The Use of a Mock Environment Summit to Support Learning about Global Climate Change
Gautier, Catherine, Rebich, Stacy, Journal of Geoscience Education
We propose that a learner-centered environment (LCE) is particularly suitable for Earth System Science (ESS) learning due to the nature of the knowledge and research environment that characterizes the field. We show how the principal characteristics of LCE effectively provide learners with motivation and opportunity to understanding this complex area of scientific inquiry.
We describe a course that supports learning the science of global change and address the human aspects of global change through the development and negotiation of an international environmental agreement. Students play the roles of country representatives and participate in activities such as writings, class discussions, presentations and negotiations. Rubrics developed for each activity are used both to assess student learning and to communicate feedback to students about their work.
Our study suggests that the adoption of a LCE enhanced student learning of content and critical skills. The frequent student presentations were found to play a major role in student learning. The rubrics served as scaffolding for knowledge construction, helped students to self-assess and maintain their quality of work, and allowed instructors to provide quick and efficient feedback. The development of basic learner-centered tools and teaching practices will help ESS instructors provide learning environments most suitable for their discipline.
The creation of an environmentally literate citizenry is arguably among the most urgent needs in the class of societal challenges that are now rising to center stage. There continues to be some debate about the nature and origin of climate change although a strong case has been made by the international scientific community on the role of human activities on climate change (IPCC, 2002). Uncontroversial scientific evidence that could end the debate is, however, unlikely to become available soon even though the level of uncertainty in the science of global change continually diminishes. Society is therefore faced with an obligation to decide how to act long before conclusive evidence is collected and the climate system is completely understood. Only an environmentally literate society will be able to adequately and constructively participate in the on-going discussions and reflection.
The present generation of students, and likely several successive generations, will inherit the Earths environmental problems and be faced with addressing them, as they are problems that cannot be solved in one generation. This is because climate change results, in large part, from increasing concentrations of gases in the atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide) that are long-lived and whose impact will be felt for decades to come, even if immediate action is taken (even if emissions are reduced to near zero). While society as a whole does not have much experience handling this class of problem (intergenerational burden sharing), it behooves us, as educators, to find ways to help students become aware of the problem and understand the complexity and subtlety of the issues involved. It is also our responsibility to provide them with some tools, however imperfect or yet poorly adapted, to address these multifaceted issues. It is the goal of the "Mock Climate Summit" course, described in this paper, to do exactly that and prepare students to be informed, able and active citizens of the world.
Educating about global climate change is a huge task and an inspiring challenge. Global climate change is not easy to understand as it involves a natural system (the Earth) that is large and complex and whose behavior is difficult to describe and as yet almost impossible to predict in any detail. Global climate change, being at the convergence of many scientific but also social science disciplines, is broadly interdisciplinary and therefore requires a knowledge beyond that of any single individual. Due to the system-like and interdisciplinary nature of the climate system, however, the development of educational programs about global climate change offers an opportunity to apply many of the new instructional practices that are now prominent in the education community (from learner-centered environments to assessment integrated teaching).
The teaching of the science underlying global change, referred to as Earth System Science (ESS, Earth System Science Overview, Bretherton et al., 1986), has begun to spread both within the US and internationally. This increasing interest in the teaching of ESS has been occurring primarily at the departmental and individual level, but some institutions are now focusing on it (e.g., American Geophysical Union session in December 2003 entitled: "Building Strong Geoscience Department: Examples that work"). Some programs, such as the cooperative University-based Earth System Science Education (ESSE) program initiated in the early 90s (Johnson et al., 1994, 1997) provided a springboard for interested geoscience faculty to brainstorm about ESS education at the undergraduate (and graduate) level. ESSE faculty debated what ESS is, evaluated (or compared) various teaching approaches, developed ESS teaching modules and generally snared learning resources (Johnson et al., 1999 and 2000a). It soon became obvious that ESS denoted different things for different educators in regard to both the material to be covered and the instructional approach to be taken. The new and interdisciplinary nature of ESS meant that instructors came from different disciplines and were, at least initially, hosted in different departments. Both of these implied that the focus of the ESS courses varied widely from one institution to the other (from physical, chemical, geological, geographic, and biological to ecological), with this variety being the source of much richness, but also causing some difficulty in coming up with common standards, programs and tools. Several textbooks published in the last decade have served as recommended course material (e.g., Graedel and Crutzen, 1993; Houghton, 1997; Somerville,1996; Turco, 1997) and despite their inherent quality, no one of them has come to be the authoritative book for the discipline, reflecting once more the broad character of the discipline. By the late 1990s, Earth System Science in college was experiencing remarkable growth, with much of this evolution steered by enthusiastic and dedicated faculty (e.g., Ambos et al., 1997). Equally important in spurring this period of growth was the availability of new data sets such as digital satellite imagery, the development of new modeling techniques, and the emergence of new technologies such as desk-top computing, the internet (Johnson et al., 2000b) and data visualization (Johnson and Thompson, 2000). A developing effort that clearly illustrates this trend is the successful Digital Library for Earth Science Education (DLESE http://www.dlese.org/about/index.html) project. Other more recent efforts focus more on pedagogy, effective curricula and teaching strategies, and capitalizing on the new research results about science learning (e.g., workshop "bringing research on learning to the Geosciences", 2003). The researchers behind these endeavors, building upon basic research on cognition and on effective educational practices, are beginning to explore fundamental questions about how ESS scientists think, what it means to be an ESS expert and how learning in ESS is accomplished.
