Initial Publication Date: December 10, 2020

Using the Project EDDIE Sustainability Metrics Module in Natural Resources Consumption & Sustainability

Natalie D Hunt, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

About this Course

Natural Resources Consumption & Sustainability

Lecture Course

Upper Level Undergraduate

Majors and Non-Majors

40 - 60
students in the course

students in the section

EDDIE Module Developed

Given the inherent complexity of sustainability, it is often difficult to determine or compare how sustainable a process, a country, or a product can be. As a result, sustainability claims are often challenging to convey. This module gives students an opportunity to use an analytical framework with publicly available data to formulate questions, analyze data, and report metrics of sustainability.

Jump to: Course Context | Teaching Details | Student Outcomes

Relationship of EDDIE Module(s) to my Course

The course covers a broad variety of topics including natural resources consumption including fossil fuels, nitrogen & phosphorus, energy, population, economics, globalization, among others. This module was created as an opportunity for students to connect the dots between sustainability and quantitative metrics to assess sustainability. This module was piloted earlier in the semester (approximately one month into the semester), after topics of population, economics, energy, and fossil energy, though I would recommend applying the module later in the semester. Students were asked to read the Mattis paper prior to class and to bring a laptop computer/mobile device that would allow them to connect to the internet and view data.

Teaching Details

What key suggestions would you give to a colleague before they used the activity in their teaching?

I would apply the module more than halfway through the semester instead of earlier, as students will have more of a rapport in small groups and more trust with the instructor.

I would also place more emphasis on quantitative reasoning in general, as this is a mixed majors/non-majors course with some students having little quantitative background. Specifically, that working with data can be messy, slow, and not always straightforward. I would include more lecture content on sustainability metrics prior to the module, as for some students, the leap from topical content to working with data was too much.

How did you address challenges in teaching with the module?

I found that checking in with the student groups periodically was helpful in addressing concerns, questions, and preventing students from getting too far off track. I also notified students a few weeks in advance that we would be using the module in class, so they would be prepared for an out-of-the ordinary exercise.

Student Outcomes

It gave many students the opportunity to work with real world data to support the topics covered in class, which taught them about the challenges of data collection, continuity, and access. It also taught them (by way of frustration) that quantifying sustainability is challenging and complex. The module uses a polished visualization interface, and I think that reflection questions that asked them to "look under the hood" and think about how those datasets were collected was useful.

Asking students to formulate their own questions based on available data was also useful, as it forced them to make the direct connection between sustainability and supporting data.

I think it was a new experience for some students, so it taught them about basic data interpretation and pattern recognition. I think they also gathered an appreciation for the challenging process of collecting and visualizing data.