Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 3

Download our print issue (PDF)
Faculty Involvement
Science, Diversity, and Global Learning: Untangling Complex Problems
Breaking the Pyramid: Putting Science in the Core
Geologic Science for Global Citizenship: Under the Radar, but on the Web
Science and Global Learning at Carnegie Mellon University
Campus-Community Connections
Science and Citizenship: Habits of Mind for Global Understanding
Curricular Transformation
Connecting Global Learning and Science Education in the General Education Curriculum
Science, Gender, and the Environment
Student Experience
Seeing the World Around You
Institutional Leadership
Developing a Scalable, Sustainable Campus Diversity Initiative
Resources for Science, Diversity, and Global Learning

Geologic Science for Global Citizenship: Under the Radar, but on the Web

By Garth Massey, director of international studies, and James D. Myers, professor of geology and geophysics, University of Wyoming

“Oil and Tribal Conflict in Nigeria,” “Gold Mining and HIV/AIDS in South Africa,” “Nuclear Power in Iran and WMDs,” “China, Coal, and the Kyoto Accords,” “Peru’s Indigenous Peoples versus Multinational Copper Companies”—these could be headlines in the New York Times, but they’re not. Rather, they are topics that have united an igneous petrologist and a comparative sociologist in several years of pedagogical collaboration.

University of Wyoming

University of Wyoming

Two realizations, arrived at independently, are the basis for our collaboration. One, students learn very little from the traditional pedagogy of information delivery and recall testing. Two, the future is too important to be left to scientifically myopic citizens who rely on uninformed opinion to make decisions. Three years ago the University of Wyoming’s Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning received a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education that enabled six faculty members to develop innovative approaches to student learning. This gave us the opportunity to translate our realizations into practice.

We decided to develop Earth resources courses that would prepare students for global citizenship by helping them become active participants in decisions affecting their lives. The commitment to create an interdisciplinary, internationally focused pair of courses has been a huge undertaking, one that has gone largely unnoticed by our colleagues and university administrators.

For many years James D. Myers taught Earth resources as a one-semester class; he developed most of the teaching materials on the Web. The course incorporated problem-based group learning that actively involved students in Earth resource issues. Laboratory case studies required that students find and estimate the extent of ore deposits and energy reservoirs and identify the most economical means to extract these resources. Myers incorporated formal and substantive assessments into his course as he focused more and more on what students were actually learning.

Missing, however, was the sense that students’ learning would help to inform their behavior beyond the classroom and outside the usual narrow confines of geologic science and practice. Students were not examining the political, social, or cultural aspects of resource exploration, extraction, and use, and they were paying insufficient attention to the impact that such resource development has on the environment.

Habits of Thought for Global Citizenship

Our collaboration has produced a pair of four-credit Earth resources courses, one focusing on energy and the other on minerals, taught within the typical thrice-weekly lectures and once-weekly two-hour lab. Because there are no prerequisites for the courses, many students from across the campus enroll solely to satisfy the global awareness and Earth science requirements of the university’s general education curriculum. The mix of students from geology and other sciences as well as the humanities, arts, social sciences, and interdisciplinary programs has proven one of the most intriguing and satisfying features of the course. Through group problem solving, presentations, and written reports, students teach each other and bring their own discipline’s viewpoint and knowledge base to bear on course content. They use their scientific, technological, and economic learning to negotiate complex issues raised by specific resource cases. In these negotiations, students are assigned roles that may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them. As students assume the role of a corporation, government, citizens group, resource consumer, labor union, or environmental activist, they must take into account interests that may differ from their own, offer new approaches, and find common ground.

The overarching goal of the courses is to assist students in acquiring the habits of thought needed to be involved citizens. We are continually asking ourselves what students need to know in order to participate in a democratic society, how they can learn to sift systematically and logically through the bluster, bad science, and certitude brought to bear on Earth resource questions by various special interest groups, and how a college education can help foster a lasting sense of social responsibility.

Some Challenges of Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning

Everyone talks about interdisciplinary learning, but the obstacles to actually doing it are formidable. For discipline-based scholars, it requires a paradigm shift in thinking about their area of expertise. It requires an appreciation for other disciplines, something those in the sciences often find difficult. For teachers, it presents the challenge not only of deciding what to teach, but also of deciding how to meld and infuse material with a compelling narrative while going beyond the comfortable theories, research approaches, and criteria for good scholarship in one’s own discipline. Because many of the course materials have to be developed by the teachers themselves, these courses take much work to design and refine.

Interdisciplinary courses are usually team taught, often in tag-team style. It is useful to consider having a single instructor teach the class and in this way model interdisciplinary learning. In our case, Myers teaches the class, with only occasional support by Massey. This approach creates a problem of workload recognition, however. It is important that everyone involved in the class be an instructor of record and, if necessary, receive the Full Time Equivalent counts. When the joint effort is not for course delivery but for course development, this is especially difficult to do.

Colleges and universities, especially research-oriented universities, may have difficulty respecting teaching innovations or even acknowledging them. Teaching in a new way means less content will be delivered, and this raises objections from fellow faculty who teach in a sequentially arranged science curriculum. Embracing the goal of developing a sense of global citizenship in a science course will probably be met with skepticism. Your work, including publications in journals outside the mainstream of science, may be ignored. This will be the case, despite the considerable effort required to develop and teach courses in a new way.

Though we have given several presentations about our efforts to link science and global citizenship, few at our university are quite sure what we are doing. We think we know, but all of this is so new, sometimes we are not quite sure ourselves. The challenges of venturing into important new territory make it difficult to gauge our progress.

To learn more, visit the class Web sites for Earth and Mineral Resources and Energy: A Geological Perspective.


Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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