Faculty Reflection: Diane Doser
University of Texas at El Paso
Course(s): Introduction to Environmental Science; Geology for Engineers/Engineering Geology
A Success Story in Programmatic Change
My students enjoy using the InTeGrate materials and I have seen my students' performance in the classes increase as I include more materials. I used about 30% InTeGrate materials in my environmental science course in fall 2015 but over 50% of the students liked these InTeGrate materials the best. Students are eager to come to class, they are engaged and awake in class, and have fun interacting and working through activities. Students who have been fearful about taking a science course have found working in a group with the InTeGrate materials a less threatening way to learn science. Students who are visual learners enjoy the units where we focus on maps, photographs or video clips. By the end of the class students are able to make connections between the geosciences and their daily lives and they feel empowered by the things they have learned.
My engineering students obtain an appreciation of how geology impacts their field and become interested in the career opportunities available at the intersection of geological sciences and civil engineering.
Incorporating InTeGrate Materials
I approached the use of the materials differently in these two classes. I first used the InTeGrate materials from the Climate of Change module at the end of the semester in my environmental science class. It was a large class that had not been set up for group activities at the beginning of the semester. The students worked well in informal groups, but I felt I needed to have more structure and continuity if I wanted to use the material throughout the semester. After the first semester I organized the students into groups that worked together for the entire semester and made arrangements to teach the class in a room that had tables and moveable chairs, greatly helping the students to be able to work together. Each semester I teach I introduce one or two new activities. The non-InTeGrate content I use has many of the same pedagogical elements as the InTeGrate materials. I have also greatly cut the amount of lecturing I do, finding that the students readily learn the concepts through doing the activities.
In my engineering class I had already been using an approach that consisted of 1 day/week of lecture and 1 day/week of group activities. This format made it very easy to adapt InTeGrate materials to the group activity days. I use less InTeGrate material since this is an upper level course and we focus on more engineering and geophysical material than covered in InTeGrate modules.
For some materials I needed to cut down on the use of color figures (making 120+ color copies was not feasible). I also re-wrote some sections to make it easier for many students who do not speak English as a first language. I added materials to a number of sections that focused on a local issue as well as the InTeGrate focus. For example, in the Humans' Use of Earth's Mineral Resources unit on the economics of minerals we discussed how nearby deposits of rare earth minerals might be mined if the prices reached high enough levels.
Outcomes and Evidence
I have seen a steady improvement in the grades that students receive in the courses through time. I have not changed the rigor of my courses and I lecture less, but the students are doing better. This spring another instructor used my materials "as is" for the engineering geology class and had a similar enthusiastic response from the students. Clearly the materials help to engage the students and encourage them to learn.