Using the Mississippi River Watershed Module in Geomicrobiology

Wesley Swingley, Northern Illinois University

Course Description

About the Course


Level: Upper division, cross-listed between Biology and Geology also with heavy Environmental Studies student enrollment.
Size: 20 students
Format: In-person

Course specific exercise »

Role of microorganisms in diverse environments at and below the surface of the earth. Topics include life in extreme environments, biodegradation and remediation, biogeochemical cycling, and astrobiology examined from the perspectives of geochemistry, microbial ecology, molecular biology, and ecosystem studies.

... getting the students to think outside of their own discipline worked really well.

Explore the Mississippi River Watershed Module »

Relationship of the Mississippi Watershed Module to Your Course

Geochemical cycles are covered early in the semester, prior to implementing the module on nitrogen cycling, so students have experience with the major players. This section reinforces the main course content and expands the context to bigger picture issues.

Integrating the Module into Your Course

The course that I integrated this into is a geo microbiology course that goes over a lot of the topics that are related to the Mississippi River nitrogen module. The module really fit naturally into my course replacing an outside research activity with this module and adding it in after they had learned a lot of the prerequisite material covering elemental cycling and microbial impacts and all of that sort of stuff.

What Worked Well

I think getting the students to think outside of their own discipline worked really well, getting them to imagine some of the other perspectives and some of the broader perspectives and big picture ideas worked really well. And this course has a lot of that anyway within the scientific disciplines, but it was expanded out into some of the social sciences and the societal impacts I think really well.

Challenges and How They Were Addressed

A lot of the challenges that I had are time constraints. It's always hard getting a new module into a course and getting students to not feel too overwhelmed by the extra work or the things that they see as outside of their course. The other big challenge I had was simply in the personality of the typical student. Getting them to challenge each other and to really ask hard questions and be challenging to one another, that's very hard for them. And so I always push them to have a welcoming open environment so that everybody can ask these challenging questions without it being a negative experience.

Student Response to the Module and Activities

I think the way I teach and the way I bring the module into class is a little bit maybe Helter Skelter. At first, there's a lot of information and a lot of things that I don't really tell them how everything fits into place. I don't tell them which slot is which shape. And so I think at the beginning a lot of students are a little overwhelmed and a little taken aback by that open-ended approach. I think most of the students responded pretty well once they got rolling and once they saw what the other groups were doing and what the module was saying. In the case of our wicked problem, I kind of wanted to give them that experience of being overwhelmed by the scale of things. And so they got that experience for better or worse.