In many of these outstanding education efforts, however, one of the main issues was and remains how to best integrate the teaching of the human aspects of global climate change into ESS and, in the larger context, how to best prepare students to become able and knowledgeable stewards of our planet, ready to take the immense responsibilities for the management of our resources that will soon fall upon some of them. Despite the profound connection that exists between science and policy, few instructors are prepared to teach both the science and the policy sides of ESS, (including economics) at the level of detail and expertise required. Research on the global climate change science and policy connection is in its infancy with few venues for publications and many of the results are still either controversial or not sufficiently well established by a body of supporting work to allow derivation of principles that could be included in undergraduate students' learning experience. It is only within an instructional research framework that the integration of science, policy and economics can be done at this time.
In this paper we propose an experimental approach to teaching the human aspects of Global Climate Change with a focus on the policy implications of the science. The class described here offers an authentic experience to students as it focuses on the real-world problem of negotiating a climate agreement (i.e., an extension to the Kyoto Protocol). This class has its roots in constructivist learning theory (Brandsford et al., 1999; Brooks and Brooks, 1993; Duffy and Cunningham, 1996; Fosnot, 1996) and offers students opportunities to construct new knowledge that is integrated with their existing knowledge frameworks and by monitoring students' changing understanding as instruction proceeds. This class also applies a learner-centered paradigm, as it is our contention (supported below) that ESS education, is particularly suited to this student-centered approach.
The support for developing a learner-centered approach to ESS learning is provided in the section 2 of this paper. The overall course, including its objectives is described in section 3, the multidimensional assessment and class activities are presented in section 4 and summary and conclusions are offered in section 5.
LEARNER-CENTERED APPROACH TO LEARNING AND ASSESSMENT IN ESS
Much research has been done in the last decades to deepen our understanding of how learning occurs. The National Research Council has presented a comprehensive summary of this research in a book entitled "How People Learn" (Brandsford et al., 2002). One of the recommendations in this book is for designing classroom environments to be learner-centered, with learner-centered referring to an environment where the instructor bases the instructional approach and content on the knowledge, skills and attitudes that learners bring into the classroom.
Characteristics of Learner-Centered Environments and their suitability for ESS - Huba and Freed, 2000 among others have described in details the learner-centered environment (LCE) and provided a list of characteristics for that environment. In this paper we suggest that such an open environment is particularly relevant for teaching ESS. The characteristics of LCE that map onto Earth System Science learning characteristics are:
Interdisciplinary learning - The field of ESS is interdisciplinary by nature, as it seeks to understand the Earth as an integrated system of air, water, land and life processes, and therefore necessitates a learning environment such as the LCE that is compatible with interdisciplinary oriented investigations.
Systems thinking - The compatibility of the LCE with systems orientedinvestigation makes it an ideal setting for acquiring and practicing higher-level thinking skills necessary in Earth System Science, which is focused on gaining a better understanding of what controls the climate and other natural systems and maintains them in a state of equilibrium through the actions of various dynamic forcings and feedbacks.
Higher level science - The integrative approach of the LCE sets the stage for exploration of the higher-level science of ESS, which draws on data and methodologies from physics, chemistry and biology.
Uncertainty - ESS is concerned with complex phenomena and interactions that are difficult to isolate and to quantify without a considerable level of uncertainty.
Critical thinking - The fact that ESS is characterized by the presence of much uncertainty makes the emphasis on the development of critical thinking abilities in the LCE especially valuable in developing a knowledge framework that can be used as a basis for decision-making.
Broad and rapidly evolving - ESS is a very broad and rapidly evolving field and it is impossible for students to learn everything about a particular topic in the classroom setting. It is particularly important for ESS students to become active participants in their own learning.
Heterogeneous student body - The learner-centered approach focuses on the integration of new information with students' current understanding, and this is nowhere more important than in the ESS classroom, where students often have different disciplinary backgrounds.
Cooperation and collaboration - The LCE is based upon a culture of collaboration and cooperation, which is particularly suitable for students entering a field where contribution from a wide variety of individuals is necessary due to the extensive breadth and complexity of the subject matter. Cooperation and collaboration are the essence of the field, whether among researchers, teachers or students.
Integrated Learning and Assessment - Teaching and learning and assessment are intrinsically linked in the LCE environment. The learning takes place, in part, as a result of the feedback that is provided by the instructor to the students from assessing their performance.
OVERVIEW AND COURSE CHARACTERISTICS
Class Overview - The ultimate goal of the course is the development and negotiation of an environmental treaty. The starting point for the treaty is the Kyoto protocol, and the goal of the class is for students to develop a strategy to improve upon the protocol as it stands at the time the class occurs. In order to create an environment that encourages expression of a variety of viewpoints and provides a more authentic negotiation experience, students choose roles and act as representatives of either government or non-governmental organizations. As a given country representative, a student can be either a prime minister (or president), a minister of energy, technology and the environment, or a minister of social, economic and human affairs. Students also have the option of representing a fictitious or existing non-governmental organization of their choice, or the option to be a member of the media corps. The entire class time is devoted to preparing for the final summit (that takes place on the last day of class) during which the treaty's finer points are negotiated and the final treaty version is ratified by the student-representatives who agree to adhere to its contents.
