InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science > Instructor Stories > Ashlee Dere
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Ashlee Dere: Introduction to the Critical Zone at University of Nebraska at Omaha


About this Course

Combined upper level and graduate level course for geology, geography, and environmental science majors.
16
students
Two 75-minute lecture sessions

Introduction to the Critical Zone Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 37kB Oct16 16)

A Success Story in Developing Deeper Critical Thinking Skills

The Introduction to the Critical Zone modules work well as a small (< 20 students) upper level/graduate course for geoscience majors and is now a permanent part of our geoscience curriculum. The materials employ active learning techniques that are enjoyable to work on with the students and provide a strong foundation in Critical Zone Science. Students really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the material and the opportunity to use real data and practice skills they are likely to use in their jobs. The students reported and demonstrated improvement in their critical thinking skills and confidence in problem solving because the course focused on building skills rather than memorizing content. The in-depth assignments challenged students to go deeper than in traditional courses and ultimately lead to student engagement throughout the semester. The students found the material very relevant to their lives which helped improve their learning.

Many students began the course with no understanding of the Critical Zone, but by the end students recognized the importance of the topic and how it connects with their daily lives. They appreciated the active learning style that emphasized critical thinking and applying skills to solve problems.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

For the first time teaching the course I used all modules and materials provided. In the future I will continue to try to use as much of the material as possible and will add a two hour lab section to the course to provide more in-class time for data analysis and discussions. Students seem to benefit from classroom discussions and frequent feedback on data activities, so I hope that maximizing interaction time will help optimize the learning outcomes.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

My course focused entirely on Critical Zone Science and spanned an entire semester, meeting twice a week for 75 minutes. The course will continue to be offered every third semester and will count as one of the required surface processes courses for the geology, geography and environmental science majors. In the future I plan to add a lab section in addition to the lecture periods to devote more in-class time to the materials.

Assessments

Students were assessed predominantly through the daily activities that we started in class and they often finished as homework. Students were excited that there were no exams, but many were unaccustomed to being accountable for assignments every class period, which was especially problematic when students were absent or got behind in turning in assessments. A clear outline of the assignment schedule and the expectations is necessary to help students keep track of the activities and minimize the burden of frequent grading on the instructor. In the classroom, the students were engaged, collaborated well and wanted to finish the activities but often struggled without instructor support. A lab section associated with the class would help alleviate some of the student struggles with finishing assignments on their own.

Outcomes

Overall I really enjoyed teaching the course and thought the students demonstrated gains in both practical skills (such as using and interpreting data) and critical thinking, especially related to complex problems. The focus on active learning made for meaningful interactions among students and with the instructor and seemed to enhance learning. I have received feedback from students that all geoscientists should take this course because the material and skills are so important to solving environmental grand challenges; recent graduates have reported that they are using the skills from the course in their jobs and that it was a valuable addition to their curriculum.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »