InTeGrate Modules and Courses >The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security > Instructor Stories > Rebecca Boger
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Rebecca Boger: Using Food Security in Introduction to Urban Sustainability at CUNY Brooklyn College


About this Course

An introductory course for urban sustainability majors

24
students
Two 1 hour 45 min lecture/lab sessions per week

Syllabus for Introduction to Urban Sustainability (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 63kB Aug16 16)

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

My course is an introduction to urban sustainability that integrates materials from environmental science, sociology and economics. As a relatively new course, I have been learning about what works or doesn't work each time I teach it. From the onset, the course was designed around two-week units pertaining to sustainability topics (e.g., water, transportation, housing). A few years ago, I took a Team Based Learning (TBL) workshop. While the course structure doesn't totally fit within the TBL design, I do apply many of the elements, such as having students work in teams throughout the semester, giving quizzes at the beginning of each unit so that students do the reading and come prepared to learn more deeply about a subject, and more application activities and fewer lectures. One of the course units is food and so the food security module was a perfect fit for the course, both in content and structure.

The diversity of the students reflects the international city in which they live. The topic of food is perfect for student engagement since they can relate food to their everyday experience. Many of my students have or are working in community gardens and many are poor and live in food desert neighborhoods. At the very beginning of the module, we shared our thoughts about what it means to be food insecure. I shared with them about a time in my life when my family was food insecure. I could sense that they were listening and saw that I was a person who may share experiences that they have had or are living through now. That helped set a comfortable and deep learning environment.

I was very proud of their final projects and how well they integrated social and natural science concepts and incorporated maps they had created in ArcGIS Online. Several students came up to me at the end of the course to tell me how much they enjoyed the food security module.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials

For the first time running the module I followed closely how the module was written. Based on the first run, I will make some minor modifications for the next time I offer the module. In particular, I will give most of the readings before the beginning of the module instead of before each unit. Most of my students work and/or have large family responsibilities in addition to attending college. Many students need time in advance to prepare for classes, and are not able to always read the night before class the following day.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

The Introduction to Urban Sustainability course is taught over 14 weeks. The course is designed around thematic modules of transportation, green space/brownfields, water, housing, and food, each lasting 2-3 weeks. The food module was the last topic offered. Throughout the course, examples of how social and natural systems are impacted by and impact each other are discussed.

Assessments

The two primary assessments consisted of the team PowerPoint presentation and the essay they completed individually after the presentation was made. My students took ownership of the team project and worked well together. I could tell that they were very proud of the work they did and were eager to share with me, the instructor and the other students. Throughout Units 1-3, there were other built-in-checks to make sure that they were keeping on top of the readings. I was a bit lax on enforcing these checks and likely not all students were doing the readings. For the next time that I offer the course, I would structure it like the other modules in the course and have them do all or most of the readings before they start the food module and have a quiz on the first unit.

Outcomes

I had hoped that the students would be able to integrate natural and social systems in their thinking. They realize that these systems are complex and connected. However, I would like the students to be able to describe aspects of Earth system using terminology like reservoirs, fluxes, and processes. Their assessment showed weakness in this ability and I will work on ways to help students understand these concepts better.

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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 »