Sustainability & Human Health: A Learning Community

Wagner College taught by Donald Stearns and Kim Worthy

Abstract

Designed for non-science majors, this learning community considers the impact of humans on the environment, with emphasis on the major environmental issues facing the health and survival of the present generation, including pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, the biodiversity crisis, acid deposition, and the desertification of once fertile lands. It is organized around two lecture courses, one dealing with biology, the other with literature, that focus on immediate environmental problems that, if not addressed, will threaten human survival.

The Environmental Biology course takes as its starting point the sustainability of human life in the present environmental context. Lectures and labs cover basic biology and chemistry that support human life (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, nucleic acids, water, air, and salts), the principles of Darwinian evolution, and the natural resources on which humans rely (plants, animals, soil, minerals, and fossil fuels). Ecological concepts are presented that reveal how nature functions as a vast interconnected web and laboratories convey scientific method and experimental design through the testing of water and air for pollutants, toxins, bacteria, and acids. The course also considers how existing technologies exacerbate stress on the ecosystem, including humans, and how new and alternative technologies can contribute to a higher, and more sustainable, quality of life for all species.

The Literature and the Environment course focuses on essays, poetry, and works of fiction, drama, and film that deal with the natural environment. The course brings the perspective of literary artists to the discussion of the cultural and social role that “nature” plays in human existence.

These two lecture courses are combined with a third element, a Reflective Tutorial. This is an interactive, discussion-based, and writing intensive course that challenges students to find connections between their learning in the other courses and their role as active citizens. Students participate in field trips to Dover Township, New Jersey, where the pollution in Toms River may be linked to a childhood cancer cluster, and to Washington, DC to meet and lobby a member of congress, as well as in a service learning experience.

What Basic Science is Covered?

In this learning community, the conceptual objectives of the science course (Environmental Biology) are as follows:

  • Understanding the resources required for human survival
  • Understanding the concept of energy and its relation to human survival
  • Understanding Darwinian evolution and its relation to survival of the human species
  • Understanding the concepts of exponential population growth and sustainability
  • Understanding overpopulation, over-consumption, and the biosphere’s carrying capacity
  • Understanding the fallacy of praying to the god of technology
  • Understanding the connections among organisms within a community
  • Understanding the connections between humans and natural ecosystems
  • Understanding the present state of resource depletion
  • Understanding the present state of pollution and human health
  • Understanding the scientific process through laboratory exercises
  • Understanding the role of science in addressing large, complex, contested, and unresolved public issues
  • Understanding that living sustainably is the only viable option for continued human survival
  • Understanding how to approach sustainability realistically

While above are cited the conceptual objectives of Environmental Biology, the basic science includes the following topics in lectures and labs:

Basic science topics covered in lecture:

  • Atoms, molecules, and chemical bonds
  • Energy and energy transformations necessary to construct molecules
  • Biological molecules required for human survival (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids)
  • Nonbiological molecules required for human survival (water, salts)
  • Darwinian evolution through natural selection
  • Exponential population growth
  • Carrying capacity of an environment
  • Overpopulation, overconsumption, and the biosphere’s carrying capacity
  • Biosphere primary production as a finite concept
  • Natural services provided by natural ecosystems
  • Renewable resources (fisheries, forests, soil, potable water)
  • Nonrenewable resources (fossil fuels, minerals)
  • Pollution defined
  • Water pollution and human health
  • Air pollution and human health (smog, acid deposition, global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, indoor air pollution)
  • Land pollution (synthetic chemical pollutants, solid waste disposal, hazardous waste disposal)
  • Worldwide food production for humans
  • The scientific method and its failure to determine causation in real, multivariate situations
  • Sustainability
  • Economic indicators versus quality of life/sustainability indicators
  • The use of appropriate technologies and environmental public policies to approach sustainability (real examples)

Basic science topics covered in labs:

  • Experimental design and the scientific method
  • Water quality testing using the coliform test for the presence of coliform bacteria in water samples
  • Introduction to bacteria and bacterial cultures
  • Water quality testing using Winkler titration for determination of dissolved oxygen in water samples
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Functional anatomy of the human respiratory system
  • Smoking and its effects on human health and sexual potency
  • Effects of acid rain (sulfuric acid) on various materials
  • Effects of air pollutants (hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide) on various materials
  • Temperature inversion
  • Toxicity testing using LD50
  • Alternative power sources and renewable energy

Learning Goals

The course addresses the following learning goals of Wagner College:

  • critical thinking skills that enable students to analyze information and develop approaches that are new to them and lead to a better understanding of their world
  • competency in learning by doing, where ideas and field-based experiences are related, reflected in writing and discussion, and applied in ways that improve student’s world
  • an appreciation of different modes of inquiry that aid in the continuing search for knowledge, understanding, and truth
  • competence in the skills of listening, speaking, and writing, to promote effective
  • communication and self-expression

The Course

Cover Art for Sustainability and Human Health

Syllabus

Syllabus for Sustainability and Human Health

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Course Timeline and Assignments

Course Timeline and Assignments for Sustainability and Human Health

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Course Format: General Information

This learning community considers human impacts on the environment with emphasis on the major environmental issues facing the present generation, including pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, the biodiversity crisis, acid deposition and desertification of once fertile lands. Environmental Biology takes an anthropocentric (human-centered) approach towards understanding the historically unique situation of the present generation in determining not only individual survival, but the future of humankind as a species. Ecological concepts are presented to show how nature works as a web of interconnected factors. We consider combining environmentally safe technology with an understanding of nature and of public policy, to achieve sustainability without polluting the environment or further endangering human health. Literature and the Environment focuses on essays, poetry, and works of fiction, drama, and film on the environment. The course brings individual and broad social perceptions by great literary artists to the discussion of what nature means to us all.

Course Description

This course focuses on development of college-level communication skills through reading, writing, discussions, and presentations stemming from issues raised in the learning community. Specific course objectives:

  • To respond originally and lucidly to a series of reading-based, experience-based, and research-based topics
  • To learn how to compose, by relating writing to perceiving, thinking, and expressing
  • To use the composing process to focus and develop perspective on any topic
  • To acquire the habits of supporting assertions, of building controlled paragraphs, and of revising and editing so that sentences are complex yet clear
  • To learn to write for one another; to read your own writing to others; to listen seriously to what your classmates wrote; to give and receive positive criticism (Toby Fulwiler, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 1986, page 104)
  • To develop a sharp, open, and analytical mind (Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, back cover, 2001)

Learning Community Management (Policies, Procedures, and Logistics)

While each of the two instructors in the learning community is responsible for his/her lecture course, they meet during the summer to go over all course materials together and coordinate the lecture topics. They also draw up a weekly outline for the entire learning community, making certain that deadlines for all three courses do not co-occur. In this fashion, the learning community is structured as a single educational entity instead of contrived from independent courses with little integration.

The Two Lecture Courses

SENCER factors that are part of this learning community and that are embedded in the Environmental Biology course include oral lecture exams (to test for conceptual understanding), and student-active laboratory exercises relevant to and demonstrative of the lecture topics, including an “ecotour” of a local wastewater treatment facility after the students have been introduced to wastewater treatment as an academic subject. During each lecture, attempts are made by the instructor to involve the students instead of allowing them to act as passive recipients of information. At the very least, students are asked questions during every lecture, to keep them focused on the subject being presented.

In Literature and the Environment, the classroom format is largely discussional and guided by the instructor. Impromptu quizzes are always a possibility, which helps in terms of student preparation prior to class.

Reflective Tutorial: Introduction

With respect to Reflective Tutorial, the experiential components, classroom discussions/activities, writing assignments, research, and web page presentations are carefully shaped by the instructors to bring relevance of the subject matter to the students and to achieve desired student learning outcomes (critical thinking, experiential learning and reflection, development of college-level communication skills, sensitivity to diversity issues, information literacy).

