Silvia Secchi: Using the Map your Hazards Module in Geography, People and the Environment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale
About this CourseCourse satisfies social science requirements for the core (gen ed) curriculum and is required for environmental studies minor.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 144kB Jun8 16)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
My class combines social and biophysical science perspectives to make students understand the challenges of environmental management. I thought the Map Your Hazard module was a great fit for it. I adapted the module to focus on flooding because my institution, Southern Illinois University (SIU), is in a flood prone area and there are many environmental justice challenges associated with floodplain management here. Further, I study this issue myself with other collaborators at SIU, so I thought this interpretation of the module would be combine place-based education with my research strengths. The main challenge was the large class size.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsSince the class was so large, I made the choice to have relatively large groups (8 students), and to have them work on four different Illinois locations: East St. Louis, South Chicago, Olive Branch, and Cairo. The first two are obviously large urban areas, while the last are smaller towns in a more rural context.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
The module was implemented as a three week block in a 16 week semester, after three weeks on fisheries and three weeks on biofuels. During the semester, we reference general concepts such as the tragedy of the commons and wicked problems, and address issues of equity, the role of climate change in environmental decision-making and the importance of stakeholder participation. I was able to refer to all these general concepts in the module. I was very happy to see in the final assessment short answers, for examples, how well students could explain the "commons" issues in floodplain management.
AssessmentsMy main challenge was the class size. I realized at the end of the first week that my groups were too large and that I was having a big free rider problem (I realized because several students told me). I therefore told the students I would not grade the group project but I would give them credit for answering the final individual assignment (I really have to thank Hannah Scherer for helping me with this idea). Many of these answers were really thoughtful and honest, and overall the reception for the module was really good, even with the bumps on the road.
OutcomesI had hoped to achieve three things: for myself, I wanted to shake up the class – I teach it every semester, and I do not want to become a complacent and lazy instructor. I had also hoped to incorporate a place-based element to my teaching, because I think students learn better if they can relate to the material, and finally, I wanted to move towards a more student-led model of teaching.
I think on all three levels, this was a real success – I have trust that this can work REALLY well if I do a couple of things: adjust group sizes, and introduce smaller group-based activities earlier on in the semester so the students get used to them. We play a group- based game at the end of class on a regular basis but it was not enough. I am particularly heartened by the amount of feedback I have received from students and its quality.