Much of the students' work is done in teams, reinforcing the importance of collaboration between representatives of the same country and cooperation among the representatives of different countries. Country representatives contribute to the discussions and negotiations of a particular topic central to their countries' interests. For instance, Brazil's representatives are usually very active in negotiating an article of the treaty that addresses the protection of tropical forests, while representatives of African Nations may be interested in issues related to fresh water availability and human health.
Because the course is very dynamic and evolves as the students construct their learning and negotiate on their topics, continuous communication between instructors and students takes place in the form, of an extensive and daily updated website, email, after class discussions, and discussions during standard office hours. The class requires extensive student involvement and full ownership of the class as its success entirely depends on students' participation and contribution.
Course Goals - This "Mock Environment Summit" course has been created around a set of goals and learning objectives. The goals represent the underlying teaching philosophy of the course followed by the instructor. The learning objectives, on the other hand, drive the detailed development of the class activities, and will be discussed in a subsequent section of this paper.
The course goals span the development of scientific knowledge and reasoning, of typical higher-order thinking and skills, and of appreciation of engagement into issues. They are:
* To help students develop an understanding of the basic scientific underpinnings of ESS/global climate change
* To provide students with background necessary to develop scientific reasoning in support of environmental policy decision making
* To develop students' critical thinking, analysis, writing and presentation skills, and to enhance their abilities to work in teams in the construction of components of an environmental treaty
* To provide scaffolding for students to take ownership of learning as there is a huge amount to learn
* To develop students' appreciation of the relationship between the multiple facets of the global climate change issue (political, societal, economic and scientific)
* To engage students in cogent public discourse of controversial global change issues (literate citizenship)
* To investigate means of developing better communication between different cultures (scientists, lawyers, political scientists, economists, etc.)
Use of Role Playing - Role playing is the cornerstone of this course and has several purposes. First, it is used as a simulation of a context and a specific situation within that context: an intense environmental summit to which a number of participants contribute ideas, writings and negotiations skills. This role playing represents a natural tool to explore various situations (Duveen and Salomon, 1994, Francis and Byrn, 1999) to which the representatives of a country can be exposed and the different solutions that can be provided to a particular problem. Whereas every year the class is taught in the same way, the core outcomes (i.e., the final agreement) are significantly different in both overall content and emphasis.
Another didactic aspect of role playing is its ability to help students understand the complexity of the issues, as well as their more subtle aspects (Harwood et al., 2002). Many students come to the class as die-hard environmentalists with a more black and white view of the issues, only to be exposed to the complexity of the negotiation situation that is due to the diversity of environmental and economic situations of each country and their historical, religious and political backgrounds.
From an instructional perspective, role playing also helps students become more interested and involved in their own learning as they integrate knowledge into action and address problems, explore alternatives and seek novel and creative solutions for each of the individual articles of the negotiated agreement.
Finally, role playing helps students develop skills of initiative, communication, problem solving, self awareness and working collaboratively in teams. For instance, during the initial phase of topic selection, a student representative must try to convince two other representatives to work with him/her for a topic to be presented to the entire class for discussion. Once the topic has been sanctioned by the entire class, students work in this newly formed team, highlight important issues related to the chosen topic, and come up with solutions in the form of a proposed action plan.
Multidimensional Integrated Assessment - In the "Mock Environment Summit" classroom, learning and assessment are integrated, and assessment is employed primarily to give students feedback they can use to improve their performance and learning. Assessment therefore drives the design of the class activities. Based on the assessment essentials proposed by Palomba and Banta (1999), we started with the articulation of the course intended learning outcomes. Once the learning outcomes were developed, we designed the associated assessment measures (in our case rubrics for both writings and presentations) and created experiences (class activities) designed to lead to our specific outcomes. We were careful to ensure that we included ways of providing regular feedback that dealt directly with the learning outcome to be achieved. The last element of our design strategy was to examine, discuss and use assessment results to improve student learning. Efforts to enhance student learning were made throughout the class, in the form of oral and written feedback given by faculty to students, and further curriculum development also took place over a 3-year period during which the course was offered 4 times. To ensure that students better achieved the outcomes intended, the class activities were modified for each offering based on feedback provided by students at the end of the previous class (see end-of-class questionnaire in Appendix 1 for more details).
Intended Learning Outcomes and Class Activities
Intended Learning Outcomes - The intended learning outcomes form the basis of assessment and set the directions for instructional activities. Providing the students with an opportunity to examine the intended learning outcomes can be an efficient and concise way to inform them about intentions of the instruction. Our intended learning outcomes describe in detail our teaching goals in a way that focuses on the learner rather than the instructor, and they focus on the learning that results from the various activities that are offered to the students rather than on the activities themselves.
