Experiential Model-Based Reasoning for Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Urban Water Synthesis

Authors: Geoffrey Habron*, Furman University, Kate Thompson, Griffith University, Alexander Maas, University of Idaho, Alan Berkowitz, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Topics: Geography Education, Water Resources and Hydrology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: model-based reasoning, socio-environmental synthesis, systems thinking, education, interdisciplinary
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Experiential learning is a powerful approach to learning about complex environmental problems, such as urban water sustainability. We build on previous research on a model-based reasoning approach to interdisciplinary problem solving with undergraduate and graduate environmental science students. As preparation for a summer undergraduate research program across seven sites, ten students participated in a three-day workshop focused on urban watershed issues in the Colorado Front Range. Adopting a model-based reasoning approach, students engaged in individual and group tasks about urban water sustainability. In this paper we focus on the co-creation of concept maps as boundary negotiating objects, and aim to address two main research questions: (1) How does disciplinary background affect conception of a socio-environmental problem?; (2) How does a model-based reasoning approach facilitate socio-environmental synthesis? Findings indicate that: 1) pairs of students with social science backgrounds initially utilized more visual representations of systems thinking than student pairs with engineering backgrounds; 2) natural science and engineering pairs utilized more terms in their initial concept maps than social science pairs; 3) concept maps on Day 3 resembled each other more in format and content than concept maps from Day 1 and 4) concept map process images reveal that students used the visual representations to negotiate, share and synthesize their joint understanding of the case study problem. This illustrates the role of mindful educational design of experiential learning to foster model-based reasoning that helps students of various backgrounds generate shared understanding and critical thinking around complex environmental problems.

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