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: The Toms River Project

One set of outside-the-classroom experiences is collectively referred to as The Toms River Project, where the students focus on the groundwater pollution problem in Toms River, New Jersey, and its possible association with a childhood cancer cluster there. Through class trips, arranged by both instructors, to Toms River and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as Manhattan, the students interview community activists, corporate representatives, government scientists, and state and federal public officials associated with this environmental/human health issue. All trips require two vans, with the instructors as drivers, as well as one or two student-driven cars. During the first day trip to Toms River about a month into the semester, the students are given two back-to-back presentations in a lecture hall at a local community college, totaling three hours. These two presentations are given not by the instructors but instead by community activists who have formed community organizations as a result of the childhood cancer cluster in their midst. After a brief lunch, the students return to the lecture hall, where they remain throughout the afternoon, interviewing citizens who have agreed to stop by that afternoon. Instead of a seemingly irrelevant academic exercise, the students meet actual cancer victims, parents and grandparents of children who have died of cancer, corporate officials who present their perspectives, as well as government officials-all with distinct and usually contradictory opinions regarding the human health situation in Toms River. The next Reflective Tutorial class becomes a heated discussion as the students weigh in regarding the situation in Toms River and who the villains are (the corporations who polluted the government regulators who did not regulate? the policy makers who did not make it illegal to pollute at the time). During the second day trip to Toms River, the students travel to a Superfund site, where they listen to a two-hour presentation from officials of one of the corporations responsible for much of the groundwater pollution in the area, to gain the corporate perspective. The students then tour the Superfund site that the corporation is in the process of cleaning up. On another occasion, the students return to Toms River to attend a night meeting of the Citizens Action Committee on the Childhood Cancer Cluster. Here, they witness something like a town meeting with a focus on the childhood cancer cluster. Officials and experts present the latest information regarding the polluted groundwater and possible connections with the childhood cancer cluster. Concerned citizens also speak, often emotionally, regarding the situation. The students thus witness a drama unfolding in the community, one that could happen anywhere. These acts of witnessing definitely heighten student concern for what goes on in the community, as evidenced by the Reflective Tutorial discussions that follow. During a day trip to Trenton (capital of New Jersey), the students meet with several scientists familiar with the Toms River situation, at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Here, they learn the usefulness of science in discerning cause and effect. They also learn the limits of science in addressing large, complex, contested, and unresolved public issues. While in Trenton, the students tour the state facility that chemically analyzes the drinking water in the state, where they learn that the process is much more sophisticated than they had previously thought. The last trip of The Toms River Project is to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Manhattan, where the students meet with the EPA officials who have federal oversight regarding the cleanup operations for the two Superfund sites in Toms River.

Near the end of the semester, the students are required to explore and develop a paper based on the multiple frames of reference of The Toms River Project. In addition to accurately summarizing the various positions taken by the parties involved, each student must present his/her own perspective, using notes garnered during these trips as well as recently developed critical thinking skills. Perspectives must be supported and persuasive.

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: The Environmental Public Policy Project

The major (15-page minimum) research paper required for this learning community is one dealing with environmental public policy. Each student chooses from a prepared list of research titles. In practically every case, each student is required to include his/her own recommended changes in U.S. environmental policy to promote sustainability and human health. The paper is prepared using the style recommended by the Modern Language Association (MLA), with details regarding formatting included in the syllabus. Outside of class, each student meets individually with one of the instructors (D.E.S.) three times during the semester to go over the first three drafts of the paper. During each conference, the instructor goes over the draft with the student while the student is in his/her office, instead of handing the student a graded paper, to allow the student an opportunity to understand where (s)he made fundamental composition errors and how to improve the writing to effect better communication. As part of this conference, the instructor often requests that the student read portions of the paper aloud, so that missing elements become apparent to the student, followed by guidance to enhance the draft. While most of the research effort is expected within the first couple of months of the semester-the third draft is due by week 9 of a 15-week semester-the fourth and final draft of the research paper is due the last day of class.

By the seventh week of the semester, each student has selected from his/her research thus far a particular environmental issue that (s)he feels strongly about. The student prepares a carefully worded letter stating his/her position on the issue, with supporting evidence regarding the student’s recommended changes in U.S. policy. After at least two revisions, the letter is sent to both U.S. senators and the Member of the House who represent the student in Congress. Later in the semester, as part of an overnight class trip to Washington, D.C., each student meets with one of these three Congressional members or the environmental expert on the member’s staff, to discuss the contents of the researched letter. The appointments, as well as the hotel reservations, are arranged ahead of time with the help of the departmental secretary of one of the instructors. The costs are borne by grant money or by the college. Two instructor-driven vans, as well as a student car or two, are used for the trip, arriving the afternoon before the meetings. The hotel is located near a Metropolitan Transit Authority subway stop, so that the students can use the subway for local transportation. Time allowing, the students meet with lobbying nongovernment organizations with contrasting environmental perspectives (e.g., Public Citizen and the American Interprise Institute), to understand the significance of special interest groups in shaping federal legislation. All congressional appointments are made for the same day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. On that day, the students travel by Metro to Union Station, which is within walking distance of the appropriate office buildings, then proceed in small groups to their indicated buildings and individual appointments. Union Station serves as a common meeting place between meetings, as does the Senate cafeteria in the basement of one of the Senate office buildings. After the last appointment, all students rendezvous at the hotel for the return trip to campus. As with the other experiential components of this learning community, the trip to Washington, D.C. becomes a discussional focal point at the next Reflective Tutorial session.

Near the end of the semester, two Reflective Tutorial sessions (three hours total) are spent in one of the computer labs, where the students are instructed regarding webpage design, taught by an instructor with such expertise in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Applications. (The instructor is given an honorarium through college funds for this service.) By the end of the workshop, each student has created his/her own web page, which includes the title and abstract of the major research paper, as well as student contact information for those wishing more information. During the three-hour final exam period for Reflective Tutorial, the students give presentations of their research findings. The campus and surrounding community, including those who had agreed to be interviewed during the semester, are invited. Each student displays his/her web page on a screen, summarizes the research paper, and addresses questions from the audience. The students feel a need to prepare, as they are never sure who will be in the audience and which questions will be asked. This experience gives the students a sense of empowerment-many for the first time-as they are the “experts” and are asked to provide their well-considered perspectives.

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: Working a Shift at a Food Coop

During the second week of the semester, the students are taken by instructor-driven van in two groups to the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn. There they are introduced to a successful, consumer-run, “green” business that shows by real example how individuals can have more control over, in this case, food choices. During the semester, each student is required to work at least one three-hour shift at the food coop, where (s)he is exposed to concerned consumers and environmentalists. Each student is responsible for his/her own transportation to the coop, and they are asked to go in pairs if possible. This activity becomes a discussional focus during Reflective Tutorial.

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: Camping Trip

From a Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon during the semester, the students are taken to Worthington State Forest for an overnight camping trip, for bonding purposes and also to show the students the natural beauty that is at stake as environmental legislation is being shaped, i.e., the importance of being actively involved in the political process. One instructor driven van is used, and the remaining students carpool for the trip. Each student is asked to contribute towards food and campsite reservations, approximately $10 per student. Camping equipment is student-owned or borrowed for the occasion. The camping trip includes an ecotour or guided hike.

Experiential Component

As part of Reflective Tutorial, you are expected to include an experiential component that takes place outside the traditional classroom setting. The experience should relate to the general theme of the learning community (aspects of environmental issues). The goal is to provide a mechanism for each of you to understand more clearly the relevance of environmental issues through direct involvement that allows for reflection. Such reflection can be communicated via informal writing and can become part of the general discussion in this course. Part of the experiential component of this learning community is project oriented and is called The Toms River Project, because it deals with various aspects of water pollution in Dover Township, New Jersey, where Toms River is located. This water pollution may be linked to a childhood cancer cluster found there. You are required to attend all group trips associated with The Toms River Project–expected to include three Fridays. You will also attend an evening meeting, in Toms River, of the Citizens Action Committee on Childhood Cancer Cluster (CACCCC), yet to be scheduled. You will receive detailed information regarding The Toms River Project in Reflective Tutorial.

The experiential component will also require a group field trip to Washington, D.C., where you will meet a member of Congress who represents you or the environmental expert on that politician’s staff. At that meeting, tentatively set for Thursday, October 30, 2003, the two of you will discuss an environmental issue stemming from the major research paper an issue that you will have researched prior to your trip. You will bring with you a carefully worded letter (see Letter to Member of Congress below) stating your position on the issue, with supporting evidence. The letter will be addressed to your selected Congressional member and will be the focus of your meeting with him/her. Dr. Stearns will describe this experiential component in class.

A community service activity required of all LC-K students will involve working at the incredible Park Slope Food Coop for approximately 1.5 hours. Dr. Worthy will describe this experiential component in class. In addition to these required trips, several optional activities are available for interested students. The instructors will describe them throughout the semester.

Attendance and individual involvement in the required activities will be evaluated as part of the active participation grade. For students who, at the end of the semester, are borderline between grades, their having participated in the optional activities will be considered. Failure to meet the minimal requirements of the experiential component will automatically result in Incomplete if you are passing at the end of the semester; otherwise it will result in an F for the course.