For this class our intended learning outcomes (available in full at http://www.icess.ucsb.edu/esrg /Geogl35/Intended_Learning_Outcomes.html) have been classified into six categories: 1) Knowledge (including facts, terms, concepts, theories), 2) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving (including reasoning strategies, synthesis), 3) Analytical Skills (including problem analysis, data analysis, extracting interrelationships), 4) Communication Skills (including writing and oral presentation), 5) Research Skills (including information seeking, question formulation, challenging ways things are done, generating potential solutions), 6) Teamwork Skills (including reconciling differences, sharing information and credit, cooperating and assuming leadership roles).
Class Activities - A variety of class activities and their associated assessment measures were designed around the course's intended learning outcomes. The activities provided throughout the course included lectures, writing assignments, presentations and debates, lab sessions and negotiations sessions. In addition to the formative assessment measures that were incorporated into the course activities, two additional approaches to assessing the science learned were used during the course. One means of summative assessment was based on pre- and post-test performance extracted from concept maps analysis (to be discussed in a companion paper), and the other used information extracted from an end-of-class questionnaire to collect feedback from students.
Lectures - A series of lectures was prepared which addressed the following topics: Global Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, IPCC Summary Science and Changes, IPCC Summary Impacts, Pollution and Climate, Energy, Energy and Population, Kyoto Protocol and Assessment, Kyoto Protocol Economic Impact. Lectures were delivered as PowerPoint presentations and posted on the course website in advance of the class in the form of PDF files. The students were able to download and print them for the class and therefore focus on the presentation itself during class, instead of taking notes. This, in theory, should allow for a more participatory classroom.
The goal of these lectures, in a learning environment that is mostly guided by constructivist theory, is to rapidly introduce students to a number of global climate change related concepts and principles so that they can self-assess their knowledge and understanding of the topics. It allows students who have never been exposed to the topics in a classroom setting to get an overview and evaluate what they do not know. These lectures also allow those students who have been exposed to the issues in previous classes to fill in gaps or correct misconceptions in their knowledge or understanding and better grasp the bigger picture. Based on this self-assessment, remedial classes are offered to those students who believe that their lack of understanding is preventing them from gaining the full benefit of the class.
Writing assignments, rubrics and feedback - Students in the class completed six writing assignments (see Appendix 1 and http://www.icess.ucsb.edu/esrg/ Geog135/Writing_Assignments.html). The primary objective of these assignments was to develop students' abilities to: (1) critically analyze scientific writings, (2) develop their own writing skills and, (3) progressively build their thinking towards the development of a negotiable document. Two types of writings were required: one set addressed issues directly related their country (or NGO or media) and the other addressed the topics they selected to focus on for the agreement.
The means and tools for assessing the writing assignments evolved over time. During the first course offering, minimal feedback was provided to the students. Over subsequent years, more and more feedback was supplied and for the last year's offering (Summer 2003), comprehensive and immediate feedback was given to the students in the form of rubrics. Two sets of assessment rubrics were developed and can be found at the following website: http://www.icess.ucsb.edu /esrg/Geog135/Writing_rubrics.html. A generic rubric guided students in their overall writing (including overall quality of content, overall quality of sources, organization, voice utilized, attention to audience and the language utilized), and another rubric specific to each writing assignment was provided to clarify the nature of content and level of detail desired for that assignment (see Appendix 1 for an abbreviated version). Students received next-day feedback on their work, and this feedback consisted of the writing rubrics for that assignment with sections of the rubric that described the quality of their work highlighted (this would provide a grade). More specific written comments were added to address areas not covered by the rubric. The students were given the opportunity to resubmit their first written assignment after they had received feedback on it, and grades were assigned based on this revised writing. This initial focus on the usefulness and importance of the rubrics provided students with an incentive to follow the rubrics and to use them as a guideline for subsequent writing assignments.
Presentation and discussions rubrics and feedback - The students were asked to give four presentations throughout the course, which provided them with the opportunity to share the results of their research and to make a case for the inclusion and content of an article on the topic they had chosen. The first one concerned their country (or their position about the global environment, for NGOs), while the remainder concerned the topic they had chosen. Some discussion took place during the presentations on the topics as students made an effort to reconcile the information presented and actions proposed with the point of view their role required. All students were expected to contribute to the development of approaches to addressing the various topics, as eventually the content of the each group s topic presentations was refined into an article that all students were asked to sign as part of the final agreement. The objective of the assigned presentations was to develop students' abilities to effectively present a chosen point of view and construct logical arguments about a selected scientific topic. The content of the presentation was based primarily on Web research done by the students, and was prepared as a group activity during lab sessions. Presentations were given in the form of PowerPoint presentations during class time, and each participant in a group was expected to deliver a part of the group's presentation. Rubrics were used to give guidance and feedback in the same manner that they were used for the writing assignments. A generic rubric provided guidelines for all presentations (see Appendix 2) and specific rubrics were developed for each presentation (see http://www.icess.ucsb.edu/esrg/Geog135/Presentations_Rubrics.html for details). The rubrics were also used to give consistent feedback (by highlighting the element of the matrix that corresponded to the group achievement and its grade) and provided a grade. More detailed comments were attached to the highlighted rubric.
