Using Project EDDIE modules in Skills for Sustainability Professionals

Linda MK Johnson, Chatham University

About this Course

Skills for Sustainability Professionals

Lecture Course

Upper Level Undergraduate


students in the course


EDDIE Module(s) Adopted and/or Adapted

Sustainability Metrics

Student Inquiries into Big Data

As part of a skills-based learning course, students were asked to explore the Gapminder website to ask and assess meaningful questions about relationships among various sustainability metrics. The appeal of the module was its potential for use in a virtual classroom and its ability to get students to think about what we can do with the terabytes of data that have been globally collected.

Jump to: Course Context | Teaching Details | How It Went | Future Use

Relationship of EDDIE Module(s) to my Course

There are no specifically delineated learning objectives that deal with quantitative learning or data learning. When taught as an on-ground course, students investigated an on-campus sustainability challenge, proposed and tried to implement solutions. This year the class is staying virtual and has twice its historic enrollment, so I have modified the exercise to virtual data exploration and partnered them to reduce the number of projects and presentations. My personal learning objectives for the exercise:

  • Acquaint (re-introduce?) students to Big Data and its importance in the workplace
  • Help students develop skills in formulating open-ended questions
  • Basic presentation skills (visual and oral)

Teaching Details

  • Lecture: Concepts of Big Data 
    • Focus: how are data collected; whom do they represent?
  • Small group work: students will be paired for formulating questions
    • Students will formulate, submit, revise, resubmit questions that they want to address
  • Live, zoom presentations
    • Pairs of students will construct PowerPoint presentations to do "live" with the class
      This module was modified and employed as a multi-week, paired, virtual exploration for 32 upper-level students. The original module's pre-lab reading assignment was used for an opening class discussion about the complexities of energy production and consumption, especially in context of data acquisition. Students then used the provided activity A to explore the website tools on their own. Students with shared topical interests were put in topic-specific breakout rooms (for example, the role of education on sustainability outcomes) on Zoom to discuss specific areas with the topic (e.g. education of girls) and to find a partner with whom to work. Multiple class meeting times were open for student group work to fine-tune the question, submit the question for review by instructor, revisiting the question and/or data used, and preparing a live, zoomed presentation for class (5-7 min). Two 50-min class times were dedicated to the presentations. Developing good open-ended questions turned out more challenging than exploring the Big Data.


Adaption Materials

IPAT Introduction (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 2.5MB May21 21)

Student Worksheet for Question generation (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 12kB May21 21)

presentation instructions (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 53kB May21 21)

Teaching Notes summary (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB May21 21)

How did the activity go?

There were some challenges with the Gapminder tool and certain browsers (Chrome, for example). It took longer than I anticipated to get students deep into the webtool, but even more to get some students to generate questions that had some sophistication to them. A few students kept revising questions to a form such as "Does x impact y?" or who did not quite understand the problem of correlation not always indicating causation. Because I wanted more individual-level learning (hence, pairs only), I spent more time than expected with some sustainability seniors to get them to an interesting question. Despite some slow starts, the presentations were generally very well done. Quite a few groups went above and beyond the exercise to explore the reasons some variables might be related, including pulling in other information sources.

Students were introduced to the Gapminder tools, which are rich with data that may be useful in other classes. Additionally, because of the breadth of the topics explored by the pairs, students were exposed to a broad range of sustainability variables, data sources, and interesting connections among metrics.
Again the greatest intellectual struggle was in the generation of a deep, multi-faceted question for which they did not know the answer. Many seemed to try to find the data to support something they already knew rather than to explore the data for new knowledge.

Future Use

This instructor story and adaption materials were developed during a Project EDDIE Faculty Mentoring Network in partnership with QUBES in the Spring of 2021.



Project EDDIE Faculty Mentoring Network logo

I do plan on doing this activity next year, but I clearly need to invest more class time on two topics: how to "mine" data by generating good research questions, and getting them more comfortable with open inquiry in general.