Vincent Gawronski, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Political Science, Birmingham-Southern College.
William Holt, Ph.D./J.D., Coordinator, Urban Environmental Studies, Birmingham-Southern College,
Birmingham-Southern College (BSC)’s Exploration Term in January affords instructors and students opportunities to create innovative projects that might be developed into semester-long courses. Drawing on BSC’s Urban Environmental Studies Program (UES), we planned this course to cross our traditional subject boundaries in political science and sociology with the natural sciences. The course focused on environmental hazards (tectonic-earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, weather extremes, hydrological flood and droughts as well as disease epidemics) and urban social risks (poverty, war, starvation, and crime). We employed blended and flipped learning strategies as well as games and simulations. We conducted several field activities in the Birmingham metropolitan area as well as a three-night trip to New Orleans to examine post-Katrina redevelopment. The project drew upon academic publications, resources from local, national, and international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and guest experts; we also relied heavily on Internet resources. The compressed January Exploration Term created some scheduling and pedagogical challenges. For example, it was not always possible to schedule remote class visits. Students had shorter times for class preparation and reflections, and we had little time to overcome technological problems. We realized our goals were too ambitious for a four-week session. We plan to offer the course again as full-summer term course to address time constraints and make use of better weather for field excursions. Indeed, there was a learning curve for both the professors and the students, but we are confident we successfully introduced and reinforced the course learning outcomes.
I would definitely take a blended learning course again. I learn best by watching, listening, and interacting. Blended learning almost seemed to cater to my ability to focus and learn.
This course was different from many other classes that I have taken so far since our learning came from many different sources, trips, guest speakers, simulations, and lectures.