The U of M Global Change faculty are among the growing number of faculty who are designing their courses as
As such, we consider them to be
keeping their focus on their problems and goals, they scan their environment for, and then creatively combine, a set of resources that achieve their goals. To meaningfully examine the Global Change learning environment, we link the problems that motivate these faculty bricoleurs to create alternative learning environments with the goals for student learning that they believe will address their problems.
The majority of learning activities that the U of M Global Change faculty use to achieve their goals are informed by the following teaching principles:
In regard to their first teaching principle, the faculty members believe that students learn most effectively not when teachers act as "authority figures,"c: but rather when students carry out their own investigation and critical thought processes. Dave Halsing and Patrick Livingood, graduate student instructors (GSIs), articulated this difference by describing an activity that deals with ozone depletion. Dave explained that the students "look at real world numbers concerning CFC production and ozone depletion and we ask them to tinker with the percentage reduction after a certain year. They're told that they have to keep ozone at a certain level and then they run the model to find out what point it can't dip below." Patrick Livingood then contrasted this hands-on method with what would be a more passive one, saying, "Someone could have said in lecture, 'We're going to have to reduce ozone by 99.5% to keep skin cancer rates below this certain number,' and students would have forgotten about it five minutes later. It would have been a meaningless number."
Regarding their second teaching principle of enabling learning to occur in diverse ways, the bricoleurs feel that teaching the course in an interdisciplinary way is crucial. As Tim Killeen, professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences (now director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research), stated, an understanding of global change is shaped not by single, separate, tunneled view points but rather by a "panorama" of perspectives involving "a lot of complexity, a lot of issues."
To help students manage this complexity, the U of M faculty have incorporated interdisciplinarity in all of the Global Change learning activities, whether computer-dependent or computer-independent. The geographic modeling programs that students use in labs entail both social and scientific variables. The lecture sessions feature guest professors whose fields of expertise range from economics to geology. According to Lisa Curran, professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the eclectic range of student interest can vary from those concerned with "community development" to those concerned with "international policy."d:
See Discussion 1 for a student discussion of the interdisciplinary format. Having students run computer-based STELLA models is one of several activities that the U of M faculty use to create a learning environment that implements their teaching principles. These learning activities fall into three separate categories:
Computer-improved activities are activities that faculty believe work incrementally better with technology, but can still be implemented without it. In this course, these activities include web-based lecture notes, simple animations, and other aids that give students material in a uniform format and help them manage the amount of content presented to them.
Computer-independent activities--that is, activities that do not involve the use of computers, include:
The U of M faculty employ two learning activities in ways that would not be possible without computers. These activities are:
They described three advantages of having students use technology to collect and analyze data:
Patrick Livingood and Dave Halsing, graduate student instructors (GSIs), describe a lab that encapsulates these three advantages of technology. Students were asked to run a model concerning the real-world reduction in CFC emissions. Because the students themselves calculated the amount of reduction necessary to keep the death rate at an acceptable level, they truly understood the process they were studying. According to the GSIs, merely hearing these same statistics in lecture would not have had the same meaningful impact. Simultaneously, the technology performed mathematical and graphing tasks, thus allowing students to concentrate on the conceptual focus of the exercise.
And that was a really cool concept for a lot of the students, because they're mostly freshman and sophomores who haven't thought about how policies are written. And so you present everything in emission-based standards. This is how many tons of CFCs you can emit per year. And all of a sudden you come out on the other side and go, "Okay, three hundred thousand skin cancer deaths per year in the U.S. is acceptable, get there." And for them to think of it that way, it was like the whole world flipped over. It's much more powerful. Someone could have said in lecture, "We're going to have to reduce ozone by 99.5% to keep skin cancer rates below this certain number," and they would have forgotten about it five minutes later. It would have been a meaningless number.
Jean-Pierre (interviewer): When you say, "seeing the results," what are they seeing?
Dave Halsing: They can put in a value and then see a graph where skin cancer cases per year are plotted, for example. And then they say, "Okay, at the end there are still too many deaths." So they have to change the percentages. . . Without the technology, it'd be a lot more challenging. You certainly wouldn't get through as much material. You'd be spending a lot more time calculating numbers and producing graphs on your own, assuming you have students with the mathematical expertise to do that.
