Multidisciplinary Sustainability Modules: Integrating STEM Courses.

Global climate change. Energy challenges. Global poverty & hunger. Loss of species diversity. Regional shortages of fresh water. New and emerging diseases. PCBs in human breast milk. Science and math educators are increasingly being called upon to develop interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary pedagogies that can change the types of problems we work on and how we address these problems in the classroom. According to the most inclusive study ever done on the state of our planetary life support system:

Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.  --Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board 5

To deal with cross-disciplinary, systemic problems, we must help students develop effective cross-disciplinary skills, especially the ability to synthesize knowledge and create new concepts and theories. In this project we are designing and incorporating multidisciplinary projects in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) education. Specifically, our project focuses on the rich set of problems encountered in sustainability research and formulate how they can be tackled by students from different disciplines working collectively, but not necessarily simultaneously, over a set of online tools for exchanging data, code, reports, and expertise. This mode of learning teaches students that large scale problems (such as climate change) cannot be solved without the expertise of natural scientists as well as anthropologists, economists, and health specialists among others.  

 

This work is funded in part by NSF grant DUE-0837721.