The SESYNC Socio-Environmental Synthesis Teaching Study: Defining, measuring and fostering student learning
The Socio-Environmental Synthesis (SES) Teaching Study is addressing three questions: 1) What do undergraduate students need to know and be able to do to be proficient at SES for actionable science, and how can this be assessed? 2) How is SES proficiency developed – how is it learned and how can it be taught? 3) What supports and constrains effective SES teaching and pedagogy among participating faculty? The study is taking place at five diverse universities with distinct student populations and instructional contexts: Gallaudet, Coppin, Widener, University of Maryland-College Park, and Washington State-Vancouver. Our team of social and environmental scientists developed modules for 6-15 class periods of instruction, each focused on a different socio-environmental issue of local interest. All modules included a common instructional design, involving a jigsaw within a case context, and a shared commitment to explicit attention to gathering and synthesizing data, to systems thinking and to reflection on synthesis practices. The team developed assessment tools to describe student proficiency and learning, including pre- and post-student surveys, an embedded systems-diagramming task completed early and late in the module, and an authentic synthesis product assignment. Faculty completed teaching logs, a portfolio and survey to document implementation and their own learning.
We produced a comprehensive framework of SES competencies for undergraduates, including proficiency at: 1) synthesis inquiry and critique, 2) epistemology across fields, 3) creative and critical thinking, 4) systems thinking, 5) communication, 6) normative thinking and 7) making science actionable. Student surveys and embedded assessments were used to show patterns in competencies across these seven dimensions and the 5 diverse institutions. Preliminary results suggest that different ways of structuring the jigsaw can have important effects; e.g. beginning with discipline-specialized versus perspective-oriented groups can lead to different outcomes. The specific ways that synthesis is structured in the second part of the jigsaw also can be significant. Faculty report that multiple factors support and constrain their SES teaching, including their institution’s level of support of interdisciplinary and synthesis scholarship, their expertise at SES practices, and their experience with SES pedagogy. Our emerging vision for SES teaching pedagogy includes: 1) engage students in analyzing and synthesizing data, 2) consider epistemology, 3) reflect on SES process, skills and motivations, 4) use jigsaws to prompt students to gather disparate data and to motivate and structure how they synthesize it, and 5) use communication and visualization tools to foster synthesis, systems thinking and reflection.