Background and Context

Energy and the Environment, a course at New York University, 269 Mercer Street, New York, New York 10003.
Trace Jordan, Assistant Director, Foundations of Scientific Inquiry, Morse Academic Plan,, Phone: (212)998-8078.

Course History

As discussed above, Energy and the Environment (E&E) is only one course offering within the large-scale Foundations of Scientific Inquiry program at NYU. It was first given in fall 1997 and continues to be offered in both fall and spring semesters of the academic year. The typical enrollment is between 120 and 130 students each semester. Since its inception, the E&E course has been taught by seven different faculty instructors. The course format follows our standard model of two weekly lectures of 1 hour 15 minute duration, plus a weekly laboratory session of 1 hour 40 minutes. Students sign up for a laboratory section that best fits their class schedule, and each section has a maximum size of 21 students. The laboratory sections are taught by trained graduate students drawn from the science departments at NYU. Effectively collaboration between the faculty instructor and the graduate students is an essential component of a successful course and is discussed further below. The materials for the experiments are prepared by the full-time laboratory staff, who also set up the necessary equipment each week.

Graduate Teaching Assistants:
Throughout the entire FSI program, we try to foster the principle that both the faculty lecturer and the graduate laboratory instructors are members of a unified "teaching team." The level to which this ideal is accomplished depends largely on the faculty member, who must take the lead in mentoring the graduate students. When this arrangement has worked successfully, however, it is beneficial to everyone involved. The key contact is a weekly course meeting that is attended by the professor, the graduate laboratory instructors, and a member of the laboratory staff. This meeting serves two purposes: To discuss course logistics and to run through the laboratory experiment for the upcoming week. We have found that the weekly meetings are very effective for creating a cohesive structure of the course.

The E&E course has proven to be sustainable for five years and has been taught by seven different faculty instructors. This goal was a deliberate part of the planning for the course. Since the FSI program is such a large operation, it is essential that we achieve stability in the course offerings while, of course, still being open to modifications and improvements. When we recruit a new faculty member to teach a course, I will have several meetings with him or her to discuss the course and strategies that have proven effective in the past. We also provide the new instructor with a "resource manual," which contains a compilation of all the laboratory experiments together with previous course syllabi, examinations, homework questions, etc. We have found that the resource manual is very beneficial in enabling new instructors to acquire a good understanding of the
course. We do not, however, insist that the course must be taught in a particular way. Each faculty member brings his or her own unique perspective to the course and will teach it is a slightly different manner. By allowing faculty to explore some variation within the general guidelines of the course, we believe we have achieved a good balance between consistency and flexibility.