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Revolutionizing earth science education

The project iEarth aims to ally the biggest Norwegian actors in earth science education. The project is one of nine finalists competing for the status as Centre for Excellence in Education.

SEEKING ELITE STATUS: The iEarth project seeks status as a Centre for Excellence in Education. iEarth students will perform science and field work at an early stage of their education, making them particularly attractive in the labour market. Photo: Joste
SEEKING ELITE STATUS: The iEarth project seeks status as a Centre for Excellence in Education. iEarth students will perform science and field work at an early stage of their education, making them particularly attractive in the labour market.
Photo:
Jostein Bakke, University of Bergen

iEarth aims to create cooperation on a national level, improving education and educating professionals better prepared to solve the great societal challenges of the future.

“Earth science is changing. Professionals have supplied the terms for Norway’s development since the war, in terms of oil production and infrastructure. Now, we need experts with a background in earth science to face the new challenges. Climate change leads to an increase in the frequency of natural disasters, industry needs a stable access to geological mineral resources, and the world is faced with a switch to renewable resources,” says Jostein Bakke, professor at the Department of Earth Science at the University of Bergen (UiB).

The proposed centre iEarth (Centre for integrated Earth System Education) aims to equip its students for these challenges. Bakke heads the project, now one of nine finalists competing as part of the Centre for Excellence in Education Initiative (SFU).

(See FACTS for more on SFU)

“We want to revolutionize our methods of teaching as well as promoting the cooperation within earth science education nationally,” says Bakke.

Creating a “dream team”

The revolution will be realised through a national collaboration between the four central educational institutions in the field: the Department of Earth Science at UiB, the Department of Geosciences at the University of Oslo, the Department of Geology at the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway and the Department of Arctic Geology at the University Centre in Svalbard.

“There is a big consortium behind the application. Together we will form a dream team, lifting earth science to a national level and work together more than we do today,” says Bakke.

The four partners each have different fields of expertise. Together, they will shape a unified view of earth science, according to Bakke.

“Though Norway is a small country, we have not had sufficient meeting places for discussing and improving education. Receiving funds exclusively to improve education would be unique,” he says.

Spontaneous field work

Creating an improved educational pathway for students is one of iEarth’s goals. Bakke thinks students will notice a big difference.

Another goal is to create clear and visible curriculums. In addition, students will perform research early on, as part of both larger and smaller projects.

“It is important that students see the entire picture. The subjects in iEarth will be closely connected to present societal challenges, we want to be relevant in the now. Our students may observe and write a report around a recent avalanche or landslide, for example.”

Changing attitudes

Bakke thinks the SFU status will be important for the scientific environment, creating a cultural change with emphasis on education.

“One of our goals is changing attitudes towards education. The consortium members have an enormous amount of knowledge which must be transferred to new students. This aspect is, however, often lost in the busy lives of researchers,” the professor says.

A cultural change can be achieved through better meeting places for educators as well as cooperation on a national level. In addition, iEarth plans to buy dedicated time for the researchers involved, developing new curriculums and improving on methods of education.

Hoping for international recognition

The iEarth project has been met with enthusiasm, especially the uniting of the strengths of the four partners.

“Uniting forces will be noticed internationally. We aim for a global impact, so we want to be ambitious and that the education we offer is relevant outside the borders of Norway. Our greatest advantage is this: educating those who can solve the problems of the world,” Bakke says.