Lab sessions - Nine lab sessions were developed and offered to help students prepare for the required activities, which included assessment, preparation of presentations, and discussions about topics and actions to be proposed. The first lab was designed to introduce students to research methods and familiarize them with concept maps. The second lab was dedicated to performing the science assessment pre-test (see section 4.b.i). Students were given 45 minutes to complete it. The next lab was intended to get students to start working together as a team doing research on their country or role if NGO and used to prepare the first presentation on country's situation or NGO position with regards to global climate change. The other labs supported the learning in class, the preparation of presentations, or the putting together or the different elements of the agreement. In particular, Lab 4 was dedicated to analyzing the Kyoto Protocol, while Lab 5 is focused on selecting the core principles of the class' agreement. Labs 6, 7 and 8 are centered on the chosen topics and focus on general issues first, potential actions next, and finally allowing for additional research as needed from class discussion and negotiations. Although the structure of the labs appears to be relatively rigid, it is usually refined and modified as the class evolves and new and unexpected needs arise.
Agreement negotiations - The last activity is the final negotiation of the agreement, which takes place during the last day of class. The students are expected to have developed their written agreement in the form of a draft and this last activity is mostly one of overall integration and agreement on wording. The overall draft is reviewed in its entirety by the entire class and students are expected to argue for their final position. Often, contradictions or incongruities surface that need to be addressed in the final document. Once the document is in an acceptable stage, the students are asked to sign it if, as representatives of countries or NGO, they are willing to abide by its content.
End-of-class questionnaire - The final assessment for this class is an anonymous end-of-class questionnaire that is filled out by the students. Students receive bonus points for completing the questionnaire, and only the TA sees the responses before the overall grade for the class is assigned. The questionnaire is composed of three sets of questions relating to: an evaluation of how the class has enhanced the students' understanding of global climate change, an assessment of the class structure, and suggestions for improvement (see Table 1). While we believe that the responses to the first set of questions are relatively unbiased, this may not be the case for the second set, as it requires students to critically analyze the course. Some students appear decidedly frank in their opinions, while others may not be fully candid in their responses. While we have used this feedback to modify the course over the years, we focus our analysis on only the first set of questions.
ANALYSIS OF COURSE ASSESSMENT AND FINDINGS
Assessment of Intended Learning Outcome Achievement - Evaluating what students have learned from a particular instructional approach is always a difficult task. Here, we rely on a combination of data that neither includes a large enough group of students to provide reliable statistics (18 students) nor contains enough details to provide material for a full qualitative analysis. Nevertheless, we describe an analysis and some preliminary results that semi-quantifies the impressions we gained from teaching this course.
Our first analysis was to assess how the intended learning outcomes were addressed within each course activity. We first determined which part of a writing or presentation assignment is associated with each ILO, and then we examined how well students performed on the individual parts of the assignments. Figure 1 shows how students performed (throughout the assignments) according to general writing and presentation criteria, and we have included the class average as well as the lowest score in each category to illustrate overall levels of mastery attained for these activities. Table 1 shows average performance on content-specific criteria. While these scores can be used to estimate how well students have achieved the intended learning outcomes, it is important to realize that precise quantification is not really possible since many criteria enter into the establishment of a grade for a particular question.
Figure 1 and Table 1 allow observation of some interesting features that reflect loose tendencies that generally agree with what we have observed in our class-room. With regards to comparison between written and oral abilities we found that:
* Grades for writings were higher overall that those for presentations for the categories content and language. This reflects the fact that students are better trained for expressing themselves in written form.
* Organization skills appear higher in the presentation. This might be due the fact that the students had to break their message down into subcomponents that would each fit onto one screen that made them consider more carefully how the information should be organized. This might also be due to the fact that they had to present the presentations to their peers encouraged them to pay more attention to audience, and with the audience more present in their thoughts they took more time to ensure that their information was organized in a way that would be easy for viewers/listeners to understand.
* The lowest grade values for the category language are found in the presentations. It is common knowledge that the spoken language is generally less sophisticated than the written language.
* The lowest overall score in the writings, both as an average and as a minimum, is in the category sources. This reflects the students' poor habits regarding source citations.
With regards to source citation (an important and often under emphasized issue in science), a look at the evolution of the grades for the groups whose score contributed to the low average reveals that:
* By the time of the latest writings the students achieved a very acceptable (90%) source citing grade (compared to an initial average one of 50 %).
* The feedback given to the students in this category seems to have paid off.
* Several groups, however, reverted to not citing their sources in their very last presentations, suggesting that the habit hadn't been fully formed yet and that additional scaffolding will be required in the future for these students.
Table 1 also shows additional interesting features regarding confidence analysis, economic analysis and critical analysis. Students were generally weak in analyzing confidence levels coming into the class (with many groups unable to do it at all). However, after receiving feedback on it (often several times), they finally achieved a reasonable level (as judged from the standards provided in the rubrics). The economic analysis capability of the students coming into the class is generally poor, an observation made several times during the course and also a comment made by the students themselves in the end-of-class questionnaire. Since this is not an area for which they receive structured training in this course, it remains a weak point at the end of the class for those students who have not chosen to self-teach during the class. Finally, based on the same data, students appear to have difficulties with every activity that requires them to assess potential issues around a topic or perform some type of projection into the future (e.g., establishment of a timetable). This suggests that they could benefit from activities designed at making them look at issues from different points of view and at projecting the evolution of a complex system.
