During the fall of 2021 we had a site visit by our funding agency, the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills (HK-dir; formerly DIKU). Professor Tina Bering Keiding from Aarhus University served as the expert panel member. To reduce the number of travels for the iEarth members, we arranged the site visit in connection to the annual iEarth Geolearning forum in Oslo. The purpose of the site visit from the perspective of HK-dir was to provide iEarth with advice on further developments and priorities in addition to provide reflections on centre development in light of the centre plan.
The one-day visit featured presentations by our students, our institutional leaders, our Education Chairs, Focus Area leaders and industry partners. It was really an amazing day that was made even more special by the fact that it was our first physical meeting since we were awarded SFU status in 2020. I think the committee was impressed with the high level of activity we have maintained during the lockdown period and we can safely say that iEarth has hit the ground running. I believe we all get clear sense that there has been a change in the way we talk about teaching and how we think about the societal relevance of our competencies.
In their report, the HK-Dir committee commented specifically on how we are organized, the work we are doing on curriculum analyses and development, how we are working together with the students, how we integrate our field-based learning into our classroom teaching and finally how we deal with stakeholder contact by sending students on short stays at our industry partners. These are all activities that strengthen the centre and help iEarth to achieve its aims and visions. The report doesn’t reach any conclusions but highlights some possible challenges that we should deal with. One thing they ask for is a clearer management model that is more hierarchical with a core group responsible for the daily activities and weekly meetings. We have heeded their advice and established a small leader group. Further, they commented on the curriculum work and suggested that the centre needs a more analytical and theoretical approach to balance core academic experience and real-world problems. This is for sure something to pursue in the continuation of this work under focus area 1. Finally, the committee questioned the profile of the educational research group as they find it important to discuss and negotiate the borders between general educational research and the overall mission of the centre. I believe this question will be resolved as more SoTL activities are initiated among the consortium members in iEarth. For example, we aim to use student-led course evaluation initatives at our institutions as leverage for local development projects.
In sum, the site visit was a very positive experience for everyone involved and I am pleased that the committee found iEarth to be an academically sound and well managed centre. Next time we meet with HK-dir it will be for the mid-term evaluation. We look forward to it.
Jostein Bakke, iEarth leader