Capstones and practica in environmental studies and sciences programs: Rationale and lessons learned

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Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences


Environmental Science and Studies (ESS) programs grapple with the need to address several important, and sometimes competing, goals in curricula, such as understanding coupled human-natural systems, interdisciplinary approaches, problem solving, science literacy, informed citizenship, and career preparation. Hands-on projects that allow students to apply their academic learning to the real world in the form of capstone projects and practica offer the potential to meet many of these goals. In June 2010, a session was convened at the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) annual conference at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, to discuss the benefits of these projects for student learning and to share practical experience of facilitating these types of projects and associated courses on different campuses across the country. This special issue of JESS features eight case studies of ESS capstone course projects at various institutions, from small liberal arts colleges to large research institutions. These examples serve as templates for instructors hoping to start similar programs at other institutions or to adapt new projects in existing capstone courses. This paper synthesizes the collective lessons learned from these case studies. We found that that while these case studies help instructors achieve some similar learning goals, several important differences exist, suggesting that curricula and the demands faced by instructors in the emerging field of ESS are still quite varied. © 2011 AESS.

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