Writing Intensive Tutor and the Writing Center: To assist you in mastering college-level writing skills, Ms. Sarah DiBiase is your writing intensive tutor (WIT). Sarah took this learning community as a freshman and was a leader during our camping trip last fall. She is well prepared to help you with all your assigned papers. See your Writing Center manual for Sarah’s contact information and scheduled hours. A WIT is an undergraduate trained to go over with you any ideas you have and to read your papers for coherence before you hand them in. You can call 420-4234 for an appointment with your WIT in the Writing Center, part of the Horrmann Study Center. To get there, inside the library go through the turnstile and straight past the reference desk to the stairwell; go downstairs and follow the signs. It is highly recommended that you get your WIT’s valuable input before you turn in any of your assigned papers, including required drafts of your research paper. Be aware that it is not Sarah’s job to write papers for you or to correct all your grammatical errors. However, she can certainly help you to achieve college-level writing skills. Use your grammar handbook and dictionary in this regard as well. If you are unable to meet with Sarah, you can drop by the Writing Center during open hours to meet with any WIT on duty. You can also e-mail your papers to have a WIT look at them, at writing@wagner.edu. Your use of the Writing Center and any of the WITs will be monitored and taken into consideration as part of your active participation grade in this course. Director of the Wagner College Writing Center is Dr. Kim Worthy (Phone: 390-3298; e-mail: kworthy@wagner.edu). You are expected to avail yourself of these services on a regular basis. The Writing Center has a web page with valuable writing resources. Check it out, especially the Online Writing Lab link. The web address is www.wagner.edu/writingcenter.html .

Research Coordinator and the Horrmann Study Center: To assist you in the research process, your RFT undergraduate research intensive tutor (RIT) is Ms. Jessica Friswell. Jessica took this learning community last fall. She is also being trained in library research. She can tell you how to succeed. She is available by appointment through the Horrmann Library Reference Desk (Phone: 390-3402). For general research assistance in information retrieval, please see Mr. Francis Polizzi (Phone: 390-3377; e-mail: fpolizzi@wagner.edu), Research Coordinator, located on the first floor of the Horrmann Library. Procedure for the short paper and all research paper drafts:

(a) Prepare your document using a computer and a word-processing program like Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, formatting as follows:

Margins: 1 inch left, right, top, bottom
Font face ‘ Times New Roman
Font size ‘ 12 pt
Double spacing
Title page: Title of paper, your name, RFT (W) LC-K1 or K2, name of your instructor (K1: Dr. Stearns; K2: Dr. Worthy), the date the paper is turned in, label designating short paper or research paper (including which draft)
Pagination with page 1 beginning on the first page beyond Abstract

(b) Edit the document carefully before you turn it in. See, in this packet, Grading Standards for English 110 and Beyond, Criteria for the Three Types of Papers, MLA Documentation Workshop, and Papers Checklist. (See Table of Contents for page numbers.) Consult A Writer’s Reference for appropriate editorial corrections. Consult your writing intensive tutor (WIT) in the Writing Center, as well as your personal Writing Center manual, for more details. Consult The American Heritage Dictionary for spelling and use of appropriate words.

The Short Paper: One short paper will be assigned during the semester. Instructions are provided below. The paper must be prepared using the MLA style recommended by the Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Consult A Writer’s Reference and your WIT for help in structuring the paper. Correct formatting, spelling and grammatical construction are expected. Evaluation of the short paper will be based on writing quality and degree of effort. A late paper will be docked five points for each day late, calculated as the number of days after the deadline that the paper is turned in and found suitable for evaluation. Note: Your paper will be returned to you unread and docked points if it does not meet the formatting requirements cited above.

Topic of Short Paper (four full pages, minimum): Multilogical Problems A Case Study

MULTILOGICAL PROBLEMS. Multidimensional problems that can be analyzed and approached from more than one (often from conflicting) points of view or frames of reference. For example, many ecological problems have a variety of dimensions to theméíhistorical, social, economic, biological, chemical, moral, political. A person who is comfortable thinking through multilogical problems is comfortable thinking within multiple perspectives, …practicing intellectual empathy, and thinking across disciplines and domains (Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking 405.)

Explore and develop a paper based on the multiple frames of reference of The Toms River Project, an environmental/human health/corporate issue. Consider the points of view of the victims and their families, corporations, scientists, and government officials. You must accurately summarize the various positions taken by the parties involved. Towards the end of the paper, persuasively present your own perspective, arguing your position. Back up your argument using your notes from presentations and responses to questions during the trips associated with The Toms River Project, as well as the discussions in Reflective Tutorial. This paper will be described further in class. Include original title, introduction, several main paragraphs with concise quotations where appropriate, and conclusion. All borrowed language must be in quotation marks and cited according to MLA guidelines. All borrowed ideas, paraphrased, must also be cited.

Letter to Members of Congress: Decide your personal view regarding an environmental issue related to your research paper, and provide a written summary of that view no later than October 3rd (the due date for the 2nd draft of your research paper). Carefully prepare a thoughtful letter describing your position, with evidence supporting your viewpoint. Include some of your recommendations for change in U.S. environmental law and policy that stem from your research paper. Make three copies of the letter, one for each of your senators and your Congressional representative. You must see a WIT in the Writing Center before the due date, Thursday, October 16th. The WIT must go over the letter with you and must sign this draft of the letter. A revised, clean copy of the original letter and the signed first draft are both due in RFT class Thursday, October 16th. While this letter will not be graded as a short paper, it will be assessed for overall effort, as well as evidence of critical analysis and persuasive argument; that evaluation will constitute part of the active participation grade.

Journal Entries: On occasion, you will be assigned specific study topics designed to enhance your understanding of environmental issues and critical thinking. The general goal of this journal writing is to encourage an introspective awareness. Please note that this is not a diary: do not lapse into personal matters unless they directly relate to the study topic. While each journal entry will not be graded, there will be a subjective assessment of overall effort and general improvement with time, and that evaluation will constitute part of the active participation grade.

Linking Science and Social Issues

Why is Sustainability and Human Health a SENCER Model?

Designed for nonscience students, a learning community entitled Earth Island: Environmental Issues and their Literary Portrayals focuses on environmental/human health issues and the “not optional” concept of sustainability. It considers human impacts on the environment with
emphasis on the major environmental issues facing the present generation, including pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, the biodiversity crisis, acid deposition and desertification of once fertile lands. Both lecture courses in this learning community are designed to focus from biological and literary perspectives on present, real, global, environmental issues that, if untreated, threaten human survival.

The Environmental Biology course takes an anthropocentric (human-centered) approach towards understanding the historically unique situation of the present generation in determining not only individual survival, but the future of humankind as a species. Ecological concepts are presented to show how nature works as a web of interconnected factors. We consider combining environmentally safe technology with an understanding of nature and of public policy, to achieve sustainability without polluting the environment or further endangering human health. The Literature and the Environment course focuses on essays, poetry, and works of fiction, drama, and film on the environment. The course brings individual and broad social perceptions by great literary artists to the discussion of what nature means to us all.

These two lecture courses, combined with a third reflective course (Reflective Tutorial), the labs, and the experiential components, make the entire learning community an educational package of high relevance to today’s students, who live in a world that for the first time in history demands a reconsideration of the human condition with respect to the environment, with the future of humankind hanging in the balance. By designing Reflective Tutorial as a highly interactive course that is discussion-intensive and writing-intensive regarding the general environmental/human health theme, by emphasizing the development of critical thinking skills and a heightened sense of concerned citizenry, by challenging students to find connections between philosophies regarding nature and daily activities with environmental consequences, and by shaping the outside-the-classroom experiential components to show the relevance of the theme to the students, this learning community truly stimulates such reconsideration, as the students begin to view themselves as citizens who must make a difference in the larger community.

Evaluating Learning

Research Paper

A research paper dealing with environmental public policy is required as part of this course. The fourth and final draft of the paper must be at least 15 full pages of text (not including the title page, Abstract section, or References section). The paper must include at least five references that Dr. Stearns has approved. The paper must be prepared using the style recommended by the Modern Language Association (MLA). Consult A Writer’s Reference and your WIT for help in structuring each draft. Do not include blank pages or covers for the paper. Do not place the paper in a cover of any kind. Please turn it in stapled. Please save your file on diskette for ease during the rewriting/revision process. Three times during the semester you will meet individually with Dr. Stearns to review drafts of your research paper. To each conference bring a folder containing photocopies of all cited reference materials used for the paper. Dr. Stearns will be looking primarily at (1) substance indicating thorough, carefully considered research; (2) thesis development through clear and logical organization of paragraphs; and (3) mechanics, which includes correct formatting, spelling and grammatical construction, ­evidence of proofreading and editing. He will also evaluate your conceptual understanding of the research during each conference. These conference evaluations will become a part of the overall grade for the research paper, along with an evaluation of the fourth and final draft. Dr. Stearns will be looking for substantial improvement with each draft. Late papers will be docked five points for each day late, calculated as the number of days after the deadline that the paper is turned in and found suitable for evaluation. Note: Your paper will be returned to you unread and docked points if it does not meet the formatting requirements cited earlier. Any additional instructions will be given in class.

