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5/10/2018 — Education, Science and Technology
BBC geoscientist for AGCC 2018

Geoscientists have been urged later this month to move their thinking beyond dinosaurs and volcanoes when it comes to appreciating just how much their modern day lives are being impacted by the geosciences.

The environment for achieving such a step-change in public education, however, will rest with the sector itself better appreciating how to simplify geoscience so it can be understood and appreciated by the public.

The push for education reform will be made at an international forum in Adelaide in South Australia this month to be addressed by one of the BBC’s foremost environmental documentary producers, geologist and communicator, Professor Iain Stewart, whose Rise of the Continents and numerous other video series are internationally acclaimed.

“Alongside complex scientific and technical challenges is the problem that, to most people – beyond dinosaurs and volcanoes – the geological world is unknown territory,” Professor Stewart said.

“That unfamiliarity presents difficulties for professional geoscientists communicating to decision-makers, politicians and the wider public, what they do, what they know and how that is impacting society,” he said.

“Equally, developing public participation strategies that effectively engage with citizens, communities and stakeholder groups requires geoscientists to better appreciate what the public knows and what they have concerns about.“

Prof Stewart said that in that context, how the sector promoted geology to the next generation of wannabe scientists and engineers would be crucial to the success of reaching into the education system to enthuse and inspire young students about Planet Earth, how it works and what that means for society.

He warned that the predominance of the internet and the online media landscape means that conventional broadcast and education environment is changing. Geoscience communicators had to learn to make the most of these changes in order to ‘sell’ geology in the commercial marketplace, particularly in relation to contested societal issues.

“The message from social science is that scientists need to switch from conveying ‘matters of fact’ to non-technical audiences, to developing dialogues around ‘matters of concern’,” Professor Stewart said.

As Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth in the UK, Prof Stewart will be a keynote speaker in a ‘Big Issues’ summit day at the inaugural four day convention of the Australia Geoscience Council, in Adelaide from October 15 during Earth Science Week 2018.

More than 1,000 delegates are expected in Adelaide for the forum, to include an address on Monday October 15 by renowned US academic, Professor Matthew Huber from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University, Indiana, on the significance of past climate changes.

During his conference visit, Prof Stewart will coordinate the Santos Geoscience Education workshop for science teachers, exploring how geology can be applied to sustainable development issues, and how this ‘sustainable geoscience’ might be integrated into the school and university curriculum.

Other key areas of attention at the Australian Geoscience Council Convention (AGCC 2018) will be better balancing out the country’s mining boom and bust cycles, the better management of our energy generation, feedstocks and energy security, and promoting business and social growth opportunities across the undeveloped footprint of northern Australia.

The Big Issues and Ideas day on October 16 is designed to highlight the fundamental role that geoscience has as a major field of science throughout the Australasian-Pacific region.

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Professor Iain Stewart.