Global Issues in the Sciences--Living with our Earth: Earth science case studies from the Pacific NW and Himalaya

Beth Pratt-Sitaula

Washington State University
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Seminar style course that explores basic geologic systems through the lens of better understanding natural and manmade catastrophes in the Pacific Northwest and the Himalaya and how we, personally and as societies, can better prevent disasters. A particular emphasis is placed on understanding risks from earthquakes and climate change.

(Course structure was patterned heavily after recommendations in Lecture-Free Teaching, B. Wood, NSTA, 2009)

Course URL:
Course Size:


Course Context:

This course is the second of two required science courses for all Honor's College students taken in lieu of the standard general education courses. It is intended to have a large dose of science-and-society aspects. Students are mostly juniors; only about half are science or engineering majors. Most have had little or no earth science since middle school. Therefore, the starting point was similar to any introductory earth science course, but the course aimed for higher content knowledge results for the specific societally important topics of tectonics/earthquakes and climate change.

Course Goals:

- Students will be able to describe basic Earth processes related to plate tectonics, earthquakes, tsunami, water cycling, and climate in general and for the Pacific Northwest and Himalaya regions in particular.
- Students will be able to analyze Earth science data sets using Excel and Google Earth and use the results to support scientific arguments.
- Students will apply the knowledge and skills outlined above to assessing risk and proposing mitigation and/or adaption strategies for geohazards that threaten the Pacific Northwest and the Himalayan region.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The learning process starts with reading and homework that the students do prior to class. If they have questions, they email the instructor two hours prior to class. The instructor starts the class with a short presentation to address any questions from the previous class day's "murky points" or the readings. Students then work in teams on various activities designed to help them learn to apply the basic knowledge from the readings and homework. They quickly found that not doing the readings resulted in inability to participate meaningfully in the team activities. Each half of the course had several smaller ungraded activities, two larger content-oriented activities, and one large case study project in which the students had to apply progressively high order thinking skills. At the conclusion of each half of the course, the students took a test regarding science content and application.

Skills Goals

Self in Society: Students will understand how individual behaviors and choices are connected to global issues. They will understand the role of science in creating and providing solutions to global problems.

Critical Thinking: Students will use a scientific framework to critically understand the intersection between science and social factors that shape global issues.

Information Literacy: Students will demonstrate literacy in several science disciplines and employ skills necessary to access and evaluate diverse sources of information.

Communication: Students will communicate effectively in discussions concerning the importance of science in addressing global issues; the student will use appropriate oral, visual, and written media for different types of audiences.

Note: These goals were dictated by the WSU Honor's College

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The science content and skills were intertwined in presentation and student assessment. The statement above regarding content, applies to skills too.



Syllabus for Global Issues in Science course (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 31kB May30 12)