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Pre-SoTL Institute

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Assignment #1

A colleague (Melissa Terlecki) and I are constructing an interdisciplinary approach that integrates the science and social science of watersheds to develop a watershed citizenship course that is both rigorous and accessible to non-major/pre-major students. Our desire is that our]p interdisciplinary approach will provide multiple access points for students with diverse learning styles and interests. We anticipate that this approach will foster scientific engagement in non-majors, and encourage research interests in other students to become science majors.Recognizing that “learning is an active search for meaning by the learner—constructing knowledge rather than passively receiving it, shaping as well as being shaped by experiences” (Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998a), our course will take on a learner-centered approach to assessment. This paradigm calls for assessment to be both integral to teaching—that is, through ongoing formative and summative assessment practices where faculty will both monitor and promote learning (Huba and Freed, 2000)—and to course design and evaluation (Palomba and Banta, 1999). The Director of the Cabrini College Center for Teaching & Learning at Cabrini College, Lisa A. Ratmansky, will work collaboratively with us to develop and sustain formative and summative assessment for our team-taught course.

As the watershed citizenship course deploys a “problem-based” interdisciplinary approach to community-based research, bringing together biological and social science perspectives on specific environmental issues of import to communities, the evaluation of the learning outcomes will require a careful look at how students apply their knowledge in active, engaged and contributory ways (Sternberg, 2008) as well as what their attitudes towards becoming citizen scientists who steward the environment.

In order to capture changes in awareness, students will be asked to reflect on their beliefs about environmental stewardship throughout the semester.Combining assessment tools designed by Dr. Terlecki as a model for pre- and post-testing students knowledge, attitudes and awareness combined with a portfolio system of assessment (for which students compile all the work they complete sequentially so that changes in their skills, competencies, content knowledge and awareness can be evaluated) will offer both a quantitative and a qualitative form of formative and summative evaluation. Likewise, to enhance and structure evaluation of the courses themselves, a course portfolio will be created jointly by the faculty.These portfolios will follow from Lee S. Shulman’s call, for faculty to see their teaching as a site for research and scholarship of discovery. The course portfolios serve as ongoing investigations of a course (or in this case, courses) permitting growth in a myriad of related realms: the critical review of course content, design and evaluation and the exchange and use by other members of one’s team, and more broadly of one’s scholarly community (Shulman, 1998).

Based on the above, the properties of SoTL proposed by the Benson article that are most relevant to our interdisciplinary model at this stage are properties #1, 10, 11 &12.

Dr. Terlecki and I are working on an assessment piece to evaluate our unique interdisciplinary course with the hopes of publishing our results in a prestigious pedagogical journal such as the Journal of Excellence in College Teaching.I trust that at the follow-up session at ASMCUE in spring 2009, we will have our work already submitted to a journal for peer-review.I also trust that we will be presenting our interdisciplinary model at appropriate education conferences.

Another one of my long-term endeavors is to incorporate my ongoing research projects into both the Genetics lab and the Cell & Molecular Biology lab I teach at Cabrini College.I have had some success already in incorporating a some of my ongoing work in the Cell & Molecular Biology lab involving looking at gene expression differences in wild-type mice and transgenic mice that over express a gene (PTHrP) that causes a defect in mammary gland development.I would also like to incorporate DNA barcoding experiments into the Genetics lab that I teach as well.


Assigment #2

In assembling a beginning annotated bibliography, I am focusing on articles involving interdisciplinary team-taught courses.This approach stems from a an interdisciplinary course a colleague of mine (Melissa Terlecki) and I are constructing that integrates the science and social science of watershed ecology to develop a watershed citizenship course that is both rigorous and accessible to non-major/pre-major students. Our desire is that our interdisciplinary approach will provide multiple access points for students with diverse learning styles and interests. We anticipate that this approach will foster scientific engagement in non-majors, and encourage research interests in other students to become science majors.We presented our work as a panel presentation at the 2008 Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) meeting and received some valuable feedback.

1.Husic D,Navigating Through Interdisciplinary Pitfalls and Pathways to SuccessCUR Quarterly 26(4): 169-176, 2006.

This article discusses several merits and caveats of interdisciplinary courses taught by a cohort of faculty from disparate disciplines such as biology and geology.Since I recently began team teaching a watershed course with a psychology colleague I was already aware of some of the pitfalls of team-taught courses such as varied teaching styles among faculty within and across disciplines.One of the merits of interdisciplinary team-taught courses mentioned in the paper is that it allows students to see their own faculty disagreeing on many hot button issues and topics. Students see firsthand that faculty can even disagree vehemently at times over issues.The article also pointed out the benefits of interdisciplinary work at a liberal arts college such as my own such as honing a student’s critical thinking skills and communicating effectively across traditional disciplinary boundaries.The barriers of interdisciplinary taught courses was most useful to me as it suggested ways to overcome department needs that many times trumps several faculty from being able to team teach interdisciplinary courses.