Role of Rubrics - We were interested in assessing the role rubrics played on the students' writings and presentations. We examined this impact by comparing student performance in two ways: 1) intra-year difference and, 2) evolution of quality of work over time when rubrics are provided. We found that the role rubrics played depended on the level of the students with, as expected, the lower tier students benefitting the most, while students from the upper tier (based on comparisons between a course that had rubrics and one that did not) did not appear to perform significantly better with rubrics. It was difficult to assess the evolution of the quality of the work resulting from the presence of the rubrics for two reasons: first students appeared to share responsibility for the group writing, with one student taking responsibility for the first writing, another student for the second writing and a third student for the next writing. Second, it is practically impossible to isolate the impact of one support (i.e., the rubrics) in the students' observed improvement over time.
Our experience as graders and providers of feedback is that the rubrics facilitate the supply of feedbacks to students, as the grader can use the prepared comments corresponding to the grade category rather than having to repeat writing the same or similar comments for each group. This streamlining of generic feedback allows more time to be spent on detailed feedback specific to each group.
Overall, when looking at the evolution of the grades over time and based on our personal assessment from this and earlier offerings of the course, it appears that the rubrics have four main roles: 1) to provide quality feedback to students, 2) to provide scaffolding for the lower tier students, 3) to help maintain the quality of all students' work, and 4) to help the graders assign a greater portion of their time to providing more detailed comments.
Use of Feedback by Students - Feedback to students in the class was facilitated by the use of rubrics, but the communication of feedback was not limited to this medium. Verbal feedback was also offered at the time the presentations were given, and a natural question that arises out of our focus on feedback is what students make of this feedback. To investigate this question we looked at the groups' grades for specific categories and also at the group grades evolution.
One of the categories of the specific presentation rubrics is how students used in-class clarifications and feedback in their subsequent presentations. Our analysis of this category suggests that the lowest tier group (as measured by their overall grade) didn't seem to take as much advantage of the feedback for subsequent presentations as did the groups in the upper two tiers. The upper tier group in fact obtained the maximum grade possible for that category.
Another way of looking at how students used feedback is to see the increase achieved in the category actions from possible actions (in presentation #3) to proposed actions (in presentations #4). The changes, however, result from both feedback and group thinking students did between the two presentations. The analysis of the redacted comments helped us to identify the difference. In general all groups increased their grades and the redacted comments indicate that they did take the in-class and redacted feedbacks into account. Here again, the upper tier group obtaining the maximum grade possible for that category.
These two sets of results seem to indicate that all students benefit from feedbacks, with the upper group reaching the level requested to obtain a 100% grade for the class (with our presently calibrated way or grading it).
One of the issues with the lowest tier groups is that they sometimes used the feedback without fully understanding it. For instance, the TA made a suggestion to students to propose a specific emission cut as an action in their action plan. The students included this cut in their plans but were unable to justify it to the class when they presented and were asked questions about it. As it is not possible or even suitable to provide all the details in a feedback since we want students to reflect on the feedback given to them, additional activities assessing their understanding of the feedback is often necessary afterwards to ensure that they do think about it.
Also as we mentioned above, feedback seems to have helped students cite their sources in their writings and to a somewhat lesser degree in the presentations.
Discussions as Science Learning Opportunities - Since the goal of the class is to negotiate an agreement, many discussions occur throughout the class that primarily center on the production of the best possible agreement. The inclusion of discussion and debate as an integral part of the course is a response to a need that was pointed out by John Dewey in 1916: the need for education that prepares learners to construct and analyze scientific arguments in social context. In the case of the Mock Environment Summit class, the discussions of claims and evidence relate to the science of global climate change-specifically to its social applications and implications. Science itself is a social process of knowledge construction (Taylor 1996), and group activities in which students practice argument serve the important role of scaffolding the development of abilities to construct arguments individually (Driver, Newton & Osbourne, 2000). While traditional approaches to teaching science have focused on conceptual challenge and the presentation of anomalous data, a growing body of research in this area suggests that the opportunity to socially construct and reconstruct one's own knowledge through the process of argument is a necessary condition for conceptual change (Driver et al, 2000). The creation of a learning environment in which discourse is central not only offers students the opportunity to construct their own knowledge but also allows them to experience the crucial role dispute plays in the scientific (as well as social and political) process.
Students' presentations and the final summit negotiation are the loci of the discussions, and students have five opportunities (four presentations and the final summit) to practice the construction and critique of arguments. The first opportunity occurs as students identify and quantify all major impacts of global warming on the countries they represent. They are asked to provide detailed scientific evidence for each impact mentioned, identify the sources of that evidence, and address the confidence level of data/information by presenting a discussion of the credibility of their sources. The science learning that occurs through this activity is three-fold: first, students learn content knowledge as they prepare for their presentations; second, they gain practice in the presentation of scientific argument; and third, they are given the opportunity to revise their theories and positions based on competing claims and additional evidence presented as part of the discussion.
After discussing the importance and value of focusing on various topics, the students eventually agree to work on a subset of topics that they believe might exert some influence on the development of international policies. For the second set of presentations, each group must provide persuasive and logical scientific and economic evidence to support the inclusion of their topic of choice. During these activities, learning occurs both in the form of science knowledge as a result of the preparation of their presentation of solid scientific evidence, but also in the form of a scientific culture since they must evaluate the suitability of the topic for inclusion in the final agreement. Presenting evidence and selecting topics with a group of peers replicates the proposal selection process central to scientific research. Students also practice scientific culture by providing comments and guidance to the presentation group for further elaboration and direction of research.
