Initial Publication Date: May 3, 2017

Improving Programs

Part of the InTeGrate Mercer University Program Model

Program Motivation

Mercer University serves non-traditional adult students enrolled in programs including education, informatics, liberal studies, public safety, human services, and business. These students are invested in their communities through their family, work, and community service. They are place-based students, most of whom will remain in the area upon graduation. These students bring place-based perspectives to learning. As they study sites and sustainability issues in Georgia and the southeastern USA that are familiar to them, or that they can discuss with their family, communities, and co-workers, these students are more engaged in and committed to learning how geoscience can address societal issues. To increase the number of students who are interested in learning about sustainability, project faculty developed digital field trips to locations in Georgia that link Mercer University students to regional sustainability issues.

Our motivation is also to increase the number of teachers in Georgia who include geoscience and issues of sustainability in their own classrooms. In Georgia, geoscience content is officially part of the sixth grade curriculum but integrated study across disciplines is encouraged in all grades. By linking regional examples of sustainability issues in Georgia to issues in history, culture, economics and other disciplines, we hope to encourage Georgia teachers to include materials from InTeGrate modules and the digital field trips in their classrooms.

To increase the Earth literacy of our students and their ability to include geosciences in addressing societal issues, and to emphasize the multidisciplinary and complex nature of sustainability, we used InTeGrate materials in general education science courses, general education capstone course, writing/history course, and education courses.


A well-established, collaborative relationship between Mercer University's Penfield and Tift Colleges allows us to work to increase Earth literacy and engagement in issues of sustainability among our adult learners. There are now programmatic inclusion of materials directly from InTeGrate, or inspired by InTeGrate, in science, humanities, and science education courses that support student learning outcomes that include sustainability and development of systems thinking. Faculty are formally and informally working together across departments and colleges within Mercer to promote sustainability and to practice pedagogies that build Earth literacy.

Virtual field trips of culturally and regionally relevant issues of sustainability have been developed. Experienced personnel and other resources are in place at Mercer to continue development of virtual field trips, with opportunities available for student participation and for collaboration with other departments interested in sustainability issues in the southeastern United States.

We have begun to offer annual opportunities that incorporate InTeGrate themes in professional development with pre-service and in-service teachers to develop integrated and systems thinking. We link to state-wide STEM and STEAM initiatives to increase faculty interest in serving and teacher interest in attending these professional development opportunities.

Program-Level Goals and Evidence

Goal 1: Increase number of faculty who include InTeGrate materials and pedagogies in courses

In Fall 2014, we began with one of the team leaders including many of the assignments from one module, Climate of Change, in an earth systems science course that already included several of the topics that the module addresses. We have revised two of our earth science courses to adopt the high-impact pedagogies and authentic assessments from InTeGrate materials. We revised the course syllabus for our introductory scientific reasoning course (SCIE100 Methods of Scientific Investigation) to include units 5 and 6 of Climate of Change. In a workshop to introduce InTeGrate, we recruited two adjunct faculty to use the revised syllabus. In Spring 2015, two more team members offered courses that included InTeGrate materials.

Two more education faculty joined in the second year and both chose to use Women and Water in the Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources module. In 2016-17, another education faculty member is including InTeGrate materials in an mathematics teaching methods course and a faculty member in history/interdisciplinary studies has developed a writing course that focuses on sustainable agriculture and African-American farmers.

Goal 2: Increase the number and diversity of learners who study/participate in InTeGrate materials

We made a decision at the beginning of the project to consistently include InTeGrate materials in three general education courses: earth systems, environmental science, and an introductory scientific reasoning course. Students enrolled in these courses are representative of the students we serve in Mercer University's non-traditional working adult programs, most of whom are traditionally underrepresented in natural sciences in higher education. The programs we serve include those in the undergraduate programs of Mercer University's Penfield College, Tift College of Education, and Stetson School of Business and Economics.

In the first year of the project, 92 students completed courses and participated in InTeGrate materials, which is about 6% of the undergraduate population in the programs we serve. Of those 92 students, in student self-reporting on ethnicity, about 46% self-report as African American, 33% self-report as White, 2% self-report as Asian: White, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Of the 92 students in the first year, 71 students self-reported as female.

By the end of the project time period, we served a total 455 students, of which in self-reports 54% are African American, 4% are Hispanic, 3% are Asian, and 2% are Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and 85% are female.

