Russanne Low: Using Food Security in Science Systems Environment and Sustainability at University of Nebraska at Lincoln
About this Course
200 level, lower division course serving majors and non-majors. As an ACE course, the course is advertised across the campus and welcomes students from all majors. The course is an introductory course that integrates ethics and systems thinking as a context for understanding sustainability and as an introduction to environmental science.
Length of class sessions frequency per week: 1x week, asynchronous, online
Syllabus:ENVR201 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 176kB Aug24 16)
Application of basic Earth system and ecosystem science concepts for understanding: natural systems; the relationships and interactions between the living and the non-living environment; current and future environmental challenges; the importance of considering scientific evidence and uncertainty; and the implementation of the sustainability concepts.
Consistent with the mission and values of the University, Achievement-Centered Education (ACE) is based on a shared set of four institutional objectives and 10 student learning outcomes. To meet the ACE Program requirement, a student will complete the equivalent of 3 credit hours for each of ten ACE Student Learning Outcomes (a total of 30 ACE credit hours).
Institutional Objective 3: Exercise individual and social responsibilities through the study of ethical principles and reasoning, application of civic knowledge, interaction with diverse cultures, and engagement with global issues.
ACE 8: Explain ethical principles, civics, and stewardship, and their importance to society.
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
InTeGrate Modules work on-line! This is an example of an InTeGrate module, taught on-line and asynchronously in a large class format. The module was embedded in a team-taught introductory environmental science course offered by UNL's School of Natural Resources. The course emphasizes the importance of personal ethics, social responsibility, and sustainable practices as linkages between the environment and society. This module served as the culminating activity for the course, and students were challenged to apply systems thinking in an exploration of the complex, multiscalar factors that contribute to the wicked problem of global food security in their assigned region.
A key feature of a successful online learning experience is a course design where participants are consistently motivated to interact and share information with each other. At the beginning of this module participants were assigned to one of three teams, each focusing on a different region with its own unique food security problems. For each unit, students were asked to compare the observations and outcomes of their investigations with that of teams examining other regions, so they needed to rely on each other's work to craft their weekly reflections. Because the participants knew that each activity in the module potentially could be integrated into their final project, they were highly motivated throughout the unit.
"The Story of My Chocolate Bar" launched the multidisciplinary unit with a serious fun factor! The very first experiences with using ArcGIS Online can often be daunting to students, but the Chocolate Bar activity lowered the anxiety level and it was a huge success, providing an entrée to not only geospatial analysis tools but also to many aspects of the global food system- from sustainable production to fair trade, to the use of slaves in producing luxury goods to the decision making processes that cause agriculturists to produce cash crops for export in lieu of food crops that would be consumed locally. By identifying the social context of chocolate production beforehand, it was relatively easy for participants to cognitively link Earth system science and its relevance to social issues throughout the course. This activity set the stage for the whole module!
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials
The module was adapted for use in an asynchronous on-line course and modified in several ways to accommodate the on-line, asynchronous modality of delivery. To keep the module structure parallel to the rest of the course, two units were bundled to comprise a week's assignments. The final module included 3 weeks of classwork, one week devoted to research and project development, followed by peer review, and an additional 4 days (during exam week) for incorporating feedback into the final product. Students conducted the group work in a variety of ways, including Skype sessions and face to face meetings. The gallery walks were interpreted in the online environment as an assignment with prompts to review and comment on the presentations posted on the class space by other groups. The adoption of this module to an online modality proved very successful. The asynchronous format of the course does change the timing of work submissions, and I found it critical to build in an extra week so students had sufficient time to accommodate each other's work schedules and still meet and work on the final project. I was able to add an additional week at the end of the term (exam week) so that final projects could be reviewed by others and revised prior to submission for grading. I did not collect the pre course quizzes because the dynamic and logistics for on-line courses are different, but once again, used them as prompts for discussions. Post course reflections were uploaded to the discussion board.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
The course consisted of two introductory modules, followed by The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security, a 4 week-long guided final project for the course.
The First module provided an introduction to the Earth system and addressed the learning goals below:
- Describe the impact humans have on their environment from a local to global scale.
- Collaboratively identify environmental challenges problems/questions/issues through data collection and analysis as a member of a team.
- Describe the basic characteristics of the Earth's four spheres.
- Describe environmental challenges in the context of the four spheres of the Earth System including human influences on them.
- Apply a systems approach to describe the relationships between spheres using appropriate use of the terms inputs, outputs, and feedbacks.
The second module featured the concept of sustainability, and participants examined their role as consumers of energy and producer of CO2:
- Explain the concept of sustainability as a systems-based principle that can be used to link the environmental, economic, and human dimensions of environmental challenges.
- Describe ecological footprints and lifecycle analysis as tools for discussing sustainability issues.
- Evaluate our individual roles, as citizens, and the role of countries and governments in sustainability using ecological footprints and life cycle analysis.
- Formulate your environmental ethic.
The third module, The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security built on this basis by providing a context for learners to apply their understanding of the Earth system to a societal problem, to consider sustainability features in the production of different food products and determine how both Earth system and sociopolitical and economic systems converge to create food insecurity issues on a global scale.
