Patricia Stapleton: Using Major Storms and Community Resilience in American Public Policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute
About this CourseAn introductory course for all majors; often taken to fulfill general social science requirement.
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
Students often take my public policy class to fulfill a basic social science requirement at our science and engineering institution. As a result, I wanted to provide my science and engineering majors with content that would engage them and demonstrate the links between policy and their other studies. The Major Storms and Community Resilience module provided the opportunity to bring geoscience data into my social science classroom, with an interdisciplinary approach.
The students responded positively to the module, especially the town hall debate. Although they were initially reluctant about the debate format - mostly worried about speaking in front of their classmates - the teams did an excellent job of representing their interests and negotiating with other groups to come to shared recommendations.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsThe original materials had too many activities for our intended timeline of 3 weeks. Due to time constraints, I did not implement the Coastal Erosion Activity or the Debris Removal Activity.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
My course runs for a 7-week term (~1/2 a traditional semester). The module was implemented in the 2nd Spring term at WPI (March-May 2016). The first half of the course focused on establishing the basic theories and concepts of American public policy. The module was incorporated as an in-depth case study to demonstrate theoretical and conceptual application. The course also focused on the role of scientific experts in public policymaking and the importance of risk assessment, risk management, and resilience in policy processes. Thus, the module gave students the opportunity to explore policymaking approaches in a real-world policy issue area.
As noted in the "My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials" section, I needed to revise the original syllabus in order to complete the key components of the module's materials. Although the student population in my course is science and engineering majors, as a core curriculum requirement, I had students with a range of backgrounds and at different levels (freshmen to seniors). This meant that I could not rely on the whole class having a basic understanding of stats, for example, or the concepts of risk, risk assessment, and risk management. In addition, as an introductory public policy course, I had to first establish the different theoretical approaches of the field and prepare students for using data to support their recommendations. For a 3-week module, this was a bit of a tall order. However, the module did work very well with some tweaks. The outline below shows the work the class accomplished over the three weeks. I removed the optional activities that required a higher-level of geoscience knowledge. The included activities do provide the important, fundamental concepts of geoscientific thinking integrated with social science and emergency management. While some students found the topic of major storms less exciting than other potential public policy issues, they found value in completing the different activities and assignments.
CLASS 1: Public Policymaking in Action: Disaster Preparedness
- Reading: Vocabulary of storms and storm systems; Government Risk Assessment Overview; Fundamentals of Emergency Management by Lindell, Prater, & Perry (Chapter 6: Hazard, Vulnerability and Risk, pages 153-191).
- Assignments due: none.
- In-class activity: Pre-unit assessment survey; Concept map; Probability and Comparative Probabilities of Risk Activity.
- Reading: Fundamentals of Emergency Management by Lindell, Prater, & Perry (Chapter 7: Hazard Mitigation, pages 192-220); The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned (Chapter 1: Katrina in Perspective).
- Assignments due: HVA Activity.
- In-class activity: Complete Probability and Comparative Probabilities of Risk Activity, class discussion of team HVAs, start HMP Activity.
CLASS 3: Public Policymaking in Action: Determining Hazards & Risks
- Reading: "Hurricane Sandy Retrospective Analysis from 2014 New York City Hazard Mitigation Plan; The Science Behind Superstorm Sandy's Crippling Storm Surge; Blizzard of '93: Why Was It the Storm of the Century?; and Superstorm: Eastern and Central U.S., March 1993.
- Assignments due: Completed HMP activity.
- In-class activity: Post-unit assessment survey, Sea-level Rise Activity.
CLASS 4: Public Policymaking in Action: Hazard Mitigation
- Reading: State of Massachusetts Hazard Mitigation Plan; MA Press Releases.
- Assignments due: Press Release Activity.
- In-class activity: Press Release peer review; Concept map revision.
CLASS 5: Public Policymaking in Action: Risk Communication
- Reading: Chapter 7 of the CDC's Crisis, Emergency, Risk Communication 2014 Edition; The Geological Society of America's Position Statement: Geoscience and Natural Hazards Policy.
- Assignments due: Press Release Revision Assignment; HMP Comment Form Assignment.
- In-class activity: Stakeholder brainstorming session.
- Assignments due: Debate Talking Points! Must be posted to Blackboard 24 hours before Class 6.
- Reading: All stakeholders talking points.
- Assignments due: Preparation for in-class Town Hall.
- In-class activity: Town Hall Meeting on hazard mitigation for major storms.
- Reading: None.
- Assignments due: Final copies of position papers; post-instruction attitudinal survey.
- In-class activity: Debrief on town hall meeting; course evaluations.