Module 10: Understanding and Assessing Coastal Vulnerability
The goal of Module 10, Understanding and Assessing Coastal Vulnerability, is to build a sufficient understanding of vulnerability to enable students to assess the vulnerability of various coastal populations to natural hazards. After completing the module, students will be able to:
- Identify the physical vulnerabilities and social vulnerabilities of coastal populations;
- Measure the physical vulnerabilities of coastal populations in terms of exposure (geologic setting, coastal hazards, bathymetry, climatic setting, etc.) to coastal hazards;
- Measure the social vulnerabilities of coastal populations in terms of sensitivity (age, social status, gender, language, health, etc.) and adaptive capacity (social networks, social support, government and non-governmental institutions, etc.); and
- Assess and compare the physical and social vulnerabilities of different coastal settings, populations, cultures, etc., from an integrated Earth systems perspective.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
In this module, students study the concept of vulnerability to coastal hazards by studying the three dimensions of vulnerability: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. To start their examination of vulnerability, students explore the impacts of Superstorm Sandy on New York and New Jersey. Then they consider all three dimensions by developing a Vulnerability Scoping Diagram, a tool that helps them assess and compare the vulnerability of residents in three coastal counties in the United States to hurricane winds and storm surge. Materials for students for this module are located at the link below. Teachers can find documentation of the activities at this location as well as rubrics for students. Rubrics for teachers are compiled under Assessment on this site. Suggestions for teaching and a list of the assessments are found below.
Teaching Notes and Tips
This module introduces many unfamiliar terms and concepts and integrates them holistically. To familiarize themselves with these terms and concepts, students should be strongly encouraged to read the material in the module and to explore the supplementary links and information provided in text and videos before starting the formative and summative assessments. For the formative assessment, students who reflect more deeply and write more than just brief answers to the questions not only score better, but also demonstrate a better understanding of exposure/physical vulnerability. Therefore, teachers should encourage students to discuss the concepts among themselves and with the instructor and to write longer, rather than shorter, answers to the questions. For the summative assessment, students tend to have little difficulty answering the questions in the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity sections. Although they have little difficulty in understanding the questions in the overall vulnerability section, some students expect answers in exercises like this one to be black and white with no shades of grey or nuance. Thus, it is important to stress to students that some answers in this section might not be straightforward and might require more subtle interpretations.What students found difficult
Students did not tend to have difficulties with either the formative or summative assessments because, anticipating potential confusion with unfamiliar terms and concepts, (1) we emphasized the importance of reading and exploring the materials before starting the assessments, and (2) the module provided clear step-by-step guidance throughout the assessments. These precautions enabled students to expend more effort on exploring and interpreting the data they generated for the assessments. Nonetheless, it is essential that the instructor is familiar and comfortable with the two websites used in this module's assessments because students can take missteps when following the directions and need help rectifying their mistakes.
The module is clearly written and relatively comprehensive, so despite the unfamiliar terms and concepts, most students were able to understand the material, which helped make their interpretations of the formative and summative assessment data more complete and accurate.
The bigger conceptual difficulty that students had with the module was coming to terms with the integrated Earth systems perspective. Students (and faculty) are trained to think within single disciplinary boxes, but the concept of vulnerability to natural hazards explicitly integrates the physical sciences with the social sciences in a holistic framework. It is important for students to be cognizant of and to reflect on this different way of approaching science.Is it possible to drop the formative assessment?
Students enjoyed the formative assessment, had little difficulty with it, and received good scores from their work on it. It reinforces the difference between physical vulnerability and social vulnerability. It also tends to appeal to students and instructors who have more appreciation for the physical sciences and less for the social sciences. Nonetheless, because the summative assessment also reinforces the difference between physical and social vulnerability, it is possible to eliminate the formative assessment and still enable students to understand the concepts presented in the module.
- Formative Assessment: Hurricane Sandy: Students quantify physical vulnerabilities in terms of exposure (geologic setting, coastal hazards, bathymetry, climatic setting, etc.) in the New York-New Jersey region.
- Summative Assessment: Three Dimensions of Vulnerability: Students apply the three dimensions of vulnerability to assess and compare the vulnerability of residents in three coastal counties in the United States to hurricane winds and storm surge.
References and Resources
- Student readings are provided in Student Materials — Module 10: Understanding and assessing coastal vulnerability