Improving Teaching and Learning

Part of the InTeGrate Mercer University Implementation Program

Courses and Materials Developed by the Project »

Impact on Teaching and Learning

During the project time, over 400 students used InTeGrate materials across 31 course sections taught by 9 different instructors, including full-time and adjunct faculty. The courses included general education science and capstone, undergraduate teacher education science and mathematics teaching methods, and social science methods, as well as a graduate education course in social studies in a multicultural world. Four instructors have permanently incorporated InTeGrate materials into their courses. Using simple virtual field trips to regional locations that are accessible to or known by students helped them develop broader interest in topics of sustainability. At the end of the project, almost 75% of students reported that they are highly motivated to take action in their personal or professional lives to create a more environmentally sustainable society.

Impact 1: Students are more interested and engaged in general education natural science courses that use InTeGrate materials and regional issues/location as case studies

Student responses on InTeGrate assignments and reflections and an attitudinal survey (IAI) demonstrate that they thought more deeply about the materials than they had expected when they began a course. Results from reflection assignments in Climate of Change show that students increased their knowledge of how systems work and developed comprehension of how local actions can have long-term, far-reaching impact on a system. The majority of students also expressed an understanding of the value of their own contributions to mitigate climate change. The aggregated attitudinal survey (IAI) data show that at the beginning of courses, only about 10% of students reported that they were highly motivated to actively engage in a sustainable society. By the end of our project, up to 60% of students reported that they had become highly motivated to take action in their personal or professional lives to create a more environmentally sustainable society.

Initial analysis of end-of-course reflections indicate that students overwhelmingly strongly agree that using the InTeGrate materials enhanced their awareness of regional issues in sustainability. Most responses from student reflections and surveys include mention of or focus on the social contexts of issues. Our students, who are all non-traditional, working adult learners were most engaged when they felt connected with the settings or people involved.

Including regional issues and locations captured student attention with a familiar starting place to learn about a topic. Students reported that the virtual field trips to Providence Canyon and Arabia Mountain, GA, were interesting and enticed them to read through the required materials for assignments in Growing Concern and Human's Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources. Of the 15 students who participated in these instances of the virtual field trips, about half expressed plans for visiting the sites with their families and one student visited during Providence Canyon before the course was finished.

Impact 2: Faculty are using more student-centered pedagogy

InTeGrate assignments have helped faculty become comfortable with carrying out student-centered teaching methods. Two faculty have moved away from using traditional textbooks and are using resources from InTeGrate and other online resources. One faculty member is using project-based learning as a main form of teaching and assessment. Review of the science curriculum is in one department's strategic plan for 2017-18 with a goal to use integrated science and prohect-based learning to enhance student learning outcomes.

Impact 3: Faculty have been motivated to include topics on sustainability and climate change

Of the nine faculty who used InTeGrate materials or somehow participated in this project, four plan to continue to include topics related to sustainability and climate change in their courses. One adjunct faculty member is developing a course on the effects of climate change on cancer. Two courses have been revised to include InTeGrate modules and two courses have been revised to include one or two units of InTeGrate modules. Instructors continue to explore the InTeGrate modules and incorporate materials and teaching methodologies and new instructors are expressing interest. One new general education course, Topics in Science, was added to the curriculum to accommodate interest from faculty who want to offer interdisciplinary courses in sustainability.

Supporting Faculty Development

The logistics of using InTeGrate materials was initially unclear to us. To understand the organization of the materials, in the first semester, one faculty team member used many of the assignments from Climate of Change in an earth systems course (PHYS 106). This course was a good start because it already included topics on ENSO and the Greenland ice sheet, a large part of the Climate of Change module. Sharing knowledge of the organization of the InTeGrate website helped other faculty as they came on board to more smoothly ease into the materials. In the next semester, two additional team members began offering courses that included InTeGrate materials: a science education faculty team member used several units in Interactions between Water, Earth's Surface, and Human Activity; a biology faculty team member used several units of Climate of Change in a fully online section of the introductory scientific reasoning course (SCIE100).

We began expanding the reach of this project to other faculty in the first semester by offering a workshop to introduce InTeGrate to full-time and adjunct science faculty in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Informatics. The workshop was led by two team members who were the department chair and the science coordinator. In the workshop, we went over the goals of InTeGrate and Mercer's role in it. We introduced the revised syllabus template for our introductory scientific reasoning course (SCIE 100), which includes Climate of Change, units 5 and 6. This course is required by one college at Mercer, is a prerequisite for almost all of the science courses taken by our students, and supports a general education goal to help students analyze underlying concepts of analytic and systemic reasoning within different contexts including the human and natural world. Workshop participants worked through unit 5 and 6 and discussed content knowledge and the use of the materials in their own classrooms. Of the six faculty who attended the department workshop, all but one expressed interest in using the materials. Two of those, both adjunct faculty, ended up consistently including InTeGrate materials in their courses and are developing new activities and course topics inspired by InTeGrate ideas and pedagogy.

In following year, both Penfield College and the Tift College of Education introduced InTeGrate at college-wide faculty meetings. In Penfield College's faculty opening session, the Dean scheduled break-out sessions to discuss InTeGrate and other college initiatives in light of "Earnest Boyer's Scholarship of Application: Connecting faculty and student scholarship to the needs of society". In a regularly-scheduled faculty-wide meeting of the Tift College of Education, one of our team leaders announced the opportunity to participate in InTeGrate (images from the InTeGrate website serving as visual aids), ensuring that all Education faculty were aware of the InTeGrate opportunity. Following these college-wide introductions to InTeGrate, a number of faculty members expressed interest in finding out more and/or participating in the InTeGrate program, and one education faculty was able to incorporate InTeGrate into a current course. Other interested faculty included those in undergraduate history and writing, mathematics education, and graduate social science education and natural science education, but they were not currently teaching courses in which they thought they could include InTeGrate materials.

Mercer University is a comprehensive institution with 12 schools and colleges located on three campuses and five Regional Academic Centers throughout the state of Georgia. Faculty involved in the InTeGrate project were spread through two campuses and four Centers. We invited faculty interested in using in InTeGrate to attend a webinar and sent out the link to those who could not make the live webinar. Even with this convenience, the webinar was not a popular option.

Personal contact was a more effective way to attract and retain faculty. We continued to talk with those who had expressed interest earlier. As team leaders used and learned InTeGrate materials, we approached other individual faculty who we identified as being potentially interested in the materials, based on the courses they teach and their professional and research interests. We also continue to cultivate faculty who had earlier expressed interest. This approach seems to work well because we can help those faculty tailor the InTeGrate materials to their own teaching and research interests.