Stream Water Quality and Service