Using Project EDDIE modules in GEO 305: Water and Society
About this Course
GEO 305: Water and Society
EDDIE Module(s) Adopted and/or Adapted
My course is an undergraduate general education social science distribution course without prerequisites entitled Water and Society. In this second run of the course, I wanted to ensure I had a module that addressed drinking water contamination, especially given current anxieties and evolving EPA regulations around PFAS. I modified the Environmental Pollution and Public Health module from an initial focus on air pollution to emphasize water quality matters and connections to human health adding in material on PFAS and environmental regulation.
Relationship of EDDIE Module(s) to my Course
This module fits into the second unit of the course focused on human-water interactions which emphasizes water use- withdrawals and consumption for different purposes- and pollution following human-water or human-land interactions.
I intended for the activity to be a lecture, in-class exercise, and homework assignment series, but due to unforeseen scheduling issues, it became a lecture/homework combo, and I was forced to drop Part C of the exercise.
Modifications of the original material involved shifting the discussion on pollution to focus more specifically on pollutants relevant to water pollution and drinking water. The original slide deck was modified to include 1) an explicit description of environmental health, 2) information on (US) environmental pollution and environmental health federal entities, 3) links to online resources on emerging contaminants and PFAS reflecting current knowledge of its health implications.
The dataset and student handout were trimmed to focus only on parts A and B; part C on air pollution was removed with the intention of replacing with PFAS exposure data. The handout was provided to the students using a link to a common Google Doc and forcing students to make their own copy (replace the "edit" suffix on the url for sharing to "copy"). The handout also adapted the original instructions for Excel and for work in Google Sheets: similarly, students were forced to make their own copy of the dataset, and then given instructions to restructure the data using a pivot table (instead of manual cut-paste in the original handout).
Slides for Environmental Health and Emerging Contaminants (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 9.5MB Jul27 23)
Student Handout for Environmental Health Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.6MB Jul27 23)
Data for Student Handout for Environmental Health Assignment (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 19kB Jul27 23)
How did the activity go?
I ended up dropping Part C of the exercise due to time constraints and the lack of available information needed to adapt the initial air pollution focus to our class focus on water. Part of this was because I really wanted to address PFAS but the data were not available, and I did not give myself enough time to pivot to some other better-studied contaminant. I anticipate as PFAS research progresses, this should be do-able within a few years (for PFAS). It also may make sense to adapt the exercise using better-studied drinking water contaminants, potentially nitrate, hexavalent chromium, or microbes.
The students definitely had eye opening moments as we discussed emerging contaminants and they realized the prevalence of PFAS. It would have been better to tighten the connections between the material presented and the exercises, however, and complete the scaffolding with part C to bring the lesson home, better connecting pollution to public health.
Content/material: Students were shocked about the widespread prevalence of PFAS from the video presented, and a bit dismayed. In the future, I will need to spend more time helping them understand the difference between acute exposure and chronic exposure and perhaps calculate their own exposure to pollutants and how to manage it or talk about "acceptable" risk, or use this to teach about environmental justice and how communities vary in their level of exposure.
Technical skills: On the exercise, students also wrestled with Google Sheets and formulas, which was expected, but did reach out to me and other peers to work through the technical issues. They tended to rush through the exercise and next time I will walk through it more with them rather than assume comfort and fluency with spreadsheets; there was a wide range of abilities in my class.
Yes, I would, in the future, scaffold the activity better and provide more in time class for the students to work on the spreadsheet exercise. Because many of them expressed they already understood the concept of a t-test, I blitzed through, and should not have.
I need to also dial in the content to make sure the material and exercises are more tightly aligned. As mentioned above, building in a drinking water data analysis as part of module C is a high priority for me and would be broadly useful. Many people do not question or think about the quality of their drinking water and when contamination occurs, major trust is shaken (I think it is actual trauma) and it takes a very very long time to recover. People also don't know how to protect themselves in these settings and so giving knowledge about filtration and how it is very contaminant-specific is also important. So I would like to build that into a broader multi-class unit in my course. But the discussion about pollution and public health/epidemiology/statistics was a very good starting point for building student awareness.