Paper No. 276-10
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AS A CONTEXT FOR DEVELOPING EARTH SYSTEMS THINKING IN UNDERGRADUATE GEOSCIENCE COURSES
The survival of humanity is dependent on sustainably managing natural resources. Continued agricultural productivity and the ability to feed the earth’s growing population hinges on understanding how to manage these resources using a systems approach. A two-week module was collaboratively created to address this challenge by promoting students skilled in analyzing authentic data and using systems-thinking. An active learning environment allowed students to examine the differences between intensively managed agricultural landscapes (e.g. grazelands, conventional tillage) and forested or natural vegetative types, investigate physical and chemical properties of soil, work with geospatial data, and utilize systems thinking to consider the broader impacts of climate change on land management decisions. Development of learning activities was guided by a constructivist epistemology, which emphasizes the role of the learner in creating their own knowledge and acknowledges the role of previous knowledge in this process. The module provides instructors with an accessible way to transform a portion of their courses by replacing lecture-based content with an approach that embeds the critical thinking needed to address future resource challenges. To build content accessible to a variety of settings the module was piloted in three distinct courses and institutions: 1) an interdisciplinary Ecological Agriculture course at a Land Grant Institution, 2) a Geology of the Critical Zone course at a 4-year college, and 3) an Introduction to Environmental Science course at a 2-year community college. Classroom observation and student focus group data indicate that the level of student engagement ranged from low to high during the pilot, there was evidence of a reformed teaching philosophy held by the instructors, and students appreciated the active learning environment. Evaluation of the module summative assessment shows that student work addressed stated module learning goals, but that some had difficulty independently utilizing and interpreting site-specific geological data and applying systems thinking to a complex problem. The module has been revised to address these challenges and is available for adoption by instructors seeking to transform their undergraduate earth and environmental science courses.