Center for Instructional
Innovation and Assessment


Paula Dagnon
Rebekah Green
Jerimiah Welch
Goals Contents
Rebekah Green
Environmental Studies

Institutional Goals

Listed below are selected learning outcomes in the area of critical thinking that Western Washington University is actively integrating into its curriculum. Each learning outcome is listed with its definition, along with a description of how Rebekah Green's teaching strategies meet each of these student learning outcome goals.


Critical Thinking

Learning Outcomes Definition Course Outcomes
Identification Accurately identifies and interprets evidence.

Much of the course content focuses on understanding a range of ways humans interact with natural environments in ways that shape society. Using six articles from National Geographic, three anthropological studies, and two films, I provide students with a variety of evidence regarding how subsistence strategies interact dynamically with population size, complexity, religious expression and social hierarchy. As a class we discuss each connection. Students then write their first essay on why the role of natural environments in cultural change, building their opinions from this body of evidence.

Alternative Consideration Considers major alternative points of view.

To help students see alternative views on nature, I have selected six vastly different National Geographic articles describing socio-ecological systems as varied as modern farmers in drought-ridden Australia to Kyrgyz sheep herders in Afghanistanís remote mountains to modern foragers in Tanzanian bush country. Students each read a different article and then compare notes with each other. Throughout the course, I encourage them to bring up these case studies and their own personal experience in class discussions. Having students read different case studies models the importance of diverse experiences and alternative perspectives on our relationship to the natural environment.

I also carefully pair readings to provide alternative, even competing, arguments and ask students to critically reflect on these positions in essays. I have them read Hardinís seminal work on the tragedy of the commons, but follow this by Ostromís critique. Reading Diamondís theory of societal collapse is paired with an indigenous critique of the theory.

Accurate Conclusions Draws warranted, judicious, non-fallacious conclusions.

The blended course environment created ample opportunity for students to state strong opinions in discussions. To support them in avoiding broad, unsubstantiated generalizations, I required that conclusions be based upon verifiable, cited facts. I modeled appropriate discussion text, showing examples of unsubstantiated and substantiated arguments in the syllabus and required hyperlinks to credible sources or in text citations when they wrote about environmental impacts or human-nature interactions.

Justification Justifies key results and procedures, and explains assumptions and reasons.

I structured their discussions to be grounded in class readings. Students were expected to make articulate arguments based upon class material in both their discussions and in their essays. Grading, in large part, was based upon how well they argued a position using the course readings, lectures, and other material as their justification.

Source: Adapted from the California Academic Press's Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric (HCTSR).


Learning Outcomes Definition Course Outcomes
Rhetorical Knowledge Focuses on a clear rhetorical purpose and responds appropriately to the needs of varied audiences and situations.

Human Ecology and Sustainability is not designated a writing intensive course, as much as the students believe it should be based upon the amount of writing they do. I do not require drafts and revisions of their written assignments. However, the students write three essays, each requiring them to analyze a set of readings and articulate an argument based upon them. I treat these three essays much like a re-visioning process. In the first essay, I comment extensively on structuring their argument and drawing evidence from the reading. Before the second essay, I show them a sample paragraph. I point out my use of topic sentences to frame an argument and my use of direct quote and paraphrased elements from the readings as evidence for my argument. I challenge them to include these elements in their own second essay. I then comment on this second essay, adding an emphasis on style, syntax and proper citation formatting. The series builds the studentís writing skills over the course, modeling a composition process over several assignments, even without grading a draft.

Critical Analysis Develops, examines, situates, and communicates a reasoned perspective clearly to others.
Composing Processes Understands writing as a recursive process that involves drafting, re-thinking, editing, reconceptualizing.
Convention Knowledge Uses appropriate conventions for documentation and for surface features such as syntax, grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling.
Source: Adapted from Western Washington University's Learning Outcomes for Writing II.

Information Literacy

Learning Outcomes Definition Course Outcomes
Identifying Need Recognizes and articulates the need for information, identifies potential sources, considers the costs and benefits, and reevaluates the nature and extent of the information need.

For their final research paper, students develop and then analyze case studies of socio-ecological systems and the ways in which resource use includes or ignores sustainability principles. With the vast resources of the web, students often find sites with passionate, but unsubstantiated, claims about environmental impacts, environmental processes or sustainability. To help them hone their skills for evaluating information sources, their first research paper assignment is to submit a group topic and a set of three written sources for each case study. I first discuss with students the difference between peer-reviewed sources, news sources, and opinion. I also show them how to use library database searches. When they turn in their sources, I review them and note any problematic sources. Students must revise their source list, often multiple times, before I will approve their topic and allow them to begin researching and writing their case study. The process helps them learn to evaluate the source and content of the information on which they are building their own opinions.

Search Strategies Matches information needs to information resources, organizes an effective search strategy and manages the information and its sources.
Evaluating Evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
Synthesis Applies new and prior information to the planning, creation, and revision of the development process, and communicates the product or performance effectively.
Responsibility Understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.

Source: Adapted from Western Washington University's Learning Outcomes for Writing II.