Improving the Environmental Science Curriculum

As a new term starts, we are provided with an ideal opportunity to to analyze the failings of previous coursework in an attempt to improve the efficiency of upcoming efforts.  This sort of evaluation is interesting because without the benefit of an education in learning theory it seems like somewhat of a blind stumble forward, but any forward movement is better than inaction in an area.

The first term of Environmental Science was somewhat frustrating for me because I have a lot of both institutional and self-directed education in this area.  Many of the concepts were already familiar and due to the lack of depth in an overview course, much of the term was busywork.  I would have loved to participate in an in-depth examination of a few core concepts within the curriculum, but this would have been a totally different class.

Although this was my experience, it seemed that there were many people the class was both helpful and properly organized for.  Accounting for this range of individual experiences seems to be the most difficult aspect of standardized education.  It is something I have thought about fairly often, as this has been a regular recurrence throughout my educational career.  However, short of allowing for either personalized curriculum or independent study, this problem is fairly difficult to solve.

With all of these issues in mind I have come up with a few changes that I believe can improve the Environmental Science course series, with particular focus on the first course:

  • Organize the first half of the class as an outline for both understanding and evaluating environmental concepts by focusing on providing a broad environmental education and introducing the tools necessary for the evaluation of these larger concepts.  Put particular emphasis on understanding and utilizing systems thinking, logical evaluation, lifecycle analysis, etc.
  • Present the second half of the class as a vehicle for acquiring specific technical skills that relate most directly to these broader concepts and provide a solid basis for real-life environmental analysis of built structures.  Focus in greater depth on the use of a few important tools and concepts such as the pychrometric chart, optimization of wind flow, and envelope detailing.
  • Focus more on realistic evaluation of environmental metrics through the use of case studies where results can be quantitatively evaluated for correctness.
  • Structure curriculum to allow alternate options for each assignment.  Provide the opportunity for students to apply the weekly lecture and reading information in realistic design situations, as well as in the traditional theory based assignments.  This will allow students to tailor their learning experience for better engagement of students at all levels throughout the class.
  • Integrate ES801 Final with Studio final, requiring all metrics to be displayed on final boards for presentation.

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