The department’s research in geocognition and geoscience education aims to understand how people think and learn about geoscience content. Geocognition research is inherently interdisciplinary and draws upon quantitative and qualitative methodologies used in psychology and education research to investigate geoscience-specific problem solving. Most recently, a major research focus has included spatial ability and the spatial skills that may enhance geoscience learning. Another research focus is on the experiences and programmatic features that influence the participation of students from diverse backgrounds in the geosciences. These studies inform educators and geoscience faculty about the best methods for recruitment, training, and retention of geoscience students both at the K-12 and undergraduate levels. This work has broader implications for STEM education, as well.
Graduate students are trained to design and conduct quasi- and non-experimental studies using qualitative methods (e.g. case study, interviewing techniques, etc.) and/or quantitative methods (e.g. survey development and validation, inferential statistics, etc.). This program may lead to a M.S. or PhD. and prepares students for a variety of future careers. In particular, students may pursue additional academic study or careers in educational research, program management, or curriculum development. Other geoscience education career opportunities may be available for students in private or not-for-profit organizations, governmental agencies, or geoscience agencies.
The department is home to a newly developed geocognition laboratory with a dedicated interview space and eye-tracking laboratory. The eye-tracker is a Tobii X2 and mobile workstation to allow for portability to the study site. Analyses are typically carried out using SPSS and R. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this research area, collaborations with colleagues in psychology and education, both within NIU and beyond, are essential.