The Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth Science for a Sustainable
Future (InTeGrate) course “Critical Zone Science” (CZS) teaches undergraduate students about the services and resources provided by the critical zone (CZ), Earth’s terrestrial layer that extends from the top of vegetation to unweathered bedrock. The course was developed through the InTeGrate program, which aims to improve undergraduate geosciences education by teaching earth science within the context of societal grand challenges. CZ science provides a valuable ransdisciplinary framework through which students learn the nature and methods of geosciences and apply systems thinking as they investigate grand challenges facing society. Using a CZ approach to learn about Earth systems and the services provided by the CZ has the potential to deeply engage students and develop skills necessary to consider how we can achieve environmental sustainability. While teaching the CZS course,
instructors employ active learning pedagogical practices using authentic data and current research from the National Science Foundation CZ Observatory program. The CZS course was piloted across a range of institutions and most recently at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO), a large, 4-year public and primarily nonresidential campus. Here we present a case study of implementing the course into UNO’s undergraduate curriculum, including strategies and challenges of delivering the course, and describe additional attempts to assess course outcomes, including a new summative assessment tool. Assessment data from pilot courses and the most recent UNO course offering show that students leave the course with a high interest level in earth science and sustainability and the ability to apply complex thinking skills, but additional assessment tools are needed to more effectively assess the
ways in which these materials impact student learning and critical thinking skills.