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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael C Reese
ENVIR 450
Seattle Campus

Special Topics in Environmental Studies

Format may range from seminar/discussion to formal lectures to laboratory or modeling work.

Class description

This course requires a fair amount of writing and research, but don't let that scare you away. Students in this class will explore interesting and important environmental issues: genetically modified food, the politics of wilderness preservation, and the dramatic decline of salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, this class may be one of the most useful ones that you ever take at the UW because it is designed explicitly as a skill-building seminar. Specifically, this class seeks to help you build skills in six different areas:

1) Writing. Good writing is a recursive process, and one becomes a stronger writer only though reflection and practice. You will practice revising your writing, organizing your thoughts before you begin to write, and drafting clear thesis statements and strong topic sentences. You will learn how to use a style manual to help you cite sources and clear up grammatical problems.

2) Research. You will explore how to use electronic databases and other tools to find peer-reviewed, academic sources. We will discuss ways to search the Internet effectively and how to evaluate web-based sources.

3) Critical reading. Effective reading entails a critical--even skeptical--approach to sources of information. We will pay careful attention to the connection between writers' claims and their evidence. We will also analyze authors' values, their rhetorical strategies, and their disciplinary perspectives and presuppositions.

4) Crossing disciplinary boundaries. You will read and critique articles from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Research assignments will require you to find additional resources from several disciplines on your own. We will discuss ways to combine materials from several disciplines in a single essay.

5) Working as a team. Throughout the quarter, you will work in a writing group, where you will practice critiquing and revising the drafts written by your fellow group members. Your group will also prepare a jointly authored paper and oral report.

6) Appreciating the complexity of environmental issues. We will analyze several disputes over environmental issues in order to achieve a better understanding of the motivations of the stakeholders in these struggles. Rather than looking for heroes and scapegoats, we will analyze the multifaceted nature of environmental conflict at the global, national, and local levels.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

A commitment to active learning shapes the organization of this class: you will develop skills not simply by listening to the instructor, but by working with your peers and by practicing skills in your own work. We will use class time in a variety of ways: discussing readings, working in small groups, meeting in the library to do online research, and holding writing workshops. Each student will have a face-to-face writing conference with the instructor three times during the quarter. The reading load for this course, roughly 65 pages per week, is modest, but students will do a substantial amount of writing and research.

Recommended preparation

Some previous Environmental Studies coursework--especially ENVIR 201, ENVIR 202, or ENVIR 203--is recommended.

Class assignments and grading

This course is divided into three units, each one analyzing a different issue. We begin by analyzing the debates about the origins and cultural meanings of wilderness preservation. We then turn our attention to the international disagreements about the safety of genetically modified foods. We finish by examining the disputes about how to restore the declining salmon runs in Washington State.

You will write 4 to 5 pages about each of these conflicts. Each essay will be written in a different genre, with a different set of disciplinary conventions: the first is primarily a humanities essay, the second is largely a scientific paper, and the third is a multidisciplinary policy report. For each of these three major writing assignments, you are required to submit a rough draft and go through a revising process. The third of these assignments requires you to work in teams. Each team will represent a different set of stakeholders interested in Washington State's rivers and salmon. Each group--representing the interests of its stakeholders--will compose a 20-page report analyzing the salmon crisis and proposing policies to promote salmon recovery. You will thus be responsible for preparing 4 to 5 pages of your team's report. Each group will also prepare an oral presentation to a mock congressional hearing.

You will also write two 2-page mini-essays--one during the first week of the course and one during finals week. You will not be required to submit rough drafts of these mini-essays.

First mini-essay 7.5% Essay about the politics of wilderness preservation 15% Essay about the debates over the safety of GM food 20% Stakeholders' written report on the salmon crisis 20% Stakeholders' oral testimony on the salmon crisis 10% Second mini-essay 7.5% Participation in class discussions and writing groups 20%


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Michael C Reese
Date: 11/20/2005