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Environment and the Earth Class

Compiled by Suzanne Savanick, Science Education Resource Center. Based on Bixby et al. (2003), Ecology on Campus: Service Learning in Introductory Environmental Courses, Journal of College Science Teaching, v. 32, n.5, o, 327-331.

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Approximately 150 undergraduate students in the Environment and the Earth class at the University of South Carolina participated in a campus environmental service-learning project. The students collected data on lighting, water fixtures, recycling bins, and trash in five academic buildings. Signs were hung in the buildings and data were collected a second time.

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Learning Goals

The project had two primary objectives: 1) to involve students in environmental service learning and 2) to gather information from academic buildings for a database. The data could then be used to:
  • establish baseline data on light use, recycling, and water fixtures in five academic buildings.
  • compare the buildings to determine differences in environmental performance.
  • compare the data gathered before and after educational campaigns.

Context for Use

The Environment and the Earth course is a general education requirement for students from various majors. This project was undertaken in 2000 with 120 students. The project was part of a required laboratory section. There were six laboratory sections with 20 students each. Each laboaratory section evaluated a campus academic building. One large building had two sections assigned to it.

Teaching Materials

sample light data sheet (Excel 14kB Oct27 05) sample trash data sheet (Excel 14kB Oct27 05)
  1. Students were divided into groups and sent into each building to record their observations and findings. Teaching assistants explained the exercise to the students. Each laboratory section was also given a disposable camera to document unique obervations. Students collected the following information:
    • lights: number of unoccupied rooms with lights on and the room type(classroom, office, bathroom, maintenance area, research lab, teaching and/or computer lab)
    • water fixtures: total number of sinks, toilets, and drinking fountains. They noted the number in disrepair. The amount of water dripping from broken faucets was measured with a graduated cyclinder and stopwatch.
    • recycling bins: type and location of each bin, proper labeling, if other materials (trash) were in the bin
    • trash can content: estimate of percent reyclable material by volume, including a percent of each typ of material (paper, plastic, aluminum and glass). The can size and location were also noted.
  2. After the first assessment, signs were hung in each building encouraging occupants to turn off lights, recycle and report maintenance problems.
  3. A second building evaluation was completed in late April.
Note: the parameters and data evaluation methods were chosen for the usefulness of the findings, and the ease with which these data could be collected by untrained students in a limited amount of time. Buildings were evaluated the same time of day and the same day of the week in January and April.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Student laboratory reports suggested that they learned about recycling and energy use on campus. However, only a portion of the data could be used for statistical analysis because many of the data sheets were filled out incompletely or incorrectly.

More complete instructions on how to collect the data may help this problem. In addition, students must be told that their grade is partially dependent on accurate data collection.


After each building evaluation, students wrote a summary of what he or she learned in the laboratory session and described how the topic related to his or her life. Students' grades were based on participation.

References and Resources

Bixby, J.A., J.R. Carpenter, P.L Jerman, B.C. Coull, 2003, Ecology on Campus: Service Learning in Introductory Environmental Courses, Journal of College Science Teaching, v. 32, n.5, o, 327-331.