InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Section 3: Social Science of Water > Module 10: Solving the Water Crisis?
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Module 10: Solving the Water Crisis?

Demian Saffer and Michael Arthur, Pennsylvania State University
Initial Publication Date: March 31, 2017 | Reviewed: January 20, 2015

Summary

In Module 10, the culmination of the course, students explore potential solutions to the problems of water quantity and quality, especially in the face of population growth, increasing energy and food demands, and greater awareness of (and sensitivity to) the environmental impacts of water development.

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Learning Goals

Module 10, Solving the Water Crisis?, represents the culmination of the Water Science and Society course. In combination with the Capstone Project completed in tandem with this module (and which serves as the overall summative assessment for the course described separately), Module 10 draws upon technical, historical, and policy-oriented content from the preceding modules in order to look forward. In the framework of readings focused on technological and policy-based solutions to water availability, students are asked to evaluate potential solutions to the problems of water quantity and quality in the face of population growth, increasing energy and food demands, and environmental impacts. The readings focus on contemporary proposals or currently implemented strategies for hedging against water shortage, and include desalination, water importation, water reuse and recycling, and water banking. The readings emphasize the (sometimes competing) considerations of technical feasibility, economics, politics, and sustainability. After completing the module, students will be able to:
  • discuss the costs and benefits of desalination as a solution to water scarcity;
  • explain the benefits of water reuse;
  • describe the advantages and disadvantages of water optioning and water banking;
  • evaluate multiple approaches for safeguarding against water scarcity;
  • develop a portfolio of strategies for a water-poor urban area.

Context for Use

Overall, this one-week module is intended for use as a stand-alone lesson or as part of an online or blended general education or introductory-level course that would satisfy a science distribution requirement. The module would be appropriate for non-majors and undeclared students looking for a major. There are two formats: (1) blended where the students meet at least once to perform the activities in teams; and (2) 100% online. As a general guideline, the delivery of content and assessment of learning goals/objectives have been designed to accommodate the logistics of large class sizes where students are expected to work approximately three hours per week covering lecture content with an additional six hours per week of additional reading and work on assessments. Note that some students will require more or less time to meet the goals and objectives of the module.

Description and Teaching Materials

All materials for students are available online using the Student Materials link below. These can be implemented entirely in the context of distance learning, with students completing any discussion questions in the form of a blog or discussion group. In a traditional or blended classroom setting, students can complete the online unit as homework, using class time to address the discussion questions and to work on the Capstone Project.

Teachers can find documentation of the activities as well as rubrics for students at this location. Rubrics for teachers are compiled under Assessment on this site. Suggestions for teaching and a list of the assessments are found below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

What works best for the module?

Module 10 is tightly integrated with the course Capstone Project, and as such, it works best if students are provided time in class to discuss the module, and work in groups on drafts of their projects.

We found the Formative Assessment interview with friends/roommates/family members to be especially effective in engaging students in thinking about their own views on water reuse, and to gain familiarity with the technical aspects of water reuse by being forced to formulate explanations and arguments in favor of it. This assessment also provides an opportunity for students to articulate their views about water treatment and use, relate them to those of others, and reflect on how—if at all—their views have evolved through the semester or via their discussions with friends and families.

What students found difficult

Because the content is relatively straightforward, students did not appear to have much difficulty with the material in the module. However, some students did struggle in connecting approaches to water management and scarcity with their water portfolio (as described in the Capstone Project notes). In particular, some students did not engage in the depth of research or analysis that we envisioned for the Capstone Project—for example, to estimate costs of various options, to research the amount of water available or feasibility of importation or accessing groundwater in neighboring regions, to carefully discuss pros and cons of components/strategies in the water portfolio, or to clearly outline a plan to cover costs of their proposal. The instructor may choose to go into more detail about these issues (costs are changing quickly for some technologies, and pros and cons may be regionally specific, making it difficult to include more of this information in the module). Alternatively, instructors may choose to de-emphasize this component of the capstone and suggest that students give some thought to issues of cost and permitting, but not require students to get into detail.

Reflections

Overall, Module 10 is likely to be most effective if the content is well integrated with a detailed in-class discussion of strategies and issues raised in the readings, with materials from The Big Thirst, and is connected (where possible) to current events. For example, in the year we piloted the course (SP 2015), ongoing drought in California was consistently in the national news and provided a platform for discussion of several strategies described in Module 10, including the merits and drawbacks of desalination and water banking, using a current and real-world example. Likewise, in-class time devoted to discussion of ideas and research on Capstone Projects would be useful as an opportunity for the instructors to provide clearer guidance and for students to more thoroughly integrate climactic, economic, historical, and hydrologic data into their summative assessments.


Assessment

Formative Assessment

Summative Assessment

References and Resources

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »