2:30-5:00 p.m., April 19, 2005
Mary Gates Commons
University of Washington in Tacoma (UWT), founded in 1990 as a two-year, upper-division public undergraduate institution, was established as an urban, commuter campus designed to increase access to four-year baccalaureate degrees for place-bound, time-bound students of the South Puget Sound region. Since all our students are transfers, the UWT Environmental Science (ES) program, which began in 1996, was designed so that entering juniors fulfilled their basic science and math prerequisites at the local community colleges before coming to UWT.
One of the first problems we encountered with this split curriculum model was that students needed a transition course that would prepare them with the skills necessary to complete their UWT ES degree, get them to think about what they were going to do upon graduation in two years, as well as assist in creating a learning-cohort of ES students. An entering ES class size of about 30 juniors typically take this course (Environmental Research Seminar (ERS) - 3 credits - meets once a week) in the fall of their first year at UWT.
We went through a number of iterations of course design based on what the ES faculty felt were critical skill areas required for success in the ES program at UWT. The course initially focuses on reading and writing science, and in particular on library research methods. This is followed by a section on scientific project design, data collection, synthesis, analysis and presentation skills. The course evolved from a menu-based orientation and skills course to a survey/portfolio based design where students take part in documenting what they have learned. In an early iteration of the course, students were initially resistant to a course that focused on skills not necessarily "content" and felt they already knew how to do all these tasks, like use the library effectively, read and write scientific papers, use excel for statistical analysis and plan, implement, synthesis and present results from a scientific project.
We found that by having the students do a survey the first day of class to find out what they knew about reading and writing science, and in particular what library research skills they had and then another survey mid-way through the course at the beginning of the analytical section, we could raise student awareness and ownership of the learning process. Students were required to document their learning process by compiling exercises/assignments into a portfolio that demonstrated they had learned each of the items that were originally surveyed at the beginning of each section of the course. Our original intent was to engage the students in such a way that they would realize they were learning valuable research methods, but it had the added benefit of being able to adjust the class material to focus on what the students did not know. This survey technique made the course more effective by achieving greater student buy-in and allowing teaching to focus on areas where the students needed the most help.