By the third set of presentations, the topics have been solidified and it is time for preliminary presentations of proposed action items. In this case, the science learning is achieved through further investigation of a scientific or technical topic and subsequent synthesis of knowledge in the form of a comprehensive overview of a variety of proposed actions and a clearly stated rationale behind each preferred action. As they are required to provide a thorough evaluation of possible issues that could arise from their topics and present convincing responses to these issues, they are learning how to develop convincing arguments (scientific and often economic) that are likely to appeal to parties raising these issues.
In the fourth and last set of presentations, students learn how to review, edit and finalize a scientific text in order to persuasively recommend a concise and realistic implementation plan. The challenge at this stage is to propose implementation within a justified time frame of reasonably attainable actions that have strong scientific and economic bases. Here again they learn the component of the ESS scientific culture that deals with assessment of expected consequences through a thorough analysis of what would be needed for their proposed actions to succeed, an outline of a clear strategy for addressing those needs, and an assessment of the probability of the needs being met.
Overall, students are exposed to a wide variety of natural science, human science and technology issues, and equally importantly, they learn about elements of scientific culture, in particular the development of convincing scientific arguments supported by evidence. Finally, students learn the difficulties of international environmental negotiations from the ratification of or failure to ratify the agreement. Each time the class is offered, one or more countries refuse to ratify the negotiated agreement. This reflects the real world and introduces students to the harsh realities of international environmental negotiations.
End-of-class Questionnaire Results - We first examined the student responses to the end-of-class questionnaire to get a better understanding of what science students perceive they have learned as a result from this class. Our analysis of their responses suggests four main categories of learning. First, students felt they had gained new scientific understanding of phenomena such as the natural causes of climate change, the greenhouse effect, the contribution of biomass burning to GCC, carbon sink mechanisms, uncertainties in rates of change, and the seriousness of the problem. Second, they felt they had achieved a more detailed and more quantified understanding of concepts, including some they had been familiar with before the class. Third, they perceive themselves to possess a more quantitative understanding of how much individual countries are contributing to the problem and an awareness of the role of political and economic power in limiting discussion. Fourth, students were able to pose excellent new scientific questions, including: Why do weather patterns change so much? How can the ocean conveyor belt stop? What are the impacts of GW on biological communities? What are the benefits of GW? What is the chemistry involved in GW? What are the economic impacts of GW? What are the regional impacts of GW? How does GW impact flooding? What are the ways to slow or stop GHG emissions and GW? What is the domino effect climate change has on different facets of life? These results are very encouraging as asking better questions is one of the main characteristics of the LCE.
We then moved on to examine how students perceive the role of science in international decision making as a result of the class, and several themes emerged from this analysis. Many students discussed the importance of scientific evidence in international decision making, and they presented a broad spectrum of opinions. Student perceptions of the role of scientific evidence ranged from assigning a major role to support policy and motivate people to change behavior, to assigning a major role but acknowledging the existence of uncertainty and the necessity of interpretation, to asserting the need for uncontroversial proof of the exact human effects, rate and impacts before taking action. Another common theme was the role of scientists in politics, and students noted the need for better communication between scientists and policymakers and the importance of having policymakers that understand the main aspects of global climate change. One student suggested that scientists should become politicians. Students also noted that science competes with economics, with the short-term economic outlook often dominating decisions and leaving only a small role for science. Students were impressed by the complexity of international negotiation, and due to the many social, political and economic factors that need to be considered, one student claimed that environmental diplomacy is not at all scientific. One student saw hope for international agreement based on science since it is the main common factor between nations, but another saw danger in the potential for powerful nations who are doing the most research to shape the findings to suit their agendas. Notwithstanding the variety of student perspectives on the role of science in international decision making, the wealth of thoughtful responses in this area indicates that students have been thinking about the science of global climate change in the context of the broader international policy arena.
Another theme that becomes apparent when reading student questionnaire responses regarding the structure of the class is the acknowledged major role of presentations in learning and student development, and the value of the class in developing better presentation skills. Most students (~95%) commented positively on the presentations and subsequent discussions, mentioning that these activities offered them opportunities to present their ideas and express their points of view. Most students (80%) felt they were able to express their point of view. Although the class group sometimes appeared intimidating for the shiest students, the presentations offered them the opportunity to express themselves within a structured context. We also observed that personality and background knowledge did have a significant impact on how students perceived the presentations. For instance, shy students believed that their ability to present improved and that, overall, they were able to express themselves fully and to develop and present their own opinion via the presentation format. However, the more at-ease students felt they didn't have a chance to express themselves fully or fully develop their arguments. Finally, students less knowledgeable about global change when entering the class found that they had difficulty expressing themselves initially, but as their knowledge grew, their class participation dramatically increased.
