Close Encounters of the Natural Kind: Eco-Composition, Citizen Science, and Academe
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
Dr. Spencer S. Stober
Associate Professor, Department of Science and Math, Alvernia College
Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick
Assitant Professor, Department of Communications, Alvernia College