The Course


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 150kB Jul3 08) for Anthropology/Sociology 114

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 143kB Jul3 08) for Natural Science 60 (and lab 61)

Course Format

The two courses were taught back-to-back on Tu/Thurs which allowed us to have 3 hour block. The two courses shared speakers from public and non-profits agencies (including the EPA toxicologist for this site) and the larger time period gave us some flexibility when we invited people to our classes. The associated lab was taught on Thursday afternoons giving us one day on any given week that we could devote to field trips to Alameda Point (AP). Our aims in linking these seemingly different courses was to give students a holistic view of a changing urban setting and to enhance their appreciation of the scientific research capabilities of both disciplines, as well as foster a sense of civic engagement. One formal civic engagement component of the LC was providing an educational afternoon, including a lab experiment, for children of the formerly homeless now
living in on the closed base. Two other civic engagement components were poster presentations at our community partners' site and the collection of video materials to document the community's perspective on various different redevelopment issues at AP.

Our field trips to Alameda were an integral part of the linked class experience. The initial trip provided a window into the world we would be exploring. Most of the students had not been to this part of the Bay Area and the orientation was critical. In addition, a shared meal time (lunch once we arrived) as well as the ride out and back provided a bonding experience. The history of the area came alive on our tour of the historic Naval ship, the U.S.S. Hornet, while a meeting at the Alameda City Hall Annex provided insights in the current reality. During this field trip, the class was escorted to areas, which are typically off-limits, by former Navy personnel now working for the master developer. The students also visited the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) to gain some first hand knowledge of the issues facing individuals living on this site as it is being redeveloped. Two field laboratory experiments were conducted, with permission, at Alameda Point. Students were encouraged as the course progressed to visit Alameda Point for their research.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

This LC did not formally employ an immersion methodology however the numerous linkages between the two courses to the Alameda Point community site may appear to parallels some features of an immersion methodology. This LC was team taught at Christian Brothers college. Both instructors worked to integrate the civic engagement and social justice aspects throughout the LC since this aligned the learning community's curriculum closer to the College's mission. The two instructors shared instructional speakers from various agencies including (U.S. EPA, Cal-EPA, the City of Alameda Redevelopment Department, Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) staff members, etc.). There were numerous field trips, two field
sampling experiments on site, our formal community event (where children from the APC were invited to campus and performed and experiment), and finally the final poster session, which was held twice (on campus and Alameda Point). The two courses of the learning community were also linked in the use of video camera technology as an instructional tool for student project work.

The collaborative efforts of the City of Alameda Redevelopment Department staff and Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) staff members provided the students and faculty access to resources in addition to their time. The learning community grew through this interaction. For APC, a partnership was established which is mutually beneficial to both the College and APC. The support of the regulatory agencies (U.S.EPA and Cal-EPA) were also very effective and it allowed the faculty to tie reading materials to discussions on the clean up activities at Alameda Point. To further enhance the student learning experience, student preceptors were an integral part of the Saint Mary's College instructional team and the two student preceptors
assisted in the learning community in many ways however, possibly the most important was in the role of co-learner/instructor.

Saint Mary's College as a Christian Brothers school has a mission to support outreach to the underprivileged, derived from the order's founder John Baptiste De Lasalle, who educated street youth. While not all readers will share the Catholic and Lasallian orientation, the scope of these tenets is broad enough to encompass many instructors interested in using the model. The third tenent of the college is Liberal Arts. Critical thinking is an essential part of the Liberal Arts tradition; our students learned to examine the various plans for the area with an analytical eye. They looked carefully at documents and projections, for example, asking themselves, if AP was their home would they be satisfied with the information they received regarding clean up activities. From a sociological perspective they were asked to look at power and stratification differences between the main participants who are designing plans for the future. The educational connection to the Alameda Point Collaborative which serves individuals who are transitioning from homeless was tremendous and supported both linked courses. Since the APC's land has had numerous Time Critical Removal Action (TCRA's) and people living adjacent to these actions to protect human health and the sociological questions of placing individuals on a Superfund site was also significant.

Special Features: Living Lab

We employed the urban sociology concept, from the Chicago School, of using the city as a "living lab." As students learned new conceptual tools in the class they took those to AP, to apply them right away. The site became a classroom without walls. Students were able to

  • Identify AP symbolic landmarks, critical to community identity (e.g. Navy fighter jet)
  • Compare the "ideal type" community they had developed in class to the site, noting, for example, the lack of commercial services at AP
  • Partner with the community members, experiencing, through attending meetings, observation and conversations the need for public engagement and voice in urban change
  • Learn of the need to connect fragmented information sources currently available
  • Critique existing reports and give meaningful suggestions for improvement (e.g. Seaplane Lagoon)
  • Recognize a potential hazard and assess the remediation (e.g. Middle School soil contaminants capped by asphalt)
  • Recognize new ways to do research (e.g. Taking the bus route used by lowest-income residents, to view it from their perspective)