Web Page Presentation of the Environmental Public Policy Project

While attending two workshops regarding the setting up of web pages on the Internet, you will create your own web page and post the abstract of your research paper on the web. Your instructors will provide more detailed information in class regarding preparation for this component of the Reflective Tutorial. At the end of the semester, during the Reflective Tutorial final exam period, you will present your research to the campus and community, using your web page as a visual aids. Be prepared to answer questions from the audience.

Reflective Tutorials: Sample Assignments

During the summer before the fall semester begins, the two instructors prepare an information packet that is mailed to the students preregistered for this learning community. Included in the packet are assigned readings that inform the students regarding the environmental/human health issue in Toms River, New Jersey-a major component of the learning community. The packet also includes the assignment of identifying and obtaining biographical profiles and contact information regarding the student’s three representative members of Congress (two from the U.S. Senate, one from the U.S. House of Representatives) by accessing www.votesmart.org.

Three formal writing assignments are required during the semester:

(1) a major research paper dealing with environmental public policy (minimum of 15 full pages and four drafts)

The titles of the major research papers are prepared by the instructors before the term begins and are specific enough to provide each student with a sharp focus for his/her research. At the same time, the titles are designed to cover a broad range of environmental policies with minor overlap. From each title, it is clear to the student that (s)he must prepare an original research paper that (s)he understands-not merely compile one-as the paper almost always calls for the student’s own recommended changes in U.S. environmental public policy to promote sustainability and human health. An added incentive for conceptual understanding of the research paper is the requirement that a letter containing the essence of this research with the student’s recommendations be prepared and mailed to federal representatives and discussed with (usually) the environmental expert on a U.S. senator’s staff while the student is in Washington, D.C. as part of this learning community. To help the students with their research, I maintain in my office a personal library of approximately 300 books dealing with environmental issues from different perspectives. The students use that resource by signing out books. At the end of the semester, the student receives a grade of Incomplete if the books are not returned. Although the Incomplete automatically becomes an F by the end of the succeeding semester if the books are not returned by then, that situation has not happened in my six years of teaching this learning community.

Below is a sample list of research topics for the major paper:

Topic 1: The Private and Corporate Use of Public Lands: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health (note: for example, the Healthy Forest Initiative)

Topic 2: The Use of Agricultural Lands: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 3: Drinking Water: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 4: Marine Fisheries: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 5: Hazardous Waste Disposal: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 6: The Nuclear Power Industry and Its Polluting Byproducts: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 7: The Coal Industry and its Polluting Byproducts: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 8: The Automotive Industry and Its Polluting Byproducts: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 9: The Petroleum/Natural Gas Industry and Its Polluting Byproducts: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 10: Wind Power as a Renewable Energy Resource: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 11: Solar Energy as an Energy Resource: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 12: Hydropower as a Renewable Energy Resource: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 13: Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Global Climate Change: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 14: The Introduction of Synthetic Chemicals into the Environment: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 15: Fuel Cell Technology: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 16: Chemical Destruction of Stratospheric Ozone: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 17: Species and Ecosystem Protection: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health (note: e.g., the Critical Habitat Program of the Endangered Species Act)

Topic 18: The Use of Drugs on Livestock: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 19: Genetically Engineered Foods: U.S. Environmental Public Policy and Recommended Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health

Topic 20: Campaign Financing by Individuals and Special Interest Groups: U.S. Law and Recommended Policy Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health for All Citizens

Topic 21: Media, the Public Relations Industry, and the Shaping of Public Opinion: U.S. Law and Recommended Policy Changes to Promote Sustainability and Human Health for All Citizens

Topic 22: In What Ways Might Environmental Innovations be Stopped in Their Tracks or Allowed to Transform Society?

Topic 23: Economic Systems in an Era of Limited Resources

Topic 24: The Comparative Influence of the Individual Citizens and Special Interest Groups in the Shaping of the Present Administration’s U.S. Environmental Public Policies

Topic 25: The Environmental Record of the George W. Bush Administration: the Pros and Cons of Policy Initiatives, Bills Signed into Law, and Executive Decisions

(2) a short paper dealing with multilogical problems, using The Toms River Project as a case study (minimum of four full pages and two drafts).

To enhance the development of critical thinking skills, each student is assigned to explore and develop a paper based on the multiple frames of reference of The Toms River Project, an environmental/human health/corporate issue. The assignment is to consider the points of view of the victims and their families, corporations, scientists, and government officials, accurately summarize the various positions taken by the parties involved, then persuasively present one’s own perspective, arguing one’s position. The argument must be backed up by the student’s notes from presentations and responses to questions during the trips associated with The Toms River Project, as well as the discussions in Reflective Tutorial.

(3) a letter to members of Congress stating the student’s position regarding an aspect of environmental public policy, with evidence supporting that position (minimum of one full page and two drafts)

This assignment requires each student to decide a personal view regarding an environmental issue, use his/her research from the major research paper to support that view and make recommendations for changes in U.S. policy that enhance sustainability and human health, concisely present that view and proposed recommendations in a letter to his/her representative members of Congress, and be prepared to discuss the letter with a representative U.S. senator or the environmental expert on that senator’s staff during a trip to Washington, D.C. The letter thus requires the student to think critically regarding proposed legislative changes. It also requires the student to think about and understand the research (s)he has been doing with regards to the major research paper.

During a three-hour workshop on webpage design, each student creates his/her own web page, which includes the title and abstract of the major research paper, as well as student contact information for those wishing more information. During the three-hour final exam period for Reflective Tutorial, the students give presentations of their research, each displaying his/her web page on a screen, summarizing the research paper, and addressing questions from the audience. The purposes of this assignment are to enhance the development of college-level communication skills and to provide an environment in which the student can experience a sense of empowerment as (s)he is turned to as the “expert” regarding the researched topic.

During the semester, students are also assigned specific study topics designed to enhance understanding of environmental issues and critical thinking. Their responses are recorded in journal entries and/or critical thinking logs. The general goal of journal writing is to encourage an introspective awareness without lapsing into personal matters that would be more appropriate for a diary. While each journal entry is not graded, there is a subjective assessment of overall effort and general improvement with time, and that evaluation becomes part of the active participation grade, which is 25 percent of the final course grade. Below is the semester’s assignment for each student’s critical thinking log (adapted from Dr. Carol Giancarlo/Dr. Peter Facione Critical Thinking as Reasoned Judgment):

Critical Thinking Log

WHY: Good thinking can be found in many people, even those who have not had the benefit of formal education. In some cases, its absence, even in those who have received many years of schooling or “scripted training,” is why people fail to mature as thinkers, and why their reasoning, regardless of their social status, leaves much to be desired. Rather than mindlessly repeating one’s own errors of reasoning, or being misled by the errors of others, this exercise will help us to attempt, through self-correction, alone or with the help of others, to reflect on our own thinking. By applying critical thinking skills to the products of one’s own and others’ critical thinking-namely the judgments formed-one is able to analyze, interpret, explain, and evaluate thinking by standards of good reasoning. We will trace the reasons given for judgments and opinions to improve our own thinking.

WHAT: Using sheets of blank printer paper stapled together (you can recycle used sheets), keep a legibly handwritten weekly log. Write in pen. Keep notes in this informal log book as needed, jotting down the date and time of every entry. Feel free to make pictures, symbols, or diagrams if helpful in organizing ideas. Cross out things as you see fit, but do not erase anything. You’ll be keeping a record of the process and progress of your own interpretations, analyses, inferences, evaluations, and explanations of your own and other people’s critical thinking, in sketchy ways, in these preliminary notes and drawings. Since this log is about reflecting on thinking, these preliminary writings are valuable markers against which you can evaluate the progress and development of your own reasoning. Each week, when your thinking about your own or other people’s thinking becomes more developed, compose a final paragraph for that week on lined college-ruled notebook paper. The week’s final paragraph must include your reflection and evaluation of the thinking involved in addition to the date and description of events or circumstances.

HOW: Your log book should contain daily reflections on your own thinking, and that of others, about serious and significant subjects such as those raised in the Paul and Elder textbook (Paul, Richard and Linda Elder. Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001). For example, think of an important problem in your or a friend or relative’s life, a personal or work relationship problem, or a problem related to such issues as race, sexual orientation, smoking, alcohol or drug use, economic conditions, war and peace, the environment, pornography, or the quality of your education or newsgathering, then reflect on it clearly. Trace your own reflections weekly. Each week’s final long paragraph must relate to a striking experience with regard to your own thinking critically about your own or someone else’s thinking on one of these serious subjects. What is striking for you might not be striking for someone else. It is YOUR experience and YOUR reflection that this log is intended to record. Regrettable though it may be, the most fruitful learning experiences are often the negative ones. In responding to the week’s question you should first strive to find experiences of weak, poor, flawed, fallacious, uncritical, or erroneous thinking in yourself or others. On the other hand, since it takes some familiarity with quality to appreciate and to seek excellence, some of the entries in the log must also be about strong, correct, high quality experiences that are striking to you because of how good the critical thinking was. The final paragraph for each week must include your own evaluation (with supporting reasoning) of the quality of thinking being discussed.

