Bringing InTeGrate Modules into the Community College Classroom

Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman, Pasadena City College

Two overarching goals drive the InTeGrate (Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future) Project, an NSF-funded, STEP (STEM Talent Expansion Program) Center Grant spanning 2012-2016. These are (1) the development of curricula that dramatically increase geoscience literacy of all undergraduate students, and (2) the preparation of a workforce that can address current and future environmental and resource challenges. A major InTeGrate enterprise that addresses both of these goals is the development and classroom testing of a new breed of instructional materials (modules), which are grounded in best practices as described in Geoscience Education Research (GER) studies.

To date there are 12 published (on-line) modules that were each developed over 3+ years by teams of three faculty, and there are 21 more modules in various stage of completion. All materials must meet the criteria defined by a 28-element Curriculum Development and Refinement Rubric before testing begins. This rubric encodes both the overarching goals of the project and research-based principles for effective instruction. All materials must include embedded assessments that can be used to measure student progress toward the stated learning goals. Additionally, the materials are expressly designed to:

  • address one or more Earth related grand challenges facing society,
  • develop student ability to address interdisciplinary problems,
  • improve student understanding of the nature and methods of geoscience and developing geoscientific habits of mind,
  • make use of authentic and credible geoscience data to learn central concepts in the context of geoscience methods of inquiry, and,
  • incorporate systems thinking.
I briefly describe here two different experiences I have had using InTeGrate materials at Pasadena City College. The first involves repeated teaching of one module (six 60-minute lessons) over several years in my oceanography courses. There is no doubt that re-teaching a lesson several times improves it for the students as well as the instructor. In this particular case, however, I was also using pedagogical techniques that I had only dabbled with in the past. This included gallery walks, a role-playing game, jigsaw activities, class discussions, and small group activities. By the fifth time I taught this module I was much more comfortable with the open-ended nature of these types of activities and more confident to try similar strategies in other classes. Students were markedly engaged and invested in understanding the issues we covered, such as climate change, as a result of the hands-on, active-learning style of instruction.

The second experience involved a single semester in which I replaced about 50% of my traditional laboratory activities in my physical geology class with several InTeGrate modules (18 60-minute lessons). Making so many changes at once was a little overwhelming, but I am going to reteach this same course in Fall 2016 and have many ideas for adjustments and refinements. In large part, this is because I wrote daily reflections directly after each class period. Reading back through those has been invaluable in my redesign for this coming fall. Again I feel that student interest was much higher than in my past courses because of the nature of the activities.

How can the GER community make adoption of research results easier and more widespread? The first step, I think, is to provide motivation to instructors to try something new and possibly out of their comfort zone. In my case, my motivation was external, as I am part of the InTeGrate leadership team. I think offering strategies in small parts is an important tactic. It is a large task to redesign a class, so start small. A focus on new instructors (recent graduate students) would also be a logical place to devote time and resources, perhaps via workshops and short courses.