PS 45-120
Synthesizing to teach ecology:  Using ethnographic, socioeconomic, and environmental science data to teach undergraduates the actionable science and ethical responses to the challenges imposed upon Arctic Nations by climate change

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
Bruce W. Grant, Biology & Env Sci, Widener University, Chester, PA
Bretton T. Alvare, Anthropology, Widener University, Chester
John H. Serembus, Philosophy, Widener University, Chester

Undoubtedly before the end of this century, the resiliency of our civilization will be tested by global climate change.  Our best hopes of passing these tests depend upon our ability NOW to improve our students’ capacities at synthesizing multidisciplinary knowledge, skills, and ways of knowing so as to enable them to comprehend the magnitude and urgency of the challenges of climate change and engage them in the solutions required for our collective global cultural resiliency.  Climate change is presently occurring most rapidly in the Arctic, and the Inuit peoples who live there are now experiencing climate change induced social upheaval comparable to what we all may experience in only a few decades.  Thus we have much to learn from their adaptive struggle and about our own capacity for adaptive response.  In addition, the past decade has seen an explosion in published discourse on the ethics of our responses to climate change, not only in the arctic but globally, as more cases arise where the impacts of climate change disproportionately harm those most vulnerable to it.  This rich context forms the content of a multiweek student-centered multidisciplinary jigsaw-based teaching activity we describe in this poster.


Our data on student learning from this activity span five semesters of development, deployment, and revision in Widener undergraduate courses (twice in majors jr/sr ecology, twice in non-majors environmental science, and once in jr/sr "Values Seminar" interdisciplinary capstone).  In this activity, students select an Inuit community out of the circum-polar international Inuit distribution and research place-based (1) environmental data on warming of air/ water/ soils, melting sea ice/ glaciers/ permafrost, and ecological data on impacts upon communities of plankton to polar bears, (2) Inuit ethnographic data and traditional ecological knowledge on impacts of climate change on culture, worldview, and ways of living, and (3) social science data on Inuit food security, public health, housing, education, economic development, and other critical measures of social infrastructure.  According to student pre-post tests and reflective self-assessments, learning gains occurred in students' (a) understanding of climate change science and anthropogenic causality, (b) understanding place-based and culturally relevant Inuit environmental knowledge, (c) capacity to analyze, integrate, communicate, visualize, and synthesize interdisciplinary knowledge from scientific, ethnographic, and social science sources, and (d) capacity to use utilitarian and deontological ethical arguments to evaluate claims regarding actions to take to improve Inuit cultural survival and resiliency.