Lisa Doner: Using Major Storms and Community Resilience in ESP 2110 Introduction to Environmental Science and Policy II at Plymouth State University
About this CourseIntroductory course for majors in Environmental Science & Policy
Syllabus for ESP 2110 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 41kB Aug1 16)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
My course is a first year introduction to environmental science, typically taught as a lecture-lab combination. This module provides the students a more inquiry-driven approach to understanding environmental risks and mitigation and serves as a culminating experience for their first year.
It was fascinating to see the students really dig into these activities. Over the three weeks of the module, they became far more alert and tuned into the world around them, especially with regard to natural disasters and how prepared (or unprepared) the affected communities were for them. I can build upon these experiences now in my follow-on Intro to Geosciences course, using their knowledge about risk communication and preparation to engage them in discussions about resilience to catastrophic (earthquakes and volcanos) versus gradual (climate and sea level) events.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsThe module moves along at a very fast pace. The students could easily fall behind if they missed a class. I created some "catch-up" room by making some assignments extra credit, and merging others (like the final concept map) into thought-questions in the final exam.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
My course runs 15 weeks, including the final exam week and Spring Break. I prepared the students for the module throughout the course by pointing out examples of interacting systems and of hazards and risk. This helped build familiarity with these concepts prior to the module.
I introduced the module in the last three weeks of the course, with the culminating town hall meeting during the last lecture period. The final exam, given the following week, included reflective components. For example, they revised their concept maps to create a more complex version that included planning and preparedness. They also considered which courses could fill gaps in their own knowledge about major storms and human systems.
AssessmentsI used the questions and tasks embedded in the activities for most of the assessments. There were too many of these for the recommended 3 week time frame, and so I made some extra credit. Next time, I will perhaps skip over some of the activities and substitute ones that add more exploration - such as finding examples in the modern news of towns that generated press releases in advance of an on-going hazard; or of preventable deaths and damages, with a brief reflection about where that town might have better prepared residents and businesses. As a follow-up, in-class mini exercise, I might have the whole class look for and review that town's HMP for 1) recognition of the hazard, and 2) suggested actions to prepare for it.
I also used the concept maps as a way of assessing progress in systems thinking. This did not work as well as I hoped because about 20% of the class expressed discomfort with their ability to create a concept map at all, much less on a topic with which they weren't wholly familiar. Some students thought they needed to understand more about how storms came into existence and failed to recognize that the human response was an even bigger part of the system than the storm origin.
My main goal was for students to accept human responsibility for storm outcomes that affect infrastructure and safety. I also wanted the students to recognize where human actions act to enhance and diminish risks of storm damages. I think about ¾ of the class gained these perspectives. The ones that didn't were the ones that failed to fully engage in all of the activities. Overall, I'd say this module accomplished want I hoped it would and that improving the reach of those outcomes to all the students is a matter of tweaking the pace and delivery of the activities to capture the students with higher absenteeism.