Questions for Each Week

In your final paragraph draw conclusions on the weekly question (in relation to some significant topic), as well as on everything else you reflected upon that week.

10/16: What else should we consider? (Ask someone who agrees with you.)
10/21: What does making that decision imply? (Ask yourself.)
11/6: What evidence would disprove our view? (Ask yourself.)
11/18: Seriously, how good is the evidence for that? (Ask anyone, not yourself.)
12/2: Why do you think that? (Ask another student who is not in this course.)

Each week you will hand in both your stapled log book as well as a final long paragraph, on notebook paper, showing evidence of your reasoned contemplation of the quality of the thinking you’ve encountered that week. Come prepared to briefly discuss the results.

Environmental Biology: Sample Assignments

For this course, the students receive a 150-page outline of lecture notes prepared by the instructor from approximately 30 sources. These lecture notes comprise the main lecture components. A major assignment is a thorough understanding of the fundamental concepts presented in those notes. The textbook serves as supplementary material that the students refer to for a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter. There are an additional nine assigned readings, nine assigned videos, and one assigned audiotape. During the semester, the students complete five exams in this course (three lecture exams, two lab exams). The exams are specifically designed to test for conceptual understanding as well as basic science knowledge.

Literature and the Environment: Sample Assignments

For this course there are two analytical papers that are required, one on Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and the other on Rick Bass’s novella, The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness. In addition, there is class writing, both creative and expository, in the form of impromptu assignments and quizzes as well as written homework assignments. Readings and discussion of the readings form a critical component of the course. In addition to four books, there are 11 required readings and four assigned films.

Sample Assignments

Sample Assignments

Download (PDF, 25KB)

Evaluation and Assessment Strategies

The SALG Instrument

At the end of the semester, the learning community is evaluated using a tailored, online assessment survey called SALG (Student Assessment of Learning Gains). Included in the assessment tool are questions designed to determine if SENCER objectives have been met. The SALG instruments and complete results for fall semesters, 2002 and 2003 (five-point scale with 1 the worst category, 3 the middle category, and 5 the best category) can be obtained by contacting Don Stearns at dstearns@wagner.edu. The fall, 2002 results regarding specifically SENCER-related questions are shown below:

Critical Thinking

  • How much did the critical thinking logs help your learning in this learning community? (average = 2.52, standard deviation = 1.28)
  • How much has this learning community added to your skills in critical thinking? (average = .35, standard deviation = 1.2)
  • How much has this learning community added to your skills in critically reviewing proposed national legislation? (average = 3.65, standard deviation = 0.91)
  • As a result of this learning community, to what extent did you make gains in your ability to think through a problem or argument? (average = 3.48, standard deviation = 0.88)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: understanding of how rarely reason plays a role in forming opinions and in decision making? (average = 4.17, standard deviation = 0.82)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: understanding the importance of drawing reasoned conclusions after considering alternative points of view? (average = 4, standard deviation = .85)

Understanding of Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning

  • To what extent did you make gains, as a result of what you did in this learning community, in understanding the general scientific method of observation and testing of possible explanations for a discovered pattern in nature, such as a cancer cluster? (average = 3.78, standard deviation = 0.98)

Development of a Basic Scientific Knowledge Base

  • As a result of your work in this learning community, how well do you think that you now understand the fragility of the biosphere and of life itself? (average = 4.17, standard deviation = 0.7, n = 23 responses)
  • As a result of your work in this learning community, how well do you think that you now understand exponential growth, overconsumption, and consequences of exceeding the carrying capacity? (average = 4.22, standard deviation = 0.88, n = 23 responses)
  • As a result of your work in this learning community, how well do you think that you now understand human impacts on the environment? (average = 4.35, standard deviation = 0.7, n = 23 responses)
  • How much has this learning community added to your skills in mastering an important aspect of a major issue (pollution and human health)? (average = 4, standard deviation = 0.83, n = 23 responses)
  • To what extent did you make gains in confidence in your ability to do environmental science as a result of what you did in this learning community? (average = 3.64, standard deviation = 0.83, n = 22 responses)

Conceptual Learning

  • How much did oral lecture exams in Environmental Biology help your learning in this learning community? (average = 3.43, standard deviation = 1.25, n = 23 responses)
  • How much was your learning enhanced by the information you were given about how parts of the class work, class discussions, labs, readings, videos, field trips, and assignments related to each other? (average = 3.96, standard deviation = 0.86, n = 23 responses) As a result of your work in this learning community, how well do you think that you now understand the connectedness of humans to nature? (average = 4.04, standard deviation = 0.95, n = 23 responses)
  • To what extent did you make gains in understanding the main concepts as a result of what you did in this learning community? (average = 3.7, standard deviation = 0.8, n = 23 responses)
  • To what extent did you make gains in understanding the relationship between concepts as a result of what you did in this learning community? (average = 3.61, standard deviation = 0.87, n = 23 responses)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: gaining a better understanding of today’s environmental issues? (average = 4.22, standard deviation = 1.02, n = 23 responses)

Understanding the Usefulness and Limits of Science

  • To what extent did you make gains, as a result of what you did in this learning community, in understanding the relevance of environmental science to real world issues? (average = 4.17, standard deviation = 0.76, n = 23 responses)
  • To what extent did you make gains, as a result of what you did in this learning community, in appreciating environmental science? (average = 3.87, standard deviation = 1.12, n = 23 responses)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: the importance of science to the understanding of social issues necessary to take right action? (average = 4.09, standard deviation = 0.78, n = 23 responses)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: the power of science in addressing large, complex, contested, and unresolved public issues? (average = 3.96, standard deviation = 0.86, n = 23 responses)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: the limits of science in answering large, complex, contested, and unresolved public issues? (average = 3.87, standard deviation = 0.8, n = 23 responses)

Development of a Sense of Civic Engagement

  • How much did the following aspect of the learning community help your learning: the letter to members of Congress (for learning more about civic engagement)? (average = 3.27, standard deviation = 1.09, n = 23 responses)
  • How much of the following do you think you will remember and carry with you into other classes or aspects of your life: understanding the importance of taking informed action as a concerned citizen? (average = 4.13, standard deviation = 0.8, n = 23 responses)

In general, the fall, 2002 students gave themselves high marks regarding SENCER objectives. Similar results were obtained during fall, 2003.

Of the 12 class activities included in the fall, 2002 SALG, only the Park Slope Food Coop experience and the presentations given on the college campus outside the classroom received average scores less than 3 (averages = 2.81 and 2.94, respectively), indicating a need for improvement. The presentations outside of class were optional and only approximately 20 percent of the students attended them, yet 70 percent responded to the question, leaving that result in dispute. The students that the quality of contact with members of the Park Slope Food Coop did not help their learning very much (average = 2.32). To improve the learning gains resulting from the Park Slope Food Coop, arrangements were made to ensure that each student work not in isolation, but with a member of the food coop, to enhance the student’s exposure to environmentalists and concerned consumers. As a result, the same question received a higher average response during the fall of 2003 (average = 3.09). While the fall, 2002 trip to Washington, D.C. received high marks (average = 3.79) as an activity that enhanced student learning, the instructors modified the experience for fall, 2003, by including exposure to a special interest group dealing with environmental issues, in addition to the individual meetings with members of Congress or their environmental experts. Consequently, the fall, 2003 trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressional staff members received an average of 3.90; the fall, 2003 trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with a special interest group representative received an average student response of 3.36.

The fall, 2002 critical thinking logs did not appear to work well in helping student learning by enhancing critical thinking (average = 2.52). In part, this activity was not as well shaped as it could have been. Students were asked to question their friends when they expressed opinions, with particular questions designed to encourage critical thinking. While the students learned how rarely reason plays a role in forming opinions and in decision making (average = 4.17), they felt uncomfortable going through the weekly exercise; some students even claimed that the activity strained relationships. For the fall, 2003 semester, the critical thinking logs were introduced near the end of the term, after the students had considerable practice evaluating reasoning. The instructors also rewrote the instructions and cut the number of critical thinking assignments from nine to the three most incisive ones. The fall, 2003 results (average = 2.86) showed some improvement relative to fall, 2002; however, this aspect of the learning community still falls below desired student outcomes.

