was understood and it was claimed that the process was well underway at Bachelor’s level. The panel appreciated the frank and honest discussion around this aspect of the transitioning that would be required to achieve the centre’s goals.
In discussing evaluation and impact, the group were less clear. The panel was impressed that some of the work strand leaders wanted to explore how they could better evaluate and determine impact, leading to some excellent discussion.
The meeting with leaders and managers was the first meeting attended by colleagues from beyond Bergen, with Tromsø notably absent. Oslo and UNIS were represented and gave good accounts of their commitment to the partnership. For the panel, the complete absence of colleagues from Tromsø raised grave concerns, which were not assuaged by the description of their involvement in previous meetings with the core Bergen team. The panel was not convinced that they were, indeed, actively engaged as partners.
The panel was impressed by the commitment of the University of Bergen, Head of Department and Vice-Rector, who came across as strong and committed leaders. Discussion of evaluation and impact here demonstrated a better understanding, but illustrated that there still was room for improvement. Student engagement appeared limited, and restricted to, primarily, traditional feedback methods.
Overall, the panel had viewed this as promising proposal with the potential to make a significant impact if it were to fully engage with all the collaborators and students in a discussion of how best to achieve the desired outcomes – to include overhaul of the whole curriculum. The concept is a solid one, but needs much discussion with collaborators and students as to how to undertake the root-and-branch review that is outlined in the proposal, alongside on-going staff upskilling.