Resulting Projects and Research
We have begun the process of communicating the utility of the course intersection method in the literature and professional society meetings of our respective disciplines, Chemistry and Sociology, as well as in other appropriate venues. The following is a list of presentations that we have contributed:
- In September of 2003 we gave an oral presentation at the 226th American Chemical Society National Meeting, entitled "Analytical Chemistry in the Context of Urban Policy Making: Crossing the Lawn with C.P. Snow." The talk was part of a session hosted by the Division of Chemical Education which was entitled "Science and Society: Linking Chemistry with Service Learning and Public Policy Issues."
- In January of 2004, we participated in a roundtable discussion and poster presentation at the annual meeting of the AAC&U: PRACTICING LIBERAL EDUCATION: Deepening Knowledge, Pursuing Justice, Taking Action. Our poster was entitled "Crossing The Lawn with C.P. Snow: a 'Course- Intersection' Approach to Teaching the Relationship of Science and Public Policy."
- In February of 2004, we gave a workshop at the first meeting of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities. Our workshop was entitled "Linking Disciplines" and in it we discussed with workshop participants the challenges and rewards of teaching across disciplinary boundaries.
- In January of 2004, we were the recipients of a grant from the
Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation as part of the Special Grant
Program in the Chemical Sciences. The proposed work is for the
study of mercury poisoning by atomic fluorescence spectroscopy, and
the use of that data in a course intersection with an existing
Environmental Studies course at Vassar. In the grant application,
we heavily referenced our experience with the intersection method
in teaching the lead poisoning module described in this SENCER
The four years of experience that we have with using the course intersection method in the Instrumental Analysis and Introduction to Urban Studies classes has resulted in several year-to-year influences that are worthy of comment, and which also guide us in seeing how the lead module might continue to change in the future. Specifically, we started out by sampling for lead by collecting vacuum cleaner bags from the janitorial staff of the various campus buildings under study. Dust obtained from the bags was then measured for lead content using a standard EPA method for analysis of lead in solid samples. While these results were interesting for the purpose of comparing one building with another, and even in comparing the results of one year to another, our students were quick to realize that the results could not be compared to any external study, because a standard protocol for the collection of dust was not used. This in turn lead to interesting discussions about the use of data, both by experts and non-experts. The end result was that we have incorporated standard protocols for dust sample collection into the experimental procedure.
Each year, we have encouraged the students who participated in the lead project to suggest changes or extensions to the project, to be used as possible experiments for the following year's students. This is intended to extend the "real world science" aspect of the project, namely that the thing that is the initial goal of the experimental work often leads on to other, refined goals which are potentially even more relevant or interesting. One thing that has been a common point of discussion in considering how to extend the experimental work has been to think of other places to look for lead in the environment. A partial list of possible sample types or sample sites includes the following:
- Playground dirt
- Other soil samples (to monitor the shedding of lead by external paint)
- Roadside soil (to monitor for residue left from leaded gasoline)
- Private residential housing
- Public housing
- Samples from the vicinity of possible industrial sources of lead, such as battery manufacture, incinerators, smelters, etc.
Students have also expressed interest in looking for other potential environmental contaminants, such as arsenic, in samples such as schools and playground dirt. Along these same lines we have worked as a team to introduce the course intersection method into a different course, Issues in Environmental Studies, by studying environmental mercury contamination in conjunction with the Instrumental Analysis course. Our receipt of the Dreyfus Foundation grant will help us to realize that goal.
Through SENCER, we hope that our approach will become a useful model that can be adapted by other science and humanities faculty to explore new topics for which we believe there are many opportunities to bring science and policy into courses that do not currently have a science and policy component. Such adaptations utilizing the course intersection method will benefit both science and non-science students. For students we expect this to be a valuable experience in terms of crossing boundaries, challenging the limits of disciplines and understanding the limitlessness of knowledge. Science literacy and policy literacy are essential tools for their future not only as students but also as citizens. For the faculty, we expect this to be integral to our growth and development as academics, widening our contribution and our knowledge of our own and each other's disciplines, strengthening the connection between our scholarship and citizenship. We also hope this will bring a challenge to our institution, as educational institutions change and grow. Overall, we hope that our work will contribute to opening the doors to democracy further. As Linus Pauling argued, "the world in modern times has continued to move toward the ideal democratic system, in which all important decisions are made by the people as a whole. In order for this system to operate correctly the citizen must have knowledge enough of the world to make the right decisions; and in the modern world this means that the citizen must have a significant understanding of science."