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

Deborah Williams, Steven Semken

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

15 Scopus citations


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 affi x 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 preto 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 engagement with curriculum and pedagogy. Ethnographic analysis demonstrated increased engagement with place-based course elements over more globally situated components. 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 majority 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 instruments may not capture all relevant outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationQualitative Inquiry in Geoscience Education Research
PublisherGeological Society of America
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780813724744
StatePublished - 2011

Publication series

NameSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
ISSN (Print)0072-1077

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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