Unit 1: Story of a Chocolate Bar
One of the challenges in lower level, general education courses is to engage students that are selecting the course not out of interest, but to "fill in a box". The first unit, which introduces the global interconnection of our food system through student research on the sourcing of a chocolate bar of their choice really did the trick- We also used the story of their selected chocolate bar as a motivator to explore the basic functionalities of the ArcGIS Online software that was employed later in the course to analyze other aspects of the global food system. "Nano" research projects conducted by the students revealed a number of topics that reappeared in final projects: sustainable harvesting, fair trade, slave labor, production for export at the expense of local food access, as well as the true cost of chocolate.
Unit 2: The Wicked Problem of Food Security
In an on-line format, the participants uploaded their own merged Earth system and food system diagrams as individuals or in pairs. Instead of a gallery walk, they were asked to view and comment on two other diagrams, noting similiarities and differences. I did not collect the pre course quizzes because the dynamic and logistics for on-line courses is different. Post course reflections were uploaded to the discussion board
Unit 3: Climate Change and Food Security builds on the Story of Chocolate in Unit 1
Students are provided with step by step instructions to build a climate aware map service and use that map service to identify changes in climate from 1900-present and from the present- 2100, as projected by the IPCC scenarios. Students were instructed to do this work individually or in teams and compare their observations with others in the discussion board. They were also informed that the map service that they had created could be repurposed as one of the maps focusing on their case study area required for their final presentation. Any students having issues with the software met individually or in small groups with the instructor using videoconferencing technology.
Unit 4: Case study group work and problem identification
Students were assigned to groups and each group was assigned a case study. This was a research week and they were given time to examine the resources in their case study dossier and identify potential topics of interest. Students met on-line in chats, using skype and face to face as desired.
Unit 5: Guided Spatial analysis related to the case study.
Students were encouraged to work in teams of two or three to complete this assignment. Any students having issues getting started met individually with the instructor using videoconferencing technology.
Unit 6: Constructing an action plan
Students are asked to complete a gallery walk, examining the PPT style presentations by other teams. To modify this assignment for the on-line context, we created a "virtual gallery walk," where we provided more detailed guidance for their interaction with other teams:
- Read the questions below. These questions are derived from the goals of the 4 units in this module.
- Review at least 3 of the final projects submitted by other groups. You will need to review at least one presentation for NYC, Nebraska and the Caribbean, in addition to your own. (You are welcome to view them all, if you have the time).
- Please make one comment on each presentation you review, using this prompt: "When examining the findings of your project and comparing with ours, I see..."
- Make sure you feel comfortable answering each of the following 5 questions in a thoughtful 1-2 paragraphs, using examples.
- When you are done with your review, you will be asked to answer 3 questions in a timed (1 hour) essay through blackboard. You will not need and should not use notes. These questions will be based on the questions below and may not be the same for each student. This reflection must be done independently.
- You will have the option, at the end of the essay, to assign the weight of your individual essay to your individual grade for the group work- from 10-40% of the total grade for the group project.
Here are the questions to think about when your review the 3 presentations and prepare you for the essay:
- Make connections between the Earth system and cultural, economic and political processes to understand the wicked problem of food security through a quick diagram that identifies the connections that you think are important: identify at least one positive feedback, one negative feedback, and fluxes between the reservoirs of the Earth system. Do you think the global food system is in equilibrium or is in a state of change?
- Describe these concepts and give one example how they are useful in discussing and analyzing issues of global food security: sustainability, ethics, systems thinking, Earth system, climate system. (Reviewing the slide tutorials on Earth systems, systems thinking and the climate system in Units one and two may be helpful)
- Describe the various factors that influence food security in three different regional contexts. What factors influence food security in your region, and how does your region connect to the global food system?
- Compare and contrast food security in your region to at least one other region presented by classmates in the gallery walk. In your discussion identify how this comparison can be used to show why global food security is described as a wicked problem.
- Compare and contrast the food security analysis of your group with another group with the same region. How were your approaches similar? How were they different? Do you see insights when you examine the two analyses together that you did not think about when working independently in your group?
The assessments used in this module included the creation of map products using ArcGIS Online, and short reflections resulting from "nano" research assignments.
All assignments, except for the final assessment, were graded pass-fail. Students were still motivated to complete the activities at a high level of rigor because they knew that the work they were completing could be repurposed in the final project, for which they would obtain a letter grade.
The final project for each team was power point slide presentation identifying a food security problem and proposed solutions which include consideration of Earth system interactions for their assigned region. The group projects were uploaded to the discussion board week 4, and each student was required to review one case study by another team for Nebraska, NYC and the Caribbean. The group projects were evaluated within 24 hours of posting using the rubric, and the feedback was provided to the teams. Teams had the opportunity to resubmit for additional points within 5 days.
There were several goals I hoped to accomplish through this module. First, participants addressed one of the UN Millennial challenges and were given the opportunity to learn about Earth system thinking and then apply the systems concept to exploration of a societal issue, global food security. Second, because the class serves lower divisions students with limited to no research experience, I wanted to model a process of developing a research project step wise over the course of a month. Third, I wanted to expose these students to geospatial technologies and ArcGIS Online, so they would experience the power of the tool and also the power of conducting an original analysis of data when doing research. Finally, I wanted the module to connect Earth system concepts with a socially relevant issue, i.e. global food security.
All these goals were achieved by the participants of the pilot. The importance of Earth system science to the societal issue of global food security was obvious to all the students by the end of the course. Many commented that they were excited to see how helpful user-friendly ArcGIS Online is and that they planned to take a future GIS course because they saw how they could employ these new skills in coursework in their home departments.
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