Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geological and Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

Cinzia Cervato


A growing body of geoscience education research suggests that many students in the American K-12 system do not fully understand key geoscience concepts. Moreover, early misunderstandings appear to persist even at the introductory undergraduate level. This thesis focuses on exploring the understanding of volcanic systems among American undergraduates via a new assessment instrument, the Volcanic Concept Survey (VCS), which has collected over 600 student responses from a diverse sample of undergraduates across the country. Initial results show that student understanding of volcanic processes is rather limited. Specifically, students tended to possess only basic content knowledge, while concepts requiring the use of higher thinking skills were not well understood. Further explorations of demographic data for the student population reveal that, among other factors, the students' source of knowledge about volcanoes can significantly impact the quality of their understanding. Students who learned from non-traditional film and media sources did not score as highly on the VCS instrument as their peers. The severity of this problem underscores a need for change. Thus, to promote deep and robust learning, new strategies may be necessary when teaching volcanology in the modern introductory geoscience classroom. While simulations will never fully rival the experience of fieldwork, VCS results are being applied to optimize the pedagogical value of an upcoming highly interactive and visually stimulating Virtual Volcano teaching tool.


Copyright Owner

Thomas Lyle Parham



Date Available


File Format


File Size

50 pages