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Barnard's Innovative Environmental Science Curriculum, Brownfield Action, to Be Featured as National Model

Peter Bower

The innovative environmental science curriculum, Brownfield Action, developed by Barnard Professor Peter Bower, has been selected as a model of an innovative science program by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) with the goal of bringing the course to other colleges and universities across the country.

The course was selected as a model of the ideals of SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), a project funded by the National Science Foundation to improve science education and civic engagement. SENCER is part of the AAC&U's initiative to encourage and sustain large-scale, institutionalized science education reform.

Bower, who worked in cooperation with Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL), which developed the interactive, digital space for the Brownfield Action program, has been invited to attend the SENCER Summer Institute 2003, August 8-12 at Santa Clara University, as a model developer. In this role, Bower will collaborate in the design and production of print and electronic materials of the course for the SENCER model series, which will be distributed by the AAC&U. Bower will serve as one of the "faculty" members at the Institute and assist in the publication of the SENCER models at the conclusion of the five-year project.

Bower noted that, "Brownfield Action has now reached the stage of dissemination and distribution and I hope that we can be equally successful in bringing this curriculum to universities, colleges, and secondary schools as well as to the government and corporate sector."

Now in its fourth year, Brownfield Action is the foundation for the Introduction to Environmental Science course at Barnard, taught by Bower. The curriculum allows students to learn real-world lessons about cleaning up environmental disasters through a digital simulation that takes students through a semester-long investigation of a contaminated factory site.

By exploring the simulated world contained in Brownfield Action's interactive space, students, paired-up as environmental consulting teams, compete against each other and assess the contaminated site, using principles of geology, environmental science, physics, biology, along with historical, legal and political knowledge gained in the classroom. In addition to the simulation and lab exercises, the course uses contemporary readings such as "Silent Spring and Civil Action." According to Bower, Brownfield Action is an enhancement over traditional lab science courses, giving students ownership of concepts and information, resulting in significantly improved and more authentic student reports.

In April 2003, Bower, together with other science faculty at Barnard and the technical staff from CCNMTL, led an inaugural seminar aimed at helping other schools adopt the program. The seminar drew faculty members from Trinity University and Skidmore, Wellesley, Connecticut, Spelman, Carleton, Lafayette, and Rhodes Colleges, for an intensive two-day seminar supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Center for Educational Technologies.

Published: Jul 24, 2003
Last modified: Jul 24, 2003


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