Pedagogical Methodologies

Field Trips and Research Projects:

The learning community utilized a field trip to introduce the students to Alameda Point and the research project work gave the students additional opportunities during class periods to learn more about this community in transition. The formal community engagement event where the learning community hosted a small group of middle school children from APC on campus also gave the students insight on how easily the learning community could give back to the community. Since the student research project involved interviewing individuals connected with the redevelopment, the students visited Alameda on numerous occasions outside of class to complete their projects. To provide closure at the end of the semester, the learning community hosted a poster session out at the Alameda Point Collaborative to share what they had learned throughout the semester.

Use of Outside Experts:

The support of the city development department, private firms, non-profits, and the state and federal regulatory agencies gave this learning community a rich introduction to being active citizens of a community accepting the challenges of redevelopment. The students gained insight pondering the different perspectives presented to them. With classroom discussions, the students became aware that the public can at times be the community's memory on agreements and understandings that lead to projects that benefit the whole community. In particular, Dr. Sophia Serda of the U.S. EPA provided expertise in toxicology. She assisted us on two different occasions providing the basics of toxicology and environmental risk assessment. Her critical review of our simple soil sampling experiment gave the students considerable insight on the level of detail that regulators expect to begin to educated decisions with regard to human environmental risks.

Seminar Discussions:

Formal lectures were kept to a minimum and when feasible a seminar discussion, perfect for small groups, was used. The sociology texts and Davis's book were well suited for this format. Students, preceptors and faculty developed the investigative questions used.

Use of preceptors:

Following Dr. Ellen Goldey's model from Wofford College, a salaried position for the preceptors was negotiated with the administration. Providing a salary gave a clear message to the preceptors that they would be valued as collaborators in this enterprise. This is also in keeping with the use of preceptors on other campuses where they may receive both compensation and earn academic credit. (Richard Fluck)

Recruitment

The faculty team agreed on the fundamental criteria for a preceptor. The student should be a Senior or Junior, have had several courses in the respective disciplines, have an above average GPA, work well with their faculty mentor and be considered mature and reliable. For sociology Nikul Shah chosen and he fulfilled all these requirements. He had had several courses including Urban Studies. He was a member of Alpha Kappa Delta, the sociology honor society, had also interacted with the faculty as my advisee, and was considered an outstanding student by several faculty members. In addition, he wanted to do a Senior Thesis in sociology, which he decided to do during his semester as preceptor. This allowed him to
personally benefit from the preceptor role in addition to his salary as a preceptor. Care was taken to insure that the course scheduling for the preceptors fit the LC block and allowed some free time for additional assignments. For the Natural Science, Breeanne Jackson was selected and she also fulfilled the requirements. She had previously taken the Environmental Chemistry course from Professor Bachofer. Breeanne was a senior Environmental Science major and she had a summer internship project which involved establishing a collaborative effort of a community to assist a state agency in monitoring a watershed for various pollutants. Breezy enrolled in an independent study and provided detailed feedback on the Natural Science course. We as faculty were fortunate to find such outstanding students for our first try in developing a learning community. The success enjoyed by our learning community (LC) was definitely due in part to the preceptors.

Alameda Point

Understanding context: Special features

Living Lab

We employed the urban sociology concept, from the Chicago School, of using the city as a "living lab." As students learned new conceptual tools in the class they took those to AP, to apply them right away. The site became a classroom without walls. Students were able to

  • Identify AP symbolic landmarks, critical to community identity (e.g. Navy fighter jet)
  • Compare the "ideal type" community they had developed in class to the site, noting, for example, the lack of commercial services at AP
  • Partner with the community members, experiencing, through attending meetings, observation and conversations the need for public engagement and voice in urban change
  • Learn of the need to connect fragmented information sources currently available
  • Critique existing reports and give meaningful suggestions for improvement (e.g. Seaplane Lagoon)
  • Recognize a potential hazard and assess the remediation (e.g. Middle School soil contaminants capped by asphalt)
  • Recognize new ways to do research (e.g. Taking the bus route used by lowest-income residents, to view it from their perspective)
Diversity

Diversity can be addressed in two ways. First, our students, especially given our predominantly white campus, showed diversity; three of the eleven were students of color, as was one preceptor. These students brought valuable insights into many of our discussions. Second, we looked at the demographics of AP; students learned that due to the low-income housing AP had a much higher percentage of African Americans than did the city of Alameda. Also, Native Americans, veterans, and those with behavioral health problems were over-represented at AP, due to BRAC stipulations.

When, as part of our social justice initiative, the AP community students arrived on campus they were all African American; our students were able to interact very well with them, particularly the students of color, leading to a highly successful visit.