See Discussion 2 for a faculty discussion of computer-dependent learning activities.
On their part, the students we interviewed explained that these computer-based activities helped them understand global change systems better by:
For example, Sally and Amy, Global Change Students, told us that by using STELLA, they got a "working picture" of geographical and chemical processes that is superior to a static representation of those same processes. STELLA, they explained, animates the complex "connections" and "interactions" upon which their understanding of global change issues hinges.
See Discussion 3 for a student discussion of computer-dependent learning activities.
The U of M Global Change instructors use group work for both computer-dependent and computer-independent activities. According to the students we interviewed, group work is encouraged in the lectures and discussion sections but is demanded in the computer labs (see What goes on in the Global Change I course for a description of the key course activities). In the first two settings, group interaction allows students to get feedback on global change issues from a variety of perspectives. In the latter, it allows students to develop both technical and non-technical skills when using the modeling software. In both settings, group work facilitates independent learning. One student, Sally, told us about the importance of having peers in the class who could often explain a concept in a way that "made more sense than what the professor or GSI said." Because of this, she said it was often unnecessary to ask the graduate student instructor (GSI) or professor a question.j
Amy, also a Global Change student, concurred with Sally's assessment of the importance of group work. She emphasized the way that the eclectic backgrounds and academic interests of the students mirror the interdisciplinary framework of the course. She said that the purpose of group work for her and the other students was not to collaborate with students who had similar majors but to team up with students majoring in anything from pre-dentistry to music, thereby taking advantage of the vast array of viewpoints that were represented in the class.k
In the computer labs, the U of M faculty use group work to ensure that every student gets equal experience with the various facets of a given activity. For example, while doing group work with the geographic modeling programs, some students feel more comfortable working on the research aspect of the activity while others are more at home managing the technical factors involved. According to the students we interviewed, the instructors and GSIs require them to split up these tasks.l
One way the U of M bricoleurs have tried to improve upon the more traditional lecture is by providing students with online lecture supplements, which comprise a "computer-improved" learning activity. The Global Change home page provides students with on-line lecture summaries and also provides hyperlinks to websites related to particular lecture topics.m Eric Dey, a professor in the School of Education and member of the U of M Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, explains that by using the "exact same web material in the lecture that shows up on the web page" they are creating a much "more smoothly organized course."n The students told us that information on the Web provides a good complement to the lecture materialo because it offers a more dynamic version of a textbook and allows them to explore questions that lead to other questions.p
See Discussion 4 to read a faculty and student discussion of Global Change lectures.
a. A learning environment is a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuits of learning goals and problem-solving activities (Wilson, 1995).
b. "Bricoleur" is a French term meaning, roughly, "handyman." A bricoleur is adept at finding, or simply recognizing in their environment, resources that can be used to build something they believe is important and then combining these resources in a way that achieves their goals.
c. David Halsing, GSI: "It works partly through establishing myself as not an authority figure, but as sort of a guide through the territory. Where they have to walk and carry their own bag, but I can point out some interesting things along the way and make them think about them. For me, it's making them critical thinkers and not handing them anything on a platter. Even when we're doing computer work, I don't want to just say, 'click this,' and watch the student. I want them to begin thinking, forming goals. 'What am I trying to get to next? What do I know? What do I need to do to get there?' And this is especially important when we're doing a content part where they have to analyze the data they're looking at, not just handing it to them, but guiding them through, and getting them to think responsibly to come up with an interpretation of what they're looking at. That's what I try to do."
d. Lisa Curran, professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment: "I see some students that say, 'I'm going to work on community development,' and others who say, 'I want to go into international policy.' I have had students from either Global Change or my undergraduate class that say, 'I'm going to be in the London School of Economics.' Minorities are now in public policy-African American males-who you normally don't see in science courses."
