2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


DAVIES VOLLUM, K. Siân, GREENGROVE, Cheryl L. and GAWEL, James E., Environmental Science Program, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington, Tacoma, Box 358436, 1900 Commerce St, Tacoma, WA 98402, ksdavies@washington.edu

University of Washington in Tacoma (UWT) was founded in 1990 as an upper-division public undergraduate institution. Established as an urban, commuter campus, it was designed to increase access to 4-year baccalaureate degrees for place-bound and time-bound students of the South Puget Sound region. Students entering the Environmental Science (ES) program are transfer students who have fulfilled science and math prerequisites at local community colleges. This split curriculum model is challenging as it means that students enter the ES program with varied scientific skills and experience. To ensure proficiency in the skills required in upper level ES courses and to focus teaching on areas where students lack experience, we have developed a skills-based transition course required of all entering juniors. The course is designed around qualitative and quantitative skills required for success in upper division ES courses: reading and writing scientific papers, library research, scientific project design, collection, synthesis and analysis of data and presentation skills. Students gain practical experience of skills through class and homework assignments, and an individually conducted research project. Initially, students were resistant to taking a course that focused on skills because they felt they already knew how to “do science”. We have overcome this resistance by adjusting our approach from a menu-based orientation and skills course to a survey and portfolio based course where students take part in documenting and reflecting on what they have learned. Two in-class surveys, one based on qualitative skills and the other based on quantitative skills enable us to assess student skill proficiency and raise student awareness of the skills required in future courses. A portfolio approach requires students to document their learning and demonstrate proficiency in each skill on the “skills list”. Our intent in introducing the surveys and portfolio was to achieve greater student buy-in by engaging students in such a way that they would realize they were learning valuable scientific skills. However, it had the added benefit of making the course more effective as we were able to adjust course material to focus on areas of student weakness and avoid repetition of material in which they had shown strengths.