Close Encounters of the Natural Kind: Eco-Composition, Citizen Science, and Academe

By:
Dr. Spencer S. Stober,
Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick
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Most college students have no understanding of sustainability: the “intergenerational concept that means adjusting our current behavior so that it causes the least amount of harm to future generations…” as defined by Derek Owens (2001) in his book, Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation. This environmental concept, with its quest for awareness and activism, brought together two scientists and one compositionist to develop a course for at-risk students called Close Encounters of the Natural Kind.

Steven Spielberg’s classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) inspired Close Encounters of the Natural Kind to help students experience natural phenomena and reflect on and communicate their experiences. A close encounter with extraterrestrials caused citizens in the movie to experience phenomena beyond explanation. Some citizens were unable to reflect on the experience, while others experienced a re-enchantment similar to what Morris Berman (1981) describes in his classic book, The Re-enchantment of the World. Modern science objectifies nature to reduce bias as it attempts to explain natural phenomena, but besides describing natural phenomena, we must reflect on our participation in natural phenomena.

This course study was designed to develop communication skills while considering environmental issues and encouraging students to become citizen scientists with an environmental ethic. An “action plan” project was developed for this course to encourage students to consider ways to mitigate an environmental concern. Using eco-composition, field trips, and lab activities, the action plan improved communication skills, fostered creativity, and caused students to consider solutions to real-life environmental concerns. Teams (our “citizen scientists”) (1) provided an overview of an environmental concern, including scientific, ethical, social considerations; (2) developed a “step-by-step” plan to mitigate the issue; (3) considered anticipated outcomes and future implications.


Keywords: Citizen Science, Eco-Composition, Environmental Education, Higher Education, Sustainability
Stream: Environmental Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Close Encounters of the Natural Kind


Dr. Spencer S. Stober

Associate Professor, Department of Science and Math, Alvernia College
USA

Dr. Spencer S. Stober is an Associate Professor of Biology and Education, and President of Faculty Council at Alvernia College (Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.). His primary areas of interest include environmental education, cell biology and genetics. Dr. Stober recently participated in Dartmouth’s Faculty Summer Institute 2004: Teaching the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of Humane Genome Research (funded by the National Institutes of Health/U.S.A.). Dr. Stober is a teaching biologist with creative ideas that encourage students to become good stewards of our environment. He has practical experience dealing with the challenges of sustainable land use. Stober Limited (with Dr. Stober as President) developed the Meadows at Adamstown, a “green development” that serves as a model for habitat protection of an endangered species (Clemmys muhlenbergii, commonly called the “bog turtle”). Dr. Stober is actively engaged in land use and regional planning in a Lancaster County (Adamstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.) where he serves as Vice President of the Borough Council.

Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick

Assitant Professor, Department of Communications, Alvernia College
USA

Caroline (Carrie) Fitzpatrick is an Assistant Professor of Communication/CIS/English and the Director of Instructional Standards at Alvernia College, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. She holds master degrees in Communication Studies and Educational Technology, and she is completing doctoral work in Rhetoric and Linguistics. Currently, she serves on the Electronic Communications Committee and Publications Committee for the International English Honor Society and the Mass Communications Advisory Board for the Washington Center, Washington D.C. Some recent scholarly work includes: Educational Insights in Literacy through Qualitative Methodologies, Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, January 2005, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Technology Use in Teaching & Learning: Electronic Portfolios, Threaded Papers, and New Essay Textuality, July 2004, International Conference on Education and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications (EISTA) and International Conference on Cybernetics and Information Technologies, Systems and Applications (CITSA), Orlando, Florida. Her research interests incorporate multimodal communication, literacy development, qualitative research, and instructional technology.

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