Learning Community and Experiential Learning Surveys

In fall, 2002, as part of a SENCER/Wagner College-funded project, attention was focused on incorporating additional SENCER elements into this learning community. Using a learning community survey and an experiential learning survey developed by Julia Barchitta, Senior Dean of Wagner College’s Career Development and Experiential Learning, this learning community in fall, 2001 (before the SENCER project) was compared with the further “SENCERized” learning community in fall, 2002. These survey tools also allowed a comparison between this learning community and the college’s pooled learning communities in 2001 and in. Included were three specifically SENCER-related questions. The results (fivepoint scale with 1 the best category, 3 the middle category, and 5 the worst category) are shown below. Note that, in these surveys, the lower the average score, the better-the opposite of the SALG scale.

  • My community experience made the class material more meaningful. (pre-SENCER learning community in 2001: average = 1.92, standard deviation = 1.04, n = 13 responses; pooled learning communities in 2001: 2.65, standard deviation = 1.27, n = 373 responses; post-SENCER learning community in 2002: average = 1.73, standard deviation = 1.12, n = 22 responses; pooled learning communities in 2002: average = 2.54, standard deviation = 1.21, n = 409 responses)
  • This experience has improved my problem solving ability. (pre-SENCER learning community in 2001: average = 2.69, standard deviation = 1.38, n = 13 responses; pooled learning communities in 2001: average = 2.90, standard deviation = 1.20, n = 369 responses; post-SENCER learning community in 2002: average = 2.30, standard deviation = 1.06, n = 23 responses; pooled learning communities in 2002: average = 2.82, standard deviation = 1.11, n= 411 responses)
  • This experience has increased my understanding of civic responsibility. (pre-SENCER learning community in 2001: average = 2.23, standard deviation = 1.09, n = 13 responses; pooled learning communities in 2001: average = 2.41, standard deviation = 1.15, n = 365 responses; post-SENCER learning community in 2002: average = 1.87, standard deviation = 1.10, n = 23 responses; pooled learning communities in 2002: average = 2.26, standard deviation = 1.09, n = 403 responses)

For all three SENCER-related statements, this learning community showed improved post-SENCER scores in fall, 2002 compared with pre-SENCER scores in fall, 2001, indicating that the inclusion of new SENCER elements that had not previously been part of the learning community improved educational relevancy, problem solving, and understanding of civic responsibility. When compared with the pooled survey results from all the learning communities, this learning community showed better average scores for all three SENCER related statements both in 2001 and in 2002.

Wagner College Student Evaluation of Teaching Form

Of less value in assessing whether or not the desired learning goals have been reached is the standard, untailored student course evaluation at the end of each semester, required for all courses at Wagner College. The form is a survey instrument (1 = strongly agree to 3 = neutral to 5 = strongly disagree) with the following statements:

1. I have increased my knowledge of the subject matter.
2. I have increased my ability to think critically.
3. I found that the assignments helped the learning process.
4. I found that the tests helped the learning process.
5. I have become more self-confident as an independent thinker as a result of the course.
6. After this course, I am better able to understand how the subject is related to other subject areas.
7. I have improved my communication skills (written or oral).
8. I spend as many hours (or more) out of class preparing for this course as I do in class.
9. I would describe this course as academically challenging for me.
10. My own efforts in the course matched or exceeded the professor’s expectation.
11. I was well prepared for class, having met daily reading/writing/lab deadlines.
12. I participated actively in class discussions.
13. The instructor stimulated my interest in the subject.
14. The instructor expressed interest in and concern for the student’s learning experience.
15. The instructor created an atmosphere that permitted active student participation in the course.
16. The instructor communicated the subject matter clearly to the students.
17. The instructor set high standards for the students to meet.
18. The instructor appeared to be well prepared.
19. The comments that I received from the instructor were helpful.

Regarding Environmental Biology, for all 19 statements, including the possibly SENCER related ones (statements 1, 2, 5, 6), no marked differences were found between the average student responses for fall, 2001 (before the SENCER project) compared with fall, 2002 (after the SENCER project). For the SENCER-related statements, the average student responses ranged from 1.45 to 1.90 in fall, 2001, and from 1.43 to 2.10 in fall, 2002. Regarding Reflective Tutorial, a similar pattern emerges: no marked differences were found between fall, 2001 and fall, 2002. For the SENCER-related statements, the average student responses ranged from 1.50 to 1.83 in fall, 2001, and from 1.70 to 2.00 in fall, 2002.

While it is clear from the learning community and experiential learning surveys that the inclusion of new SENCER elements that had not previously been part of the learning community improved educational relevancy, problem solving, and understanding of civic responsibility, the student evaluation of teaching form does not reflect such marked improvement: the scores are by and large excellent during both years. Unlike the student evaluation of teaching form, which is used to survey each course individually, the learning community and experiential learning surveys are used to assess the learning community as an integrated package. The SALG assessment tools are also tailored to address the learning community as a whole. These last three surveys are therefore more accurate estimators of success in achieving SENCER ideals, compared with the generic course evaluation form.

Related Resources

Outside Resources

Required Texts:

  • Dell Publishing. The American Heritage Dictionary. 4th ed.. New York: Dell, 2001.
  • Des Jardins, Joseph R. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. 3rd ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 2001.
  • Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. 5th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
  • Paul, Richard and Linda Elder. Critical Thinking. Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001.
  • The Thinker’s Guide for Conscientious Citizens on How to Detect Media Bias & Propaganda in National and World News, 2nd ed. Dillon Beach, California: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2003. (Note: To be distributed in class.)

Assigned Readings:

  • Associated Press. Suit Names Chemical, Water Companies. Staten Island Advance 2 Aug. 2000: A12.
  • Avril, Tom. “Toms River Cancer Deal Gives Children $13 Million” The Philadelphia Inquirer 23 Jan. 2002: A1, A8.
  • Ciba Specialty Chemicals. “Driving Responsible Care to the Next Level.” Tarrytown, New York: Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corporation, 2001.
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation. “Corporate Citizenship in a Changing World.” Irving, Texas: Exxon Mobil Corporation, May 2002.
  • Facione, Peter and Noreen Facione. The Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric. In Facione, Peter; Facione, Noreen; Giancarlo, Carlo and Steve Blohm. The CT Album and Workshop Materials. Millbrae, California: Insight Assessment and The California Academic Press, 2002.
  • Facione, Peter; Facione, Noreen; Giancarlo, Carlo and Steve Blohm. The Reflective Journal [modified from their “The Reflective Log.” The CT Album” and Workshop Materials. Millbrae, California: Insight and Assessment , The California Academic Press, 2002.
  • Feeney, Tom. “In their Hearts, the Parents of Stricken Kids Find Truth.” The Star-Ledger 20 Dec. 2001: A26.
  • Feeney, Tom and Mark Mueller. “Crusading Mom Shrugs off Vindication.” The Star-Ledger 19 Dec 2001: A22.
  • Gawande, Atul. “The Cancer Cluster Myth. The New Yorker Feb. 8, 1999: 34-37.
  • Kaye, Richard A. “Tie-Dyed Food.” The New York Times 21 Apr 2002, sec. 14: 1,9.
  • Krauss, Lawrence M. “The Citizen-Scientist’s Obligation to Stand up for Standards.” The New York Times 22 April 2003: F3.
  • Lesman, Alex. “Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle: The Coop’s Environmental Policies and Practices.” The Linewaiters’ Gazette. Park Slope Food Coop, 782 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory. “The Karen Silkwood Story” Los Alamos Science 23 Nov. 1995.
  • MacPherson, Kitta. “Toms River Cancer Tied to Pollutants.” The Star-Ledger 19 Dec. 2001: A1, A22.
  • MacPherson, Kitta and Ted Sherman. “Experts Hail 6-year Toms River Cancer Study.” The Star-Ledger 20 Dec. 2001: A23, A26.
  • “After 30 Years, Some Resolution.” The Star-Ledger 20 Dec. 2001:A26.
  • Park Slope Food Coop. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Park Slope Food Coop, 782 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY. 16 Sep 1999.
  • “Mission Statement.” The Linewaiters’ Gazette 25 Jul 2002: 9.
  • Pearce, Jeremy. “Trouble in Paradise.” The New York Times 23 Jun 2002, sec. 14, 1, 8.
  • Peterson, Iver. “Many Cancers in Toms River Still Shrouded in Mystery.” The New York Times 19 Dec. 2001: A30.
  • Picard, Joseph. “Cancer Cases at OCC Spur State Investigation.” Asbury Park Press 4 May 2002: A1, A6.
  • Rampton, Sheldon, and Stauber, John. Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995.
  • Revkin, Andrew C. and Katharine Q. Seelye. “Report by E.P.A. Leaves out Data on Climate Change.” The New York Times 19 June 2003: A1, A20.
  • Robinson, David. “Cancer Clusters: Findings vs. Feelings.” American Council on Science and Health, March 2002.
  • Rock, Andrea. “Toxicville.”Ladies’ Home Journal Sep. 1999: 106, 108-109, 114, 116.
  • Seelye, Katharine Q. “Congress Online: Much Sizzle, Little Steak.” The New York Times 24 June 2003, A16.
  • Shermer, Michael and Pat Linse. “How Thinking Goes Wrong.” The Baloney Detection Kit. Skeptics Society, 2001.
  • Sucato, Kirsty. “What’s Wrong in Toms River?” The New York Times 16 Dec. 2001, sec. 14: 1, 10.
  • “Making a Particle of Difference.” The New York Times 16 Dec. 2001, sec.14:10.
  • The Wagner College Faculty Writing Collective. “Major Common Paper-Writing Errors.” Unpublished.