e. The Global Change curricula incorporate the programs STELLA and ArcView 3.0 GIS into the pedagogy. STELLA is a software package designed to help students graphically build and control dynamic models. The STELLA program interface lets the user set up model elements (stocks and flows) to specify the relations between the elements, and then project how these elements will react over time. The program serves as a useful and flexible introduction to how computers may be used to model real-world problems and situations. STELLA is an important tool for understanding global change, modeling is the only way to predict the impact of global change. Currently, all predictions which scientists use for estimating the impact of environmental change on the Earth's future are based on dynamic models, like STELLA. (Quote taken from " Evaluation Plan for Development, Deployment, and Evaluation of an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum Development Testbed" A project funded by the National Science Foundation program on Institution-Wide Reform of Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology.
f. ArcView is a powerful program used in the real world. ArcView 3.0 GIS a computer mapping system designed by Environmental Systems Research Institute (ERSI), Inc. This geographic information system is designed to help the user to analyze data in a spatial context. GIS technology integrates common database operations such as query and statistical analysis with unique visualization and geographic analysis. ArcView is most often used as a tool by GIS specialist to analyze street networks (traffic planning and maintenance), natural resources (natural resource management, habitat assessment), land parceling (zoning), and facilities management (utility planning and maintenance). ArcView's powerful visual and analytical capabilities have also been used to as a pedagogical tool. (Quote taken from "Evaluation Plan for Development, Deployment, and Evaluation of an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum Development Testbed" A project funded by the National Science Foundation program on Institution-Wide Reform of Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology.
h. George Kling, professor of Biology: "This is just a computer-based laboratory to see what happens. We can't change the CO2 concentration in the world in an experiment. We can only do it with models and that, I think, is a step forward in information technology. I think that is probably the most important research tool that we have."
j. Sally, Global Change student: "But the lecture wasn't like a normal course, it was really relaxed. And you didn't necessarily have to ask the GSI a question because everybody else in lecture would give you their viewpoint or what they thought a better explanation would be. There's always someone in the discussion or the lab who could explain. And you could understand it once you got a whole bunch of people's explanations, you'd always find one that made more sense to you than what the professor or GSI said."
k. Amy, Global Change student: "I would say that the people in my lab were a pretty good representation of all the majors here at school. There were people from almost every school, if not every school, mostly from Literature, Science and Arts, but that's the biggest part of the University. There are many students from Engineering. There are many students in pre-dentistry or pre-med. I'm in the School of Music and also LS&A. We have to work in groups for the projects and very few people say, 'Well, I'm a poli sci major and you're a poli sci major, so let's work together on this.' We're all from these different backgrounds, but because the course is interdisciplinary, the students interested in taking it are. And I think that contributes to the class, because you get a lot of different viewpoints, or people come from different backgrounds and share different views on this."
l. Beth, Global Change student: "When we work in the computer labs, what tends to happen sometimes is students will group together and say, 'Okay, one person handles all the Web development, the other person handles research,' which is discouraged. The GSIs are trying to work with students and trying to get people to collaborate so everybody learns as much about the web development as they do about research."
m. The following two sentences excerpted from the Global Change website include hyperlinks that encourage students to explore issues more deeply. "The world's population is quickly becoming urbanized as people migrate from rural to urban areas, in search of a better life and better future for their children. In 1950, less than 30% of the world's population lived in cities; by 2025 that figure is expected to exceed 60%."
n. Eric Dey: "Faculty use the exact same material in the lecture that shows up on the web page which gives students two ways of getting the information. So, increasingly it's become a much more smoothly run course in the sense of having good, nicely formatted content."
o. Sam, Global Change student: "The material that they went through in an hour lecture tended to be really dense. And there's a lot of material. And so on the Web they would have lecture notes. And without that I wouldn't have been able to get as much out of it. I don't think we really had a book. So it was all based on lecture, and personally, I don't think I could have written as detailed notes as they gave me."
p. Amy, Global Change student: "They update the web page every day so if some new discovery comes out, you have that information. It's like the most possibly up-to-date textbook you can have. So, that information can be presented without the computer, but it's nice to have it. And on the website they have links to other science-related websites that you can go to. It's just so much more interactive. You can find what you want, and keep going. You have one question which leads you to another question."
q. Amy: "When we are asked the question, 'Why would cutting down the rainforests be harmful to us?' The answer seems to be, 'because of the oxygen we would lose.'"
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