Goal 3: Include virtual field trips from local and regional sites across Georgia in InTeGrate materials to increase student interest in issues of sustainability

Our virtual field trips are in the form of webquests that are based on images, news articles, websites, and peer-reviewed references. We use the virtual field trips to spark interest in a regional example of a sustainability issue and, importantly, to get students to review relevant geologic and historical references needed to complete assignments in InTeGrate modules. We are able to direct students to specific content within an article or website that they can use to complete assignments. Students report that they are entertained by the "field trips" and they like alternating between reading materials and viewing the images. We use a trip to Providence Canyon in Georgia as the study site for the summative assessment in A Growing Concern. We developed another virtual field trip for Arabia Mountain, GA and have used it to engage students' interest and guide their reading about the historic, economically important quarrying industry in the southeastern US. Students take this virtual field trip after they have studied the concept map in Boom and Bust unit 2 of Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources. Early indicators from attitudinal surveys (IAI) suggest that these types of virtual field trips are affecting students' interest in sustainability and their motivation to create a sustainable society


We have collected images from other sites in Georgia and will develop additional field trips to use in conjuction with activities in related InTeGrate modules: Sweetwater Creek State Park, site of a Civil War era textile mill and agricultural community; Lake Lanier, metropolitan Atlanta's main freshwater source; Ocmulgee River and Ocmulgee National Monument, wetlands and freshwater source for Macon; and Gillard Farms, Brunswick, an organic farm land that has been lived on and farmed by the same African-American family since 1874.

A summary and description of making the virtual field trips are published in this paper Hall, Bush, Stapleton SITE 2017 paper on virtual field trips (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 39kB May1 17) in the proceedings of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference, Austin, TX, 2017.

Goal 4: Increase the number of K-8 teachers in Georgia who incorporate Earth literacy in their classrooms

We worked towards this goal through offering InTeGrate materials in education courses and in a professional development workshop. Two undergraduate education courses and one graduate education course have been involved, reaching 71 early care, elementary and middle grades teacher education students. Additionally, since all undergraduate education majors are required to complete the introductory scientific reasoning course (SCIE100), we have been able to reach education majors who enrolled in the sections of this course in which InTeGrate Climate of Change units 5 and 6 were included.

Many students in the graduate course are in-service teachers. Two graduate students, who are in-service teachers, have expressed interest in learning about InTeGrate materials, including the InTeGrate assessment process, for their dissertation projects. For the future, introducing the materials to graduate students, many of whom are already in the classroom, may be a rich way to continue to expand the reach of InTeGrate.

We offered a professional development workshop to in-service and pre-service teachers Mercer STEAM Day workshop (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 88kB Feb5 17) and linked it to a state-wide industry-led initiative. To being, we have invited only Mercer alumni and students and had 15 participants. The link to the state-wide initiative helped us gain interest from faculty and Mercer University's STEAM committee. The Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative's TAG-Ed annually promotes "Georgia STEM Day" in late Spring. Faculty from the STEAM committee offered professional development for in-service and pre-service teachers on Mercer STEAM Day. We included a session on soils and gardens, in which attendees engaged in activities and discussion of two InTeGrate modules, Soils, Systems, and Society and A Growing Concern. The in-service teachers recognized ways to incorporate parts of the soils module and ideas into their own classrooms and we have sent out a survey to participants to find out how many have included, or plan to include, InTeGrate materials or topics in sustainability in their classrooms during the academic year.

Unexpected Outcomes

Outcome 1: Converging interest in issues of sustainability between faculty in different departments and disciplines

A graduate education faculty member has been awarded a sabbatical to develop a learning garden to use in education and science courses. An undergraduate science faculty member is developing a proposal for a STEM center, including a greenhouse for University and community use. An undergraduate history professor is expanding ongoing student-led research into African-American coastal communities to include agriculture, food, and sustainable practices.

Outcome 2: Faculty from different disciplines value field work/trips to learn about Earth

Faculty in education and non-geoscience disciplines enjoyed being at field sites, learning about and discussing issues in sustainability. Education faculty in mathematics and liberal arts faculty in history, writing, and biology joined field trips and incorporated some InTeGrate materials into their coursework.

Long-term Impact and Next Steps

Curricular change will be the most visible long-term impact from this project. However, based on evidence from student attitudinal surveys and reflections and from faculty reflections on their experiences, we aim to motivate students, alumni, and faculty to continue to develop interest in taking action to help develop a sustainable society.

Science and education faculty will continue to work collaboratively to offer opportunities for students and in-service teachers to study issues of sustainability. This work includes: (1) continuing to offer science and education courses that include InTeGrate or InTeGrate-inspired materials; (2) supporting faculty development in teaching strategies/methodologies on how to include geoscience and sustainability in non-geoscience courses; (3) developing courses that are interdisciplinary and integrative; (4) offering field trips for faculty to study the Earth; and (4) continuing to offer annual workshops that include InTeGrate materials and issues of sustainability to in-service teachers.

Supporting and encouraging faculty to maintain and develop these curricular goals and annual workshops will require additional resources. Some next steps are underway through the development of a proposal for a STEM center at Mercer University which includes resources for faculty development and is being lead by an environmental science faculty member. In necessary steps to develop curriculum, the Mathematics, Science, and Informatics Department plans to review the science curriculum to determine if project-based learning and integrative/interdisciplinary courses that address sustainability can become a regular part of the curriculum and still serve the needs of both general education and majors programs (none of which are natural science programs). To continue offering annual workshops that include issues of sustainability, new faculty need to be recruited to take part as faculty responsibilities and department work change.