(Other readings may be assigned as needed.)

Assigned Films/Videos:

  • Advertising and the End of the World. Writer, Editor and Producer Sut Jhally. Media Education Foundation, 1997.
  • Deadly Neighborhoods: Cancer Clusters. Executive Producer Paul A. Dowling, Writer Alan La Garde. Medstar Communications, Inc., 1996. (Package Copyright 1997 Films for the Humanities and Sciences).
  • New Media Ownership Rules (from Now with Bill Moyers, June 13, 2003). Dir. Mark Ganguzza. Written by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship. Sen. Prod. Tom Caciato. Public Affairs Television, Inc., 2003.
  • Project Censored. Dir. Steve Keller. Distributor: Media Education Foundation, 1999.
  • Toxic Sludge is Good for You. Prod. Margo Robb. Distributor: Media Education Foundation, 2002.
  • Trade Secrets. A Moyers Report. Prod./Co-writer Sherry Jones. Executive Editor Bill Moyers. Public Affairs Television, Inc. in association with Washington Media Associates, 2001.

Assigned Audiotape:

  • Making Policy at the Intersection of Science and Politics. To the Point, Public Radio International. July 1, 2003.

More Assigned Readings:

  • Burns, Lawrence D., J. Byron McCormick, and Christopher E. Borroni-Bird. 2002 Oct.
  • Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars Could be the Catalyst for a Cleaner Tomorrow. Scientific American 287(4): 64-73.
  • Davis, Devra Lee. 2002 October 25. The Heavy Air of Donora, Pa. “The Chronicle Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education 49(9): B7-B12.
  • Dixon, Chris. Recipe for Car Power: Heat Vegetable Oil, Flip Switch and Go. The New York Times 22 April 2003: F3.
  • Hamilton, Anita. “Why Hybrids are Hot.”Time 159(17) (29 April 2002): 52-53.
  • Krech, Teal. “Nuclear Waste Makes Haste.”Village Voice (6 Aug. 2002): 43.
  • Linda Harrar Productions. “Six Billion and Beyond: Case Studies From the Film.” Berkeley, California: University of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning, 1999.
  • Long, Michael E. 2002 July. “The Lethal Legacy of America’s Nuclear Waste.” National Geographic 202(1): 2-33.
  • Pauly, Daniel, and Reg Watson. 2003 July. “Counting the Last Fish.” Scientific American 289(1) (July 2003): 42-47.
  • Suplee, Curt. “Untangling the Science of Climate.” National Geographic (May 1998): 44-51.

Assigned Videos

  • Acid Rain: Requiem or Recovery. Dir. Seaton Findlay. Videocassette. National Film Board of Canada, Direct Cinema Limited, 1982.
  • Alternative Power Sources and Renewable Energy. Senior Dir. Ed Lerner, Executive Producers Ed Lerner and Ana Christina Lerner, Producer/Writer Kirk Brown. Videocassette. Information Television Network, Inc., 1999. (Copyright 2000 Films for the Humanities and Sciences).
  • Green Pacts and Greenbacks. The Environment: When Politics and Industry Intersect. Executive Producer Michael W. Doyle, Writer Gary Sieber. Videocassette. University of Notre Dame/Today’s Life Choices Committee, 2000. (Package Copyright 2000 Films for the Humanities and Sciences).
  • Mysteries of Easter Island. Videocassette. The Learning Channel Archaeology Series, 1993. Natural Connections. Producer/Writer Sharon Howard, Howard Rosen Productions, Inc., Videocasette. Bullfrog Films, 2001.
  • Scientific Spin Doctors. The Environment: When Politics and Industry Intersect. Executive Producer Michael W. Doyle, Writer Gary Sieber. Videocassette. University of Notre Dame/Today’s Life Choices Committee, 2000. (Package Copyright 2000 Films for the Humanities and Sciences).
  • Six Billion and Beyond. Executive Producer Linda Harrar, Produced by Linda Harrar Productions. Videocassette. University of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning, Berkeley, California,1999.
  • Smoke But No Fire. Producers Robert G. Anderson and Lisa Marantos. Videocassette. Central Broadcasting System, Inc., 1998.
  • Understanding Atoms and Molecules. Executive Producer George H. Russell, Producer/Editor Rodney Cleaver. Videocassette. Educational Video Network, Inc., 2002.

Assigned Audiotape

  • Politics of Water. From Troubled Waters. Reporter/Producer Sandy Tolan. Audiocassette. Homelands Productions, 2001. (Package Copyright 2001 Living on Earth and World Media Foundation).

Background and Context

The Learning Community

All students registered for this learning community (LC-11) will take Biology 110 (Environmental Biology), taught by Donald Stearns, Ph.D., Department of Biological Sciences; and English 110 (Literature and the Environment), taught by Kim Worthy, Ph.D., Department of English and Director of the Writing Center. These two courses have been shaped together around the theme expressed in the learning community’s title. They are designed to focus from biological and literary perspectives on present, real, global, environmental issues that, if untreated, threaten human survival. You should consider this entire learning community an educational package of high relevance to your understanding of a world that you must live in, a world that for the first time in history demands a reconsideration of the human condition with respect to the environment.

In addition to these two courses, all LC-11 students will take RFT(W) for LC-11 (Reflective Tutorial), combining Section K1 (Dr. Stearns) with Section K2 (Dr. Worthy). The Reflective Tutorial focuses on development of college-level communication skills through writing, discussions, and presentations stemming from issues raised in the learning community.

You will also be required to complete an experiential component. As part of this, you will become actively involved during this semester in environmental issues facing Toms River, New Jersey. Other community service activities will also be required. Your field observations/activities will become part of the discussions and writings generated in the Reflective Tutorial.

Where is the Learning Community Taught?

Mission

Wagner College prepares students for life, as well as for careers, by emphasizing scholarship, achievement, leadership, and citizenship. Wagner offers a comprehensive educational program that is anchored in the liberal arts, experiential and co-curricular learning, interculturalism, interdisciplinary studies, and service to society, and that is cultivated by a faculty dedicated to promoting individual expression, reflective practice, and integrative learning.

The Wagner Plan

Wagner, a small residential college, is strongly committed to undergraduate education, an education that emphasizes the classical and a contemporary liberal arts curriculum; an education, moreover, that integrates a variety of disciplines with a challenging core of foundation courses. The liberal arts core prepares students for careers in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts as well as in business, education, law, and the health professions. The core promotes inquiry, critical thinking and analytical skills, heightens cultural awareness, emphasizes writing and computer skills, and fosters individual expression and intellectual independence. It serves as a bridge to the student’s major, broadens the student’s perspectives; and brings students and faculty into a dialogue with the larger intellectual and professional communities inside and outside the College.

Wagner is strongly committed to pragmatic liberal education, a plan of education that provides undergraduates from the beginning of college life with an intellectually rich and varied academic experience. This plan is fueled by a distinguished faculty dedicated to scholarly pursuits as well as to excellence in teaching.

The Wagner Plan provides methodologies and pathways for intellectual inquiry. The courses in natural science enable students to gain a sound understanding of scientific inquiry, a mode of inquiry that includes quantitative and analytical research methods and technology as well as the mathematical mode of expression used to explain natural phenomena. The courses in social sciences foster a clear understanding of the nature of the individual and society, the dynamics of societies, their issues and values as well as the ways sociocultural values and beliefs influence the behavior of individuals and groups. Intercultural courses facilitate an understanding and appreciation of a wide range of peoples, ethnicities, and customs, their cultural origins and values, diversity, the social structures within cultures, and the interconnections among cultures in the global community. Sensitivity to the human condition is stimulated through study, analysis and creative expression in literature as well as in the visual and performing arts. The courses in the humanities explore not only historical, literary, and philosophical contexts for the study of Western and non-Western intellectual traditions, but also the role of ethical, spiritual, and religious principles in those traditions. Knowledge of these principles assists students in making significant choices and forming ethical values, and they impart a sense of social responsibility within a changing world of diverse cultures and peoples.