Instructors' Role - Our role as instructors was to guide and facilitate student learning, intertwining teaching and assessing. We spent a large amount of time developing a detailed website and preparing all writings, presentation activities and rubrics prior to the class in order to be able and ready to coach the students during the class. We attempted to be aware of what the students brought to the classroom and to help them construct meaning from what they experienced in this course. This formative assessment was done in an ad-hoc manner, based on a few individual observations. We designed and tested a concept map-based assessment that was given to the students on the second day of class and that could servo such a purpose, although we were not prepared to use it as such in this last offering. We provided a variety of opportunities for students to discuss and use new information in the form of presentations, from which they obtained feedback from both students and instructors. Students were exposed to many different activities with a particular course goal to aim for: the final summit. We encouraged students to develop research skills and helped them evaluate information and sources critically. Students collected their data from the web, analyzed and synthesized them into a proposal that was brought to the classroom for discussion. In this way, students learned how to critically evaluate their research product with the support of their peers and instructors. We provided continuous and meaningful feedback to students on a daily basis (and sometimes more when both writings and presentations were required) in the form of rubrics and additional redacted feedback that allowed them to progress in the development of their topic. We engaged students in the creation of meaning with the development of their topic (and actions associated with it) and the preparation of the final written article. Finally, we continuously learned and modeled lifelong learning habits as the topics that were addressed by the students were so broad and varied that we did not always possess the most up to date knowledge in every aspect of the class. We were sometimes doing research on the students' chosen topics in parallel to them in order to better guide them.
Overall, we continuously monitored students' learning and provided scaffolding for and feedback on any activity in which the students needed some support to improve their learning.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
In this paper, we propose that a learner-centered environment is particularly suitable for Earth System Science learning due to the nature of the knowledge and research environment that characterizes the field. Earth System Science is a broad and rapidly evolving higher-level science of an interdisciplinary nature, and progress in the field requires well-developed systems thinking abilities, a clear understanding of the role of uncertainty in science and in decision-making in general, and collaboration and cooperation between individuals whose backgrounds and approaches vary. We show how the principal characteristics of the learner-centered environment effectively provide learners with motivation and opportunity to prepare themselves for participation in and understanding of this complex area of scientific inquiry.
In this experimental course, which was offered in an innovative format and with a unique content, we clearly defined teaching objectives and learning outcomes and designed specific activities aimed at addressing these objectives. More importantly, however, we developed specific assessment measures appropriate for our particular learning outcomes and integrated them into our teaching. The rubrics that were used for assessment took a significant amount of time to develop but were well worth the effort as they also helped us to clarify our objectives for the course and provided students with clear criteria for quality performance and examples of excellent work.
Our study suggests that the adoption of a learner-centered environment enhanced student learning of content and critical skills. Our experience with and our analysis of the students' work (writing and presentations) with regards to rubrics suggest that they provide an excellent tool for most students, with the lower tier students benefitting the most. The rubrics provided the students with a scaffolding to help them construct their knowledge without hindering their creativity and helped students maintain their quality of work throughout the entire class.
These rubrics also offered great opportunities to provide students with quick and efficient feedback on their performance. The use of rubrics facilitated the work of the grader by eliminating the need to rewrite the same set of generic comments on each assignment, and thereby provided more time to focus on the specifics of the students' performance.
All students appeared to strongly benefit from the feedback that was provided to them in different forms: graded rubrics for writings and presentations, verbal remarks and questions for the presentations, and redacted comments for writings and presentations. The lower tier students, however, did not appear to make the best of the feedback they received. This perhaps was due to their lack of full understanding of the feedback.
Presentations played a major role in the students' learning and development of their public speaking skills. All students seemed to appreciate the opportunities that were offered to express their ideas and point of view, although some of the most vocal students felt that they did not have the opportunity to express themselves fully. A possible interpretation is that in more standard learning environment classes, where the opportunity is rarely offered (in a structured way) to all students to express themselves, these highly confident and verbally at-ease students use most of the classroom time devoted to students' expression, thus leaving little (if not no time) to shier students to express themselves.
Overall this class offered an exceptional experience to both students and instructors with all TAs (and some alumni students) involved in the various offerings contributing to its evolution and improvement. The instructors served both as role model for teamwork and life-long learners and as providers of useful feedback. Overall the class was enriched by all the voluntary contributions, as the TAs and alumni were particularly motivated in preparing and delivering excellent labs, presentations and other activities. Together with the students, they took ownership of the class.
The development of a set of basic learner-centered tools and teaching practices can help Earth System Science instructors provide learning environments most suitable for their discipline. Here we propose some of these tools and practices for the particular class for which they were developed, and make them available to the ESS community at the class website in the hope that they can serve as templates for other classes.
The work reported in this article has been supported by a grant from the University of California Santa Barbara, Instructional Development Office. We would like to thank of Dr. Diane Schweizer, several Teaching Assistants (Karen Kline, Melissa Kelly and Erin James), an alumni, Sarah Aminzadeh and all the students who have participated in the Geography 135 Class at UCSB since Summer 2001, for their invaluable contributions to the class.
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Publication information: Article title: The Use of a Mock Environment Summit to Support Learning about Global Climate Change. Contributors: Gautier, Catherine - Author, Rebich, Stacy - Author. Journal title: Journal of Geoscience Education. Volume: 53. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2005. Page number: 5+. © National Association of Geoscience Teachers Jan 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.