Enhancing Computational Pathways in Undergraduate Environmental Majors

Monday 3:00pm E Building 220
Oral Session Part of Monday Oral Session B


Lisa Doner, Plymouth State University
Bhuwan Thapa, Appalachian State University
Simon Pendleton, Plymouth State University

Digital and computational literacy, including the understanding, implementation and application of computer, software, and programming are increasingly important criteria for positions within the environmental workforce. Surveys about careers in environment repeatedly note requirements related to work with computers, and use of computers and computer systems to program, write software, set up functions, enter data or process information.

At the same time, higher education instructors increasingly encounter and share concerns about alarming gaps in student preparedness around computer and basic math skills needed for the completion of course assignments. These student knowledge deficits are noted in naming, saving and organizing files, sorting data, using formulas, and reporting data outcomes. As a concurrent issue, students seem often confused about the use and manipulation of units in calculations. These multiple, unanticipated skill-development needs take time away from content instruction, which, in turn, creates a growing and frustrating deficit in discipline-specific training.

This project identifies some of the need for digital literacy and computational preparation in environmental majors, including interdisciplinary majors like geography and environmental policy. It takes a pro-active approach in addressing the increasing time instructors spend on this training in basic computational skills, such as introduction to data management and software programs like Excel and Word, currently taught as add-ons to course content.

To accomplish this, the work leverages the concept of the Networked Improvement Community within higher education institutions through partnerships of environmental and computer science and/or library data or information science faculty. The knowledge contributed and shared by faculty teams provides opportunity for a wide breadth of discovery about challenges and barriers facing students and instructors, and sensitivity to differing demographic viewpoints. Ultimately we anticipate it will drive curricular change that alters how environmental programs address and students perceive computer science preparation for entry-level environmental workforce jobs.