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Environmental class featured in Chronicle of Higher Ed

July 9, 2010

Janelle Schwartz, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, and Joelle Underwood, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, recently wrote a column that was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education touching on the challenges of teaching a new interdisciplinary course to students about live events as they unfold.

The column, “Lessons from a Dirty Coast,” highlighted how the two have adapted their team-taught course at Loyola University New Orleans, “Foundations in Environmental Studies,” to address current lessons being learned from the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Schwartz and Underwood, one of the overarching goals for the course was to demystify environmental issues, breaking them down into accessible parts so students could feel that their informed choices could make a difference.

“The spill became a sort of final exam in which the students were able to demonstrate to us what they learned,” said Underwood.

To find information, students and professors combed through newspapers and other media resources learning together the facts and data of the oil spill, comparing the disaster with previous oil related incidents. In the end, students projected their estimates, hypotheses and new questions in written essays.

In their column, Schwartz and Underwood said, “On the last day of class, we simply had to say ‘we only know as much as you do.’ We offered no final words of wisdom, no concluding remarks. One of our very first lessons for the students was to teach them that a conclusion is not synonymous with an end—it is the signal of new questions, new problems and new possibilities.”

To read the complete article, click here.

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