OOS 1-4 - Fostering environmental awareness in a metroplex campus

Monday, August 8, 2011: 2:30 PM
16B, Austin Convention Center
Tony L. Burgess and Stephanie Sunico, Institute for Environmental Studies, Texas Christian University

We were challenged to develop field-based courses that promote our small Environmental Science program. Most students of our private university major in business and preprofessional fields; thus our students have low environmental literacy. Could we develop a curriculum that engaged students alienated from local nature, and cultivate basic skills for lifelong learning about environments? How could a sorority girl be encouraged to acknowledge aspects of awareness suppressed in an urban social campus?


Field experiences are preframed with written context information, informal conversations, and, most important, enthusiasm for being there. By fully sharing our devotion, we give our students permission to become different. We believe that preparing a field notebook is the most useful, fundamental skill. The criteria for field notebook evaluation have been refined to promote triple-level journaling, requiring recognition and inclusion of entries for observations, emotional reactions, and interpretations. For introductory courses, day trips on weekends were designed for students to progress from a suburban botanic garden to wilder habitats. For advanced courses, immersion experiences introduce basic sampling and description skills. Environmental awareness in the classroom curriculum is cultivated with innovative projects and exams. For example, a major team project for our Environmental Stewardship course requires creating scenarios for different energy futures in which students must integrate information about local watersheds, indicator species, and environmental management. The efficacy of this type of teaching can be seen in the successful adaptation of these methods to a study abroad program in Costa Rica. This foreign cultural and natural context often leads even nonmajors to reconsider sustainability issues and their degree focus. Evidence for the value of this pedagogy is in comparisons of initial and final field journal entries, and the continuing contact with students after courses are completed. Our experience indicates that field immersion focusing on basic skills involving field notebooks, combined with appropriate class deliverables, can engage most college students in environmental literacy. This mode of teaching requires considerable face time and place time. This investment is rewarded, since by graduation, most of our students belong to our learning community, and are ready to contribute to some facet of sustainability.

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