“Biology of Global Change” course: becoming an active participant in solving environmental problems

March 23, 2015

During the winter 2000 term at Carleton College, Phil Camill, Assistant Professor of Biology, taught a class entitled “”Biology of Global Change.”” Through the creative curriculum of Professor Camill with help from the two ACT service-learning student coordinators and the environmental studies intern, the students in the course were able to experience community-based learning in which they developed civic competencies and civic habits. They were given multiple opportunities to do the work of citizenship through real projects of impact and relevance that were linked to their academic learning.

A major emphasis of the “”Biology of Global Change”” class was to learn how to become an active participant in solving environmental problems. The course was split into three components. In part I of the course, students learned about scientific issues and the scientific method. Part II examined policy issues surrounding global change and part III combined both the policy and science issues learned during part I and II. The philosophy behind this construction is that the students learn the material but are then given the opportunity to apply this learning in order to begin to address problems of global change that they discover during the academic portion of the course. One student commented on the benefits of this system: “”I like the fact that we are able to act on what we learn.”” Camill saw this opportunity to act on learning missing from many traditional science classes. He thought that students need to learn how they can affect public policy now, so they can feel like active members of society as soon as they leave their undergraduate career. He states “”the service-learning component of the class gives real world, hands-on experience.””

Students were given the option of working at a local or national level in groups or on their own. Some of the projects included:

  • students developed curriculum for kindergarten students that would instill the importance of environmentalism and then went into public schools and taught
  • students worked with the food services at Carleton to chart energy and food waste and then developed a presentation to the campus on their findings
  • students studied the local river to determine how and if it was being polluted and identified steps to mitigate the pollution
  • students created a web page to discuss environmental issues at the international scale; students computed the costs and savings of implementing solar power in homes.
  • Other possibilities were explained in detail on the website developed specifically for the class: http://celeste.carleton.edu/curricular/BIOL/classes/bio190/slp2.html.

The final day of class all the students presented their projects in poster form for the Carleton campus as well as the local community. Students comments after the class showed the positive connection they had established between academics and their application in the community: “”I thought it was a great way to both apply what we were learning in class and in general to make the connection between academics and real life. I made a connection in the wider community and made a useful contribution.””

Websites: http://www.acad.carleton.edu/curricular/BIOL/faculty/pcamill/SLP00/SLPindex.html

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