2.Jordon. R, Nudging Academic Science into the Public Sphere Academe 93(3): 52-54, 2007.

I found this article via one of my ERIC searches a great read.The author discusses the merits of faculty working with a community partner(s) in addressing a research problem.The paper puts forth the claim that working with a community partner on a research matter does not represent a diminution of one’s scholarship and described several examples.I found this article inspiring in that as part of my interdisciplinary studies, I have recently begun a student-based stream assessment study with a community partner, the Valley Creek Restoration Partnership.Equally inspiring was the author’s conviction that one need not be an expert in a field to have a meaningful relationship with a community partner.

3.Woltermade CJ & Blewett, W, Design, Implementation, and Assessment of an Undergraduate Inteterdisciplinary Watershed Research Laboratory Journal of Geoscience Education 50(4) 372-379, 2002.

The article described a cohort of laboratory field courses students take that are centered on watershed studies.The laboratory courses used a local watershed to provide intensive undergraduate field training in the collection and analysis of environmental data.The courses are taught by faculty in several disciplines including Geology, Biology and Education.The intent of these interdisciplinary courses is to further student investigations in a wide variety of courses across the curriculum.One thing that I found informative is that interdisciplinary studies of this magnitude almost always require some type of external funding.The authors did receive funds from an NSF Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) grant they were awarded to pilot their project. We recently applied for an NSF CCLI grant to sustain our interdisciplinary watershed studies at Cabrini College. The article has given me insight into improving our chances of success if our grant gets rejected such as having an external advisory board to critically review and assess the various interdisciplinary courses on an annual or semi-annual basis.

4.Gill S, Riebling BJ, & Theophano J,Multidisciplinary Lenses on Nature Interdisciplinary Environmental Review 9(1) 1-9, 2007.

The article stresses the need for a multidisciplinary discussion that reflects rigorous environmental science and current views from the humanities and social sciences.The authors point out that presently the sciences have very little dialog with their counterparts in non-science related disciplines.It is argued that without a meaningful conversation between the sciences and the social sciences, it will be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to solve many of the environmental problems currently inflicting humanity. The authors then proceed to give several good examples to support this claim.The authors do point out a difficulty withenvironmental multidisciplinary studies in that each discipline, whether it be in the humanities or the biological sciences, tend to view their discipline as the “keystone” or most important discipline in solving environmental problems.Hence, multidisciplinary work between colleagues in different disciplines can become divisive as faculty view their own work as the most important part of the multidisciplinary team. The authors then go on using several examples of multidisciplinary teams genuinely collaborating with one another and show how the collaborative effort led to a far deeper understanding of a particular area of research.As I move forward with other colleagues on my campus in different disciplines working on both local and global watershed-related issues, I found this article extremely informative. As a team, it will be important to stress the need for genuine collaboration and that each member of the team’s work is on equal footing with all other team members in order to maximize our chances that the work will lead to something both meaningful and powerfull.

5.Farrel TA & Quiros N, An Academic Model for Interdisciplinary Environmental Education and Problem Solving in Costa Rica: A Case Study of the School for Field Studies Interdisciplinary Environmental Review 7(1) 37-45, 2005.

This paper describes interdisciplinary models of environmental studies using Costa Rica as a case study.Students enroll in one of several environmental courses based in Costa Rica and involve themselves in solving one of several ecological problems in Costa Rica such as water privatization, sustaining biodiversity, preserving forest ecosystems and the pros & cons of ecotourism.The paper points out some of the barriers of these types of study abroad interdisciplinary courses such as insuring and convincing a college’s administration that the study abroad course will be academically rigorous.As I have very recently begun to plan interdisciplinary studies on watershed issues in El Salvador with students, I found this paper informative.Future endeavors on El Salvador water issues stems directly from a trip I took to El Salvador with several of my colleagues from various disciplines this past May and seeing first hand some of the water issues that affect a large population of the Salvadoran people.After talking to several of my colleagues, they agree that it would be great if we could like a local watershed course to a watershed course that has a global dimension such as studies in El Salvador.A watershed course based around El Salvador water issues also fits the new Core Curriculum at Cabrini College where there is an expectation that students gain a greater understanding of global issues.

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