Dr. Alycia Lackey: Bio 103-Saving Planet Earth at Murray State University

About this Course

An introductory course for non-majors.

Two 75-minute lecture sessions

Bio 103 Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 169kB Jul5 17)

Bio 103 Saving Planet Earth (3 credits). A study of the problems faced by humans on Earth, including human population growth, over-exploitation of natural resources, habitat destruction and extinction. The philosophical, ethical, and scientific basis of these problems and their solution will be discussed. The course will also explore the potential for humans to live in a sustainable fashion on the planet, and emphasize the social responsibility and civic engagement required to do so.
Through this course, students will understand the fundamental problems of human existence on Earth, the ways in which such problems can be solved, and how this understanding can lead to ways in which you can assist in the preservation and restoration of the planet. Some of the problems we will discuss include human population growth, over-exploitation of natural resources, habitat destruction, climate change, and extinction. We will discuss the scientific, philosophical, and ethical basis of these problems and their solutions. The course will also explore the potential for humans to live in a sustainable fashion on the planet and emphasize the social responsibility and civic engagement required to do so. Through this course, students will develop a new world view, allowing you to make better decisions in your daily lives about your own personal influence on the Earth's future, and to potentially lead and influence others in this regard.

To understand these problems, students will also develop scientific literacy -- understanding scientific concepts and processes needed to make decisions personally and as a member of society. You will strengthen your abilities to read and understand popular press science articles; identify scientific issues that underlie local, national, and global decisions; evaluate the quality of scientific evidence based on the source of methods used to generate it; and develop and critically evaluate arguments based on scientific evidence.

At the end of this course that covers a broad spectrum of human impacts on the earth, we used Unit 1 Introduction to Environmental Justice to discuss how people make decisions about their interactions with the environment. Earlier in the course, students had already developed an understanding of human impacts on the environment and political, philosophical, and social perspectives.

Incorporating this unit strengthened students' understanding of environmental justice, which prepared them to answer application questions related to making decisions about human interactions with the environment.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials

These materials strengthen class content on environmental justice by having students discuss the history of environmental justice and identify examples of cases where decisions would involve environmental justice principles. This greatly improved how students applied these ideas to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies we had covered earlier in the semester.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

Unit 1 comprised about 60 minutes of a 75-min lecture session. I implemented this unit in our last week of class. Earlier in the semester, we covered a variety of ways humans interact with the environment including human population growth, threats to biodiversity, agriculture, pollution (air, water, solid), and climate change.

I integrated this unit into content on environmental ethics and law. I modified the activities and PowerPoint slides given my students' previous experience with human interactions with the environment. I revised the assessment to challenge students to apply ideas of environmental justice to a recent topic (climate change response strategies) we had covered.

Classes were usually 50% lecture and 50% in-class group work and discussion. Thus, students were used to interactive, small-group activities as well as whole-class discussion.

I only used Unit 1 Introduction to Environmental Justice.

Unit 1
I started by asking students to identify whether the provided pictures were examples of the environment. Instead of showing pictures one-by-one, I grouped them into two groups of six. Students talked in pairs and then reported out about which pictures represented "the environment" and why. I grouped the pictures because I assumed my students would be comfortable with the idea that all of the pictures represented "the environment" in different ways. In fact, this was the first answer I got with a few other responses from other students in agreement.

I then covered my own lecture material on worldviews, which influence why people are motivated to make certain decisions about interactions with the environment.

I then defined "justice" for my students and asked them to develop definitions of "environmental justice" in small groups. Groups reported out their definitions using Top Hat (electronic submission application), which allowed the class to see all the typed definitions on the screen. The student definitions were very similar with all answers to the effect of "being fair to the environment", so this activity was not especially useful.

I then asked groups to list (again using Top Hat) an example of an event or situation that would require making decisions involving ideas of environmental justice. This was a great way to generate a long list of examples, and I picked a few to discuss in more detail. Students' examples often naturally identified the groups that would be at odds in decision-making.

Then I used a modified version of the PPT slides provided with the unit to define environmental justice and examine its history. I have provided the modified slides here Environmental Ethics, Economics, Law slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.7MB May18 18). The discussion questions provided with the slides were good for getting students to think more deeply about why certain groups of people experience environmental injustice.

I then added my own lecture material on environmental economics and environmental law.

The next series of steps involved a worksheet Environmental Justic in-class graded discussion worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB May18 18) I created that asked students to apply ideas of environmental justice and environmental economic decision-making to consequences of climate change, which we had recently covered. The issue students consider could be easily modified to fit another course.

I originally planned to have each group report out by creating a single presentation slide in a Google Presentation. Each group would have presented: their issue, which regions and human populations are most vulnerable, what should ideally be done to address this issue given environmental justice perspectives, and what compromises might be made given economic perspectives. However, we ran out of time. Students submitted their answers to these questions on the worksheet, but they did not have a chance to report out or discuss with the class.


I assessed students using the group worksheets, which I graded for completion. I had planned to have groups synthesize their answers and present them to the class in a single PowerPoint slide, but we ran out of time in class. The group worksheets reflected that students realized that decisions about responses to human interactions with the environment involve weighing out costs and benefits from perspectives involving justice and economics as well as values placed on outcomes for humans and the rest of the environment. The worksheet encouraged students to discuss these topics and apply ideas of environmental justice to a topic we had recently covered.


My goal for incorporating this unit was to develop student understanding of environmental justice so they could complete the worksheet activity with a stronger background about making decisions involving human interactions with the environment. Student responses reflected their understanding that environmental decisions involve costs and benefits for different groups of people as well as other organisms and habitats. We had discussed worldviews and economic choices earlier in the semester, but using this unit provided the students with a much stronger foundation in environmental justice that allowed them to address application questions.

Classroom Context