Initial Publication Date: November 25, 2020

A Course Scaffold for Integrating Science and Culture: A Water Example

Course Title: The History and Future of Water

Amy Charkowski (she/her), Colorado State University, Hugo Gutierrez (he/him), University of Texas at El Paso, Sharon Locke (she/her), Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Joey Nelson (he/him), Stanford University, Tracy Wacker (she/her), University of Michigan-Flint

Course Description (for instructors)

The History and Future of Water integrates the sciences and humanities. This course will engage students with different perspectives (e.g, economics, geological, hydrological, societal) on the history of water and guide students to integrate these with their own perspectives based on personal and cultural beliefs. This integrated understanding will lead students to a STEM-informed and culturally-informed approach for thinking about water sustainability and resiliency. Students create a digital portfolio over the entirety of the course that showcases this integrated learning for them as an individual to be shared with other students, thereby learning from one another's cultural backgrounds and experiences. Instructors can easily adapt this course to fit their disciplinary expertise and specific group of students!

Goals of the Course

This course is malleable for different student populations and institutional contexts by providing an academic scaffold, where specific content knowledge is selected based on instructor expertise and student input. Similarly, instructors are encouraged to provide support and opportunities for students by using campus resources and external partnerships, such as library staff and local water conservation organization and wastewater treatment facility staff, respectively. In this scaffolded course we are examining water as an evolving resource and the concepts of sustainability and resiliency, wherein students will interrogate and reshape their own perceptions and knowledge on the history and future of water. By integrating learning from natural and social sciences with humanities, students will reflect on the differences in the physical world relating to cultural aspects of water. Through this, students will develop important skills such as critical and creative thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration. Students will create a portfolio to demonstrate their learning. Intense reflection on and reassessment of their own relationship with water will ground their approach to water sustainability and resiliency.

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes below are intentionally written for the perspective of the instructor designing the course, not a student-facing set of outcomes. Multiple learning outcomes will be integrated into course activities and the culminating project, such that evaluation of multiple learning outcomes may occur through assessment of each classroom activity, whether in-person or virtual. The course portfolio page includes a link to a mapping of learning outcomes to the three domains of knowledge.

See course portfolio description »

Foundational Knowledge (core knowledge that is essential for learners to obtain as a part of the discipline in which the course(s) is situated):
(F1) Students will articulate how water is an agent of change across space and time, from the origins of water on the planet to its role in the evolution of Earth through deep time.
(F2) Students will examine scientific applications of water knowledge, or lack thereof, by various stakeholders, for example in issues of food safety, hydrologic and geochemical resources, and agriculture.
(F3) Students will use quantitative and qualitative data to understand water processes and techniques for assessing water quality and quantity.
(F4) Students will identify and evaluate evolving challenges of water access and quality.

Humanistic Knowledge (attributes that provide a learner with a vision and narrative of the self within social contexts, scaling from local to global):
(H1) Students will synthesize different scientific and humanistic perspectives of water and interrogate how they inform and influence each other--including views from culture, ethics, art, and archeology.
(H2) Students will assess the origins of their own cultural attitudes toward water and knowledge about water.
(H3) Students will explain how they respect water.
(H4) Students will develop ability to internalize the value and risk of water to cultures different from their own.

Meta Knowledge (skills, mindsets, and attitudes that address the process of working with core STEM knowledge, turning knowledge into action):
(M1) Students will make connections between their lives and water.
(M2) Students will reevaluate their worldview based on new learning in the foundational and humanistic categories.
(M3) Students will hold and appraise the value of contradictory or paradoxical scientific and/or cultural paradigms/ideas/values about natural resources (including water).
(M4) Students will analyze how science- and culture-based worldviews influence how we relate to the natural environment at present and in the future, for example decisions that led to unintended consequences of water decisions.

Assessing Course Outcomes

The course outcomes will be evaluated at two levels: 1) learning outcomes will be assessed through the individual work of the students throughout the semester, and 2) a group evaluation provided by the instructor will assess the effectiveness of the course as a tool for delivering a collaborative active learning experience and for assessing the impact of the interactions among instructor and students throughout the course.

1. Learning outcome assessment at the individual student level will occur through repeating reflective activities given throughout the course and evaluation of the course-long project, which will be the generation of a StoryMap (a digital product combining prose and visuals) that displays integrated scientific and cultural understanding of course material. The assessment of this project will take place over the entire course as activities and smaller assignments build out pieces of the culminating StoryMap. These activities and smaller assignments will be devised to target specific learning outcomes and yield opportunities for the instructor and peers to provide feedback on work that will eventually go into the final course project. The repeating reflective assignments will lead students in articulating their in-the-moment understanding of and answers to big questions from the course, which will be re-read and re-examined by students to facilitate their metacognitive awareness of their learning and by instructors to track student growth.

2. Course effectiveness will be assessed using a course StoryMap developed by the instructor highlighting the more salient aspects of the course in terms of where and how students gained a deeper understanding of the subject matter and summarizing the collective knowledge generated by the group. This exercise will serve two purposes: (1) it will provide the students a holistic view of the accomplishments of the entire learning community during the course, allowing them to observe and internalize the knowledge and skills they have developed and the benefits of their collaborative work, and (2) the instructor's StoryMap will help assess the strongest and most effective parts of the course and the areas where improvements can be made for future versions of the course.

Demonstrative Course Portfolio

The course portfolio (opens in a new window) we have devised includes (1) the culminating StoryMap project guide and (2) an example activity for use during the course to scaffold student learning in preparation for a specific aspect of the StoryMap.

Additionally, we share this draft conceptual schematic of the course to highlight the integration of the three knowledge domains detailed above and iterative nature of developing a StoryMap through course activities:

Read more about the Course Portfolio »