Evaluating Learning

[link #Research and Writing Projects 'Research and Writing Projects'] | [link #Exams and Quizzes 'Exams and Quizzes']

Research and Writing Projects 

Environmental Resource Assessment (ERA)

All Chemistry and the Environment students must complete a campus- or community based Environmental Resource Assessment (ERA) project. Students work in groups and propose a topic that is of interest to them and that are related to the University or local community in some way. Projects from the Fall 2000 (laboratory course) included:

  • To Filter or Not to Filter? by Janette Golomeic and Lynn O'Connor. Many homes use water filters to purify tap water. These students lived off-campus and were interested in the effectiveness of the water filters they use. The students designed experiments to test water for lead and copper and evaluate how effective household water filters are in removing such metal ions.
  • Water Quality Assessment: Northern California Coast, by John Hisashima and Sara Ventura. These students, both native Hawaiians, were very interested in exploring coast water quality. They designed and conducted a study to explore biological and heavy metal contamination in coastal waters.
  • Semiconductors: Effects on Campus Water, by Ali Christian and Katie Malinak. Santa Clara University is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. These students designed and conducted experiments focused on heavy metal (aluminum, cadmium and lead) contamination in campus drinking water.
  • What Contributes to the Taste of Water? by Emily Poporad and Kat Schultz. Bottled water has become quite common and many claim that bottled water tastes better. The focus of this project was to begin to understand the "taste of water" in terms of the chemical constituents added to, or commonly found in, water. Iron and magnesium concentrations were studied.

A few projects from the non-laboratory course in previous years include:

  • Recycled Water. This group explored possible uses of recycled water from the sewage treatment facility. The project explored: science of water purification, benefits of using recycled water, possible detrimental sides effects on plants, and recommendations for campus usage. The group contacted the local agencies responsible for the recycled water project and our own campus facilities personnel.
  • Desalination and Water Scarcity in CA - Future Impact on SCU. The students visited local desalination facilities. Monterey Bay Aquarium gave the group a detailed and informative tour of their desalination facility. Students explored possible future use of desalination facilities by the university and local area.
  • Parking and Alternative Transportation. This group wanted to quantify - if possible - the pollution generated by SCU automobile commuters. They identified and counted cars in the parking lot on a given day. Using information available on the EPA Web site, the group calculated emissions and made recommendations for reducing pollution generated by the daily SCU commute.
  • Electricity Deregulation and the Campus. This group explored electricity deregulation just as it began in 1998. From state and local government agencies, the group determined what deregulation actually was and explored the possible impact on the campus. Little did we know at that time that this would become such a great topic for future projects!
  • Kids on Campus - Environmental Impact of Campus Development. Several students in this group worked as assistants at our campus daycare facility. Several construction projects were underway near the daycare facility and the students explored the possible effects of air and sound pollution on the kids.

The group projects are designed to motivate and engage students from the first day of class. The projects involve a proposal, three written reports and a final poster presentation. The group proposal is a 1-2-page description of the project including objectives and relationship to previous campus assessment studies if appropriate. The individual preliminary report describes a project plan, a timetable and any preliminary findings. The individual progress report is an update on the project and includes background information related to the project topic, description of methods and initial findings. The final group report includes the necessary background information, data and information, and recommendations (that include justifications.). Furthermore, in-class discussion topics are modified each year to address issues related to ERA projects, thus connecting all aspects of the course.

As students work on a project, they participate in a scientific research endeavor: identifying a problem, collecting preliminary information (previous ERA work, literature or other sources, observations), developing hypotheses, proposing, designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data and developing a list of recommendations.

In addition discussion topics are approached in a way that also accomplishes this goal. For example, we consider the history story of the link between ozone destruction and CFCs. We start with theoretical predictions based on fundamentals of physical chemistry (reaction rates and mechanisms; energetics of photochemical reactions). Then we move to the discovery of the ozone hole (basic, routine data gathering and  processing). Next, we look at the establishment of a direct link between ozone hole and CFCs (designing experiments and methods to detect molecules in the stratosphere). We conclude by considering the Montreal Protocol in 1987 and the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Cruzten, Molina and Sherwood in 1995.

Exams and Quizzes 

Final Exam

On the final exam for my Fall 2000 course students were asked to comment on a newspaper editorial on global warming. The complexity of global climate change demands a multidisciplinary approach. With so many issues and interests to consider, a course of action is difficult to identify. In our class we begin with the basics (What is the greenhouse effect?) and build from there (What are the positive and negative feedback mechanisms?). Students begin to grasp the level of scientific understanding required to address these issues. They also begin to understand the importance of responding to the present situation in concrete ways, such as through a change in lifestyle or a vote in the next election.