Background Information

This web site builds on a 20-year history of undergraduate teaching, research, curriculum development and faculty enhancement activities that use environmental problem solving to teach science. In conjunction with support for seven projects from the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education, with which we made curricular changes at our institutions, since 1990 we led or participated in eight NSF Undergraduate Faculty Enhancement (UFE) workshops involving 147 college faculty from Alaska to Florida and California to Maine. We developed an effective national model for science education that melds classroom instruction, field and laboratory techniques and cooperative learning, and addresses environmental problems in local communities. The model has been used successfully for undergraduate and graduate courses in biology, chemistry, geology, engineering and environmental science across the nation.

Content modules for undergraduate faculty in five UFE-funded Great Lakes Ecosystem Dynamics (GLED) programs included: 1) new developments in Great Lakes ecosystem science (e.g., cascading trophic dynamics, particle size spectra, effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on wildlife and humans); 2) analytical instrumentation and biotechnology techniques for detecting environmental contaminants (e.g., electron-capture gas chromatography, mass spectroscopy, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays/ELISA); and 3) computer modeling using spreadsheets (e.g., mass balances of toxic chemicals, fish bioenergetics, biomagnification). Using the concept of Stressed Stream Analysis (SSA), we expanded our approach from a Great Lakes regional to a national scale. Content modules for undergraduate faculty in three UFE-funded SSA programs included: 1) instrumentation, sampling and methods for water quality and hydrological analysis of streams (e.g., liquid sample autoanalysers, atomic absorption and graphite furnace spectrophotometry, stream discharge): 2) habitat and ecological evaluation procedures (e.g., habitat suitability and biotic integrity models, biological assessments using stream invertebrate and microbiological indicators, GIS analysis of riparian landscapes): and 3) pollution effects on biological communities (e.g., electrophoresis to detect reduced genetic heterozygosity, toxic chemical-induced deformities in aquatic insects).

The GLED and SSA programs both used environmental impact analysis (e.g., National Environmental Protection Act/NEPA model for impact assessment, techniques for scoping a project, impact identification and ranking, permitting, public hearings) as the unifying theme to bring together the disparate techniques used by participants into a holistic, relevant, problem-solving context. In the Great Lakes program, teams of participants wrote environmental impact statements (EIS) on the likely impacts on the food web of dredging PCB-contaminated sediments in a Great Lakes harbor. In the Stressed Stream Analysis program, teams wrote EISs to predict the impacts of doubled volumes of treated sewage effluent with increased lead content on a stream ecosystem after observing the effects of current sewage treatment discharges on water quality and on aquatic organisms, communities and habitats vs. upstream. In both programs, individual participants drew lots for typical stakeholder roles and they delivered testimony at a mock public permit hearing to decide whether or not the project they had analyzed should be approved.

At the end of each technical module of the UFE workshops, participants discussed how to adapt and implement our strategies and techniques into curricula at their home institutions. Discussions about their successes and failures in writing proposals to funding agencies for curriculum development, adaptation and implementation were so productive that a formal unit on grant writing was presented in later workshops. The success by UFE alumni in adapting and implementing our ideas (94%) and funding their own ideas (59%) is the basis for this web site and the series of 20 workshops from 2001 through 2005 that will share our strategies and techniques with many new faculty.

While creating, adapting, funding and implementing our own courses and conducting UFE workshops, we and UFE alumni created powerful curricular tools, using state-of-the-art laboratory and field techniques, for faculty to use to teach undergraduates how science is really done (learning and applying knowledge in a problem solving context, hands-on, teamwork) while students work to address real, local environmental problems. Participants in our workshops returned to their home institutions with expanded and updated scientific knowledge and new strategies, methods and techniques for improving undergraduate science education and addressing environmental problems in their local communities. This web site disseminates to faculty across the nation the curricular ideas and materials, for adaptation and implementation, that have already been developed and tested by their colleagues.