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Evaluating the effectiveness of teaching climate change as a general education undergraduate course using a traditional lecture format and a hybrid online-traditional lecture approach

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Monday, 24 January 2011
Evaluating the effectiveness of teaching climate change as a general education undergraduate course using a traditional lecture format and a hybrid online-traditional lecture approach
Washington State Convention Center
Pedro Ramirez, California State Univ., Los Angeles, CA; and S. LaDochy, W. C. Patzert, and J. Willis

Poster PDF (3.5 MB)

During the 2009-10 academic year, we established a new CSULA course, “Climate Change and the Developing World.” The course was developed for inclusion in an Upper Division General Education Theme entitled “The Challenge of Change in the Developing World.” CSULA students are required to complete a theme comprised of three interrelated courses distributed among three areas including Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Social Sciences, and Humanities. Our climate change course comprised the natural sciences component of the theme. We used varying instructional approaches to teach the course which allowed us to make preliminary observations about the effectiveness of each in improving student learning. In the fall quarter (10-week session) the course, which enrolled over 30 non-majors, was presented in a traditional four hour/week lecture format. Students attended lectures, read the text, Demystifying Climate Change & Global Warming, took two exams and completed group research projects. In the spring quarter, we used more online instruction and followed the American Meteorological Society's undergraduate Climate Studies course format including use of the AMS Climate Studies text, Investigations (laboratory) manual, and online exercises. An online course management system was also used in the spring when enrollment reached the 43 student capacity, with others on a waiting list. Students also completed group projects.

Contents for the textbooks used were thin in the area of the impacts of climate change on developing nations. To meet theme and course objectives, the assigned group projects led students to investigate the effects of climate change on a developing country. Each group of four or five students presented their report both in written and oral form (all groups had PowerPoint presentations). Overall, the presentations were quite good and showed good collaborative learning. In the spring course, pre- and post-course surveys were used to assess student learning. Generally the surveys showed an increase in climate change knowledge. However, in some areas students did not master basic concepts/information such as the role of ozone in climate change, the composition of greenhouse gases, and defining El Niño and identifying its role in natural climate variability. Anecdotally, students taught through the traditional lecture format also showed improvement in climate change knowledge and demonstrated a greater appreciation for the impacts of global warming on developing nations. As with the spring course, concepts such as El Niño, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and orbital climate forcing proved more difficult to grasp. According to evaluations, students more greatly appreciated the online resources probably because they reinforced concepts presented and increased learning through more active engagement and greater visual stimulation. More data must be compiled to determine the most effective approach to teaching our course. However, we feel that the hybrid model used during the spring quarter was most effective.