Prajukti (juk) Bhattacharyya: Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources in Geolgy 301: Environmental Geology at the University of Wisconsin--Whitewater

About this Course

An environmental geology course for nonmajors.


Two 75-minute lecture
No lab

Four-year comprehensive university

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 38kB May1 14)

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

The grand challenges facing society today demand an ability to think across disciplines. This module provides an alternative way to teach the rocks and minerals component in traditional introductory-level geoscience courses. The focus shifts from identification and description of rocks and minerals to the social, economic, and environmental impacts of using mineral resources. The students are shown how the study of geology fits into the "big picture" through a series of data-based, hands-on, collaborative activities. This module was piloted in a nonmajor environmental geology course.

Student engagement was phenomenal when I tested the module activities in my classroom. The students were excited to discuss current local and global issues revolving around mineral resource exploration, extraction, and use, and to see how the information provided in the classroom can be applied to solve real-world problems.

I video recorded one 75-minute class period when I conducted the in-class activity for Unit 5 of this module during Spring Semester 2014. A colleague reviewed the video according to the classroom observation protocol for STEM courses created by Smith et al., (2013). One of the purpose of this protocol is to characterize how faculty and students spend time during class and how much active learning, as opposed to passive lecturing, happens during class. The pie charts below show that I used only 21% of a 75-minute class period (approximately 16 minutes) for lecturing. The rest of the time was used for group work and discussion, and students were actively engaged in asking and answering questions. This shows the effectiveness of the module for increasing student engagement during class.

Each of the units have alternate activities that are designed to the learning goals of the specific unit. I used the activities most suitable for my class size and course format. Instructors teaching a lab-lecture course can use the activities that best meet their needs, as opposed to activities best suited to small, lecture-based courses.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

This module was used to highlight the necessity and impacts of mineral resource exploration, extraction, and use to meet today's demands. Most of my students were non-science majors, with little or no background in geology. It was necessary to scaffold the information about what defines a mineral to a geologist, to how economics drives the definition of a mineral resource and a mineral reserve, various geologic processes forming selected economic mineral deposits, ultimately culminating to specific case studies of social and environmental impacts of mineral resource extraction, processing, and use.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

The entire module is broken down in six discrete units. Each unit had a variety of activities, including in-class group activities, pre-class reading, and post-class homework assignments. Each of these activities are flexible enough to either be standalone activities or to be part of the whole unit. Each unit was designed to fit a standard 50-minute class period, but those were easily modified to fit 75-minute class periods by assigning in-class video activities as pre-, or post-class homework activities.

Each activity has a tentative time period assigned to it, but those time frames are to be used as guidelines only. Those time constraints can and should be be modified, depending on specific classroom situations. When I was piloting the module, there were more than one instance where the students got excited about the topic, and I decided to encourage vigorous group discussions and student excitement rather than cut short just to keep to a specific time schedule. Since the module is flexible enough to modify activities, that was not a problem.


I had my students create concept maps in groups from the very beginning of the semester to get them familiar with the basic organization of concept maps and how to label the arrows connecting the nodes. This reduced a lot of confusion for the students when I asked them to complete the concept map as part of assessing the module.

Formative assessments were embedded in each individual activity. The group activities involved questions to be answered as a group, which were then assessed. The homework assignments were collected and graded. Each of the six units had individual assessment instruments. After the module, summative assessment was conducted in the form of an overarching concept map on mineral resource formation, extraction, use, and impacts of those on the environment and the society. There were also embedded exam questions to assess whether the learning goals of the module were met.


I wanted to expose my students to the complex web connecting various demands by society, economics, geology, environmental issues, and natural resource extraction and use. I wanted them to see how they themselves stand at the center of that web and the impacts of their own actions. I wanted them to be curious and want to learn more about these topics.

Based on student comments on their final self-assessment report, I think I was successful in meeting these goals.

Example of student comment

"(The design of the class had) a lot of emphasis on the triple bottom line. Personally, I am very environmentally minded. A lot of times, people like me get so caught up in the topic that directly impacts them; they forget that it is connected with the other two, social and economic. Usually social impacts speak for themselves but I personally forget about the economic impacts. Since all three of them are linked together, we need to account for them. Every problem has a social, economic, and environmental impact, and we need to reach common ground for all three, and people (including environmentalists) need to realize this."

Pedagogically, I hoped to create a learning environment where multiple active learning strategies are used to deliver content. The module was highly successful in meeting that goal. These pie charts show the classroom time breakdown in terms instructor activities as well as student activities during a representative 75-minute class period. It shows that the students were involved in a variety of learning activities, either with me or with each other all through the class time.

Classroom Context