2006 Teaching and Learning Symposium

3:00-4:30 p.m., April 25, 2006
Mary Gates Commons

Session Description

An Experiment in Interdisciplinary Team Teaching: Urban Ecology

John Withey, Dave Oleyar and Adrienne Greve - College of Forest Resources, College of Architecture and Urban Planning

What happens when nine PhD students from four different programs are asked to design and team-teach a 200-level interdisciplinary course in urban ecology?  Among other things, it creates an opportunity to experiment with and learn about teaching.  We faced two very different interdisciplinary challenges: (1) to design a course as part of an interdisciplinary team; and (2) to teach a course that included widely varying topics from social justice to terrestrial ecology.  We organized ourselves into nine defined roles:  one ‘master of ceremonies’, four guest lecturers, three discussion section leaders, and one webmaster.  Our Urban Ecology course had 24 students, from 1st-years to seniors with backgrounds from the natural sciences to social sciences including philosophy and planning.  Student comments from a mid-course assessment (SGID) and final course evaluations showed that this arrangement was successful.  Most of the challenges of this arrangement were ‘behind the scenes’ and the students were presented with a well-organized course.

Because the course covered extremely diverse topics, we began by introducing a systems approach to provide a tool for students to situate these topics in relation to each other.  We defined urban ecology as a field that examines multiple systems (economic, social, built, biophysical, ecological) that interact in cities.  Another structure we used to unify the course for students was for each of them to choose a city that became the focus of a weekly assignment and the course’s final project.  We learned that students (1) were able to use systems language to describe urban ecological issues, in some cases with very high-level analytical ability, (2) appreciated field trips to observe and discuss real-life applications of concepts in urban ecology, and (3) wanted additional opportunities to express their understanding of urban ecology than those we provided (exams, assignments, and final project).