Evaluating Risks, Benefits, and Hazards: A Site-Selection Simulation Activity

Christopher Andrew Berg, University of West Georgia
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An in-class jigsaw activity, in which students play the role of investigators consulting on behalf of an industrial client seeking an appropriate location to site a new facility to handle environmentally-damaging materials, allows students to interactively tie together key aspects of decision-making (e.g. hazardous Earth processes, prevention/mitigation strategies, sustainability, and the incorporation of multiple types of data to solve complex problems). This activity was designed to be completed within one ~75 minute class meeting, although aspects of this activity can easily be modified to accommodate shorter class periods. In small groups, students examine one of five possible proposed sites for the facility, evaluating it based on its described geologic, economic, and/or social criteria. Students are then scrambled into new, larger groups, in which representatives of all five proposed sites report their findings, and then the sites are collectively ranked in order of preference. Rankings between the larger groups are compared and discussed as a class, including topics such as a comparison of criteria and overall rankings, descriptions of most beneficial and most needed data, and comparison of the activity to "real-life" scenarios,

Key Words: natural hazards, environmental geology, jigsaw, risk assessment

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Upper-level undergraduate course in environmental geology (enrollment ~20); in modified form has also been used in introductory physical geology course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic knowledge of physical geology processes, sustainiability, aspects related to resource management

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is a stand-alone exercise. In the environmental geology course, it is used as a summary and review after the natural hazards unit.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Natural hazards: risks, prevention, and mitigation

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesis of ideas (how hazard assessments tie in to economic, social, political factors with regard to planning); critical evaluation (strengths and weaknesses of competing sites).

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups, evaluating incomplete datasets

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity consists of several stages, which may be modified to conform to classroom or time constraints (see suggestions).

Lead-in Informal Writing (~5 minutes) (can also be assigned as pre-class homework)
Students prepare responses to the posed topic: what factors (geological, social, economic, etc.) must be considered for the approval of new construction projects?

Stage 1 (Individual Site Reports) (~10 minutes)
Students are split evenly into five groups (for larger classes, multiple groups may be needed for each site). Each group should receive copies of the individual site description for their assigned site, as well as the Individual Site Report form. Within groups, students should discuss the natural hazard risks associated with their location, and any other issues (economic, political, etc.) associated with this location. Based on their collective findings, students prepare a recommendation for or against future development, and complete the Site Report.

Stage 2 - Advisory Board Discussion and Site Selection (~25 minutes)
The original groups are split into new groups that contain representatives from each of the original five sites. No more than two representatives from one site should be part of the new groupings. Each group receives a Site Selection form and chooses one member as a reporter. First, a representative from each of the five sites explains the benefits and drawbacks for their location, and whether their report recommends further consideration for this site. After hearing initial reports, the groups will rank each location in order of preference. The instructor should monitor group discussions to ensure good time management and check the degree of consensus among and between groups -- if time permits, and if groups are arriving at similar rankings without extended debate, the instructor can provide "breaking news" about one or two sites that may change a group's reasoning (see file below). Once groups reach consensus, the reporter will record their rankings on a whiteboard/posterboard at the front of the room (as applicable).

Stage 3 (Rankings & Discussion) (~20 minutes)
After all groups have posted their final rankings, the instructor will moderate a discussion that compares the results of the rankings, the criteria each group used to determine their rankings, the realism of this scenario to real-world examples, and the hypothetical locations used in this activity to actual U.S./global cities. The activity ends with a "minute-paper" individual reflective writing assignment; this writing assignment can also be used as a homework assignment or online CMS discussion prompt as appropriate.
Site Descriptions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB May31 17)
Individual Site Report form (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 12kB May31 17)
Stage 2 - Site Evaluations form (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 12kB May31 17)
Optional File - Breaking News (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 12kB May31 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Stage 1 (Individual Site Reports) - important to check that groups are roughly balanced in size, reinforce nature of jigsaw activities to ensure full participation within groups and make sure each member is prepared to communicate what the group has learned when they reach their new groups

Stage 2 (Advisory Board Discussion / Site Evaluations) - monitor group progress to make sure reports on individual sites move along to allow time for group discussion and ranking of sites

Stage 3 (Ranking and Discussion) - be mindful of time management to encourage groups to report out results promptly to leave time for instructor-moderated discussion


Assessment of student goals comes through review of submitted end-of-class minute papers summarizing the class discussions (these can also be assigned as homework or as discussion prompt for online discussions, as preferred).

References and Resources