John B. Ritter: Using An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water Resources in Environmental Geology at Wittenberg University
About this CourseAn introductory course for both science and non-science majors; not required for the geology major but may be the gateway course for a major.
Ritter Syllabus for Environmental Geology (Microsoft Word 69kB Jun21 16)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
My course is an introductory environmental geology course taken by science and non-science students with content split between natural hazards and natural resources. The course is data-driven, using locally-available data or data from the U.S. Geologic Survey and state surveys, to analyze hazards and resources and their mitigation. This module was used to cover water resources but from the context of ecosystem services which, in my opinion, tended to broaden the interest among the biology majors in the course. Students went from focusing on the generalities of ecosystem services that they mostly understood in a biotic context to using them to contextualize changes in the hydrologic cycle due to land-use change. They used streamflow data from watersheds under different land uses to quantify changes in runoff with development and impervious surfaces, they used a national model to assess changes in runoff, infiltration, and evaporation with land-use change, and they applied that information to a local, campus issue associated with planned construction on campus. The module culminated in a presentation to, and discussion with, members of the university administration who were actively engaged in decisions on how to handle stormwater from the planned facility.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsI substituted the module for content I normally would have covered concerning water resources. I dropped some lecture content on groundwater and several lab activities associated with surface water and groundwater resources. While the module was decidedly different in approach and some content, it allowed me to experiment with a different way of teaching and to evaluate the potential for using other modules on natural hazards and resources from the SERC InTeGrate site in my course.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
My environmental geology course is a semester-long course, divided into two halves, the first half covering natural hazards (e.g., volcanism, earthquakes, mass wasting) and the second half covering natural resources (e.g., surface water and groundwater resources, soils, wetlands). It consists of three hour-long lectures and a three-hour lab each week. The module is designed to be completed in three weeks, in three lecture periods per week.
The additional time associated with the lab allowed me to break up module work to include lab and field activities associated with water resources. In some cases, these activities were modified from existing activities so that they could be related to the module (i.e., a stream table lab was modified to illustrate regulating and supporting ecosystem services of floodplains and meandering rivers) and created new activities directly related to the module (i.e., a walking tour of campus structures designed to handle stormwater runoff and an off-campus field trip in association with our city's urban stormwater coordinator to examine other stormwater structures in our combined sewer overflow system).
I did not introduce related concepts or material prior using the module, though in hindsight I wish I had introduced systems and associated terms and concepts more deliberately during the course introduction. Following the module, I was able to use the ecosystem services framework and the information on water resources as the class shifted to soil resources and wetlands. Between these two topics, I could fully incorporate provisioning, cultural, and supporting services. They dovetailed nicely with content and activities, providing an overarching framework for natural resources that I will incorporate in the second half of my course in the future.
AssessmentsI used the assessments that we originally designed for the module. There were many of them. It was difficult for students from the perspective that it involved so much more activity inside and outside of class than came before the introduction of the module. In some respects, if I include other modules prior to this, the change will not be so dramatic. I felt each was useful for my assessment of their participation and understanding, so I am not ready to eliminate any of them. I actually added an additional quiz during Unit 1.2 to emphasize the need to read materials prior to class.
We included a reflective essay in Unit 3.2. I did not use it because of the preparation for the presentation, but I will in the future. Other members of the module team used it, and their results convinced me of its value. In fact, in our modifications of the module, we have incorporated it into the final summative assessment.
My primary goal, both in design and implementation of the module, was to become more acquainted with best practices associated with active teaching. In hindsight, I would add to that list backward design of course activities for assessment purposes and effective assessment of student learning in general. For my students, I hoped for more active engagement by students with material in class and its relation to their daily lives. Student participation in the final presentation and discussion demonstrated to me success in this goal. And the module itself presented them with a tool which they can use in the future if they become in involved land use and land-use change issues.