The Wagner Plan’s novel approach emphasizes both traditionally structured modes of learning and experiential learning (“field-based” learning, or “learning by doing”). Students participate in at least three learning communities, of which two include field work, research and/or an internship in an organization, usually in New York City or the surrounding area. The first-year learning community includes a field-based experience that is thematically linked to two introductory, liberal arts courses and a Reflective Tutorial. The fourth-year learning community, which is in the student’s major, consists of a capstone course in the discipline, a substantial internship or research experience, and a major paper or presentation in the senior Reflective Tutorial. The second-year learning community, which consists of two thematically linked disciplinary courses, serves as an important bridge between the first and fourth year learning communities. The three learning communities individually and collectively challenge
students to relate academic learning to the wider world, to social issues, and to their own individual experiences.

Committed to the ideals of the Wagner Plan, the Division of Graduate Studies offers select, high-quality graduate programs designed to prepare students for advancement and leadership in their professions. The graduate programs are committed to providing a student-centered learning environment that emphasizes applied experience, intellectual discourse, and critical reflection. The graduate programs also link theory with practice.

Wagner seeks to create a culturally and socially diverse community for its students, faculty, and staff. Its academic enrichment programs, student organizations, and athletic programs bring the College’s diverse community into conversations with each other as well as with the larger intellectual and cultural communities of Staten Island and the greater metropolitan New York area. These conversations are enabled by close interaction among faculty, students, and staff on the College’s idyllic residential campus.

Wagner College, in sum, provides a multifaceted liberal education in a distinctive educational setting in which students are prepared for life as well as for careers within the global community.

Institutional Goals

It is the intent of Wagner College to promote in students:

  • knowledge and modes of inquiry,
  • recognition of cultural diversity and the importance of values,
  • leadership,
  • citizenship, and
  • creativity.

General Education Program Goals

The General Education Program at Wagner College promotes in students:

  • critical thinking skills that enable them to analyze information and develop approaches that are new to them and lead to a better understanding of their world;
  • an appreciation of different modes of inquiry that aid in the continuing search for knowledge, understanding, and truth;
  • competence in the skills of listening, speaking, and writing, to promote effective communication and self-expression;
  • competence in scientific reasoning and quantitative analysis;
  • an ability to understand the relationship between the individual and the world, based on a knowledge of history and sociocultural dynamics;
  • competency in “learning by doing,” where ideas and field-based experiences are related, reflected in writing and discussion, and applied in ways that improve their world;
  • an appreciation of and sensitivity to the arts;
  • recognition of the values that shape moral, ethical and spiritual judgments, including an
  • understanding of the importance of these principles in their personal and social life;
  • familiarity with the individual’s own culture and other cultures in a global context; and
  • knowledge in depth and skill in a scholarly discipline.

WHAT IS THE LEARNING COMMUNITY’S ROLE IN THE UNDERGRADUATE CURRICULUM?

In the general education program

As part of the Wagner Plan, all first-year students must complete a learning community during their first semester at Wagner College. As part of the First-Year Program, this learning community fulfills this general education requirement. Before graduation, all Wagner undergraduates, regardless of major, must successfully complete at least two courses in different science disciplines; at least one of those courses must include a laboratory component. The science course in this learning community (Environmental Biology) fulfills part of this general education requirement. Wagner undergraduates are also required to successfully complete at least three courses in the humanities. The English literature course in this learning community (Literature and the Environment) fulfills part of this general education requirement. Finally, all Wagner undergraduates must successfully
complete at least two writing-intensive courses. The third course in this learning community (Reflective Tutorial) is designated as a writing-intensive course and thus helps fulfill this general education requirement.

Other requirements fulfilled

This learning community was specifically designed for nonscience majors to meet some general education requirements. It therefore does not fulfill other requirements.

HOW DOES THE LEARNING COMMUNITY ADVANCE OR ENGAGE INSTITUTION WIDE INITIATIVES OR OBJECTIVES?

Undergraduate learning goals for the baccalaureate

There are 10 undergraduate learning goals that stem from the mission statement of Wagner College. The Environmental Biology course addresses the following four learning goals:

  1. critical thinking skills that enable students to analyze information and develop approaches that are new to them and lead to a better understanding of their world
  2. an appreciation of different modes of inquiry that aid in the continuing search for knowledge, understanding, and truth
  3. competence in scientific reasoning and quantitative analysis
  4. recognition of the values that shape moral, ethical and spiritual judgments, including an understanding of the importance of these principles in personal and social life

The Literature and the Environment course addresses the following three learning goals:

  1. an appreciation of different modes of inquiry that aid in the continuing search for knowledge, understanding, and truth
  2. competence in the skills of listening, speaking, and writing, to promote effective communication and self-expression
  3. recognition of the values that shape moral, ethical and spiritual judgments, including an understanding of the importance of these principles in personal and social life

The Reflective Tutorial course addresses the following four learning goals:

  1. critical thinking skills that enable students to analyze information and develop approaches that are new to them and lead to a better understanding of their world
  2. competency I “learning by doing,” where ideas and field-based experiences are related, reflected in writing and discussion, and applied in ways that improve their world
  3. an appreciation of different modes of inquiry that aid in the continuing search for knowledge, understanding, and truth
  4. competence in the skills of listening, speaking, and writing, to promote effective communication and self-expression

Taken together, this learning community addresses six of the 10 student learning goals. How does it advance institutional initiatives?

The Wagner Plan is an institutional initiative that uses the learning community approach, combined with experiential learning, to approach the General Education Program student learning goals. The Reflective Tutorial course is the first writing-intensive course the first-year undergraduates take. Two students are randomly selected from each of approximately 40 Reflective Tutorial sections to participate in the Writing Assessment Project. Copies of their formal writing in this course and in all other courses during their years at Wagner College are collected and evaluated annually using a rubric designed to assess longitudinal development of college-level writing skills.

Resulting Projects and Research

Observations, Recognition, and Awards

During the first year of Wagner College’s First-Year Program (fall, 1998), Don Stearns’ environmental learning community included Environmental Biology, Reflective Tutorial, and an economics course (instead of an English literature course). At that time the experiential component was purely community service, with no Toms River Project or exposure to the political process in Washington, D.C. The following year (fall, 1999), the experiential component was changed to The Toms River Project-a field-based, community research model. The project required group trips to Toms River, New Jersey, where residents took an active role in educating the students regarding the environmental/human health issue there. The regional press published two newspaper articles highlighting the students’ involvement in The Toms River Project (Gannon, A. 1999, December 11. Students study ‘cancer cluster.’ Asbury Park Press, p. A5; Mikle, J. 1999, October 2. Reality lesson: cancer inquiry is college project. Asbury Park Press, pp. B1-B2).

The effectiveness of the learning community with and without The Toms River Project was analyzed using the same survey instrument in 1998 (without The Toms River Project) and 1999 (with the project). This learning community was also compared with the other learning communities presented in those years as part of the First-Year Program. The survey instrument covered the perceived importance of the experiential component to the student’s education, the student’s perceived benefit of his/her presence in the community, the connection between the experience in the community and the lectures in the classroom (i.e., the perceived relevancy of higher education), development of critical thinking skills, and development of a sense of civic engagement. Results showed highly significant (p<<0.0001) improvement in scores for this learning community from 1998 to 1999. The 1999 environmental learning community also stood out favorably when compared with the other learning communities. This research has been peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Experiential Education (Peters, J.R. and D.E. Stearns. 2003. Bringing educational relevancy to the first-year college experience by bearing witness to social problems. Journal of Experiential Education 25(3): 332-342). This research is particularly valuable in being one of the very few publications that uses a thorough statistical treatment to show quantitative evidence-not selected testimonials or anecdotes-regarding the importance of community-based, experiential learning. The results show that it is more important to have an experience that changes one’s perception of civic responsibility than it is to require social service without context. Based in part on his success with this learning community, Don Stearns received the Wagner College Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2000.

The present learning community, which now includes an English literature course, has been a highly praised model within the Wagner College First-Year Program for the past four years. Due primarily to the success of this learning community in using experiential, community based learning to achieve learning goals and instill a sense of concerned citizenry in students, Don Stearns was nominated for the nationally recognized Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning in 2003 by the provost of the college and again in 2004 by the president of the college. Kim Worthy and Don Stearns have been given invited presentations of our learning community model, including one given at Ocean County College, located in Toms River, New Jersey.