Congratulations to PhD candidate Cathy Day for winning an Innovation in Teaching TA Award from the College of Letters and Science for her work making adaptations to Geog 339: Environmental Conservation.
Faculty have struggled with how best to teach the topic of climate change in this course. The topic (dauntingly big) combined with the large lecture format led to students feeling disempowered to engage this issue given the complexities of the science, policy, and politics. This past summer, Day proposed using a flipped classroom format for our climate change module for the class.
Day and Professor Matt Turner worked together to develop online interactive modules that replaced both reading and lecture material with lecture periods focused on group problem-solving exercises, small group discussions and debates tied to issues of: the ethics of greenhouse gas accounting in international agreements; assessing alternative energy potential for the U.S.; mapping differential vulnerabilities to climate change around the world; projected climate change impact in Wisconsin; and a comparison of Germany and the U.S. in terms of national energy policy etc.
Meanwhile in discussion sections, students created climate mitigation and adaptation plans for one of three different cities – Milwaukee, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Niamey (Niger). The students worked in small groups on a particular subset of problems, and the groups came together to create a larger mitigation and adaptation plan. Representatives from each discussion section then came together to defend their plans in front of the entire group. Students voted on the best plan for each city.
“The change in the course is intended to create a way for students to constructively engage with environmental problems. Rather than merely critiquing the problems with prior solutions, the students are actively involved in seeking new solutions,” explained Day.
Innovations begun last summer by Day are continuing this semester with continued adjustments and learning-outcome assessment. As Turner states: “Day’s commitment to engaged, active learning by students and her expertise in climate change adaptation/mitigation have, through the development of this innovative climate change module, greatly improved the course. I have learned much from working with her on this project”
The Innovation in Teaching TA Award recognizes up to 5 teaching assistants a year who bring extraordinary creativity to their work and have developed or adapted teaching methods or techniques in new and innovative ways.