Despite efforts to increase diversity in geosciences and across STEM fields, only 35 out of a total of 737 doctoral degrees in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences were conferred to underrepresented minorities in the year 2012 (National Science Foundation, 2015). By losing diverse students, staff, and faculty from our field, we are losing the potential to create our best, most innovative science. GeoDES (Geoscience Diversity Experiential Simulations) is a National Science Foundation funded project focused on training up champions of diversity who will actively recruit more diverse geoscientists, and will also aid retention and promotion by improving hostile or “chilly” work environments through bystander interventions (Jackson and Leon, 2010) that leverage the innovative and unique affordances of immersive virtual simulations for professional development. By practicing specific skills, participants will begin to systematically open up the profession by countering bias in key professional gate-keeping roles such as search committees, annual review, promotion, and graduate admissions.
There is mounting evidence that the typical diversity training for university faculty members is largely ineffective at changing attitudes or behaviors (Bezrukova et al., 2012; Moss-Racusin et al., 2014). One possible reason for this is because there is low engagement in this type of training (Williams, 2013), and the training provided does not help participants take on specific behaviors to counter implicit and explicit biases or to push against institutional inertia (Bezrukova et al., 2012; Moss-Racusin et al., 2014).
Drawing from the teacher professional development (PD) literature, we propose a theory of change that is rooted in the importance of practice-focused PD (see Hamre et al., 2012). In this theory of change model, Hamre et al. concluded that, “interventions that primarily target beliefs and knowledge may have limited impacts on teachers’ practice unless they directly focus on practice” (p. 114). That is, helping people develop the behaviors and habits that are consistent with adaptive beliefs makes it more likely that they will not only change behaviors for the long term, but also will correspondingly change their beliefs.
But how do you practice countering prejudice in an authentic way? Virtual simulated professional development (VSPD) is the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to bridge formal training and real-world experience by providing authentic, hands-on, training simulations for professionals. VSPD is situational learning constructed using a variety of techniques and software tools, including simulation-based learning and virtual 2D/3D worlds. The use of VR tools combines the knowledge base that is already being used by numerous occupations to harness the power of promising new strategies that can be applied to leadership development. The use of VSPD can provide the field of leadership the opportunity to integrate theory and practice to accelerate professional growth much like what is already occurring in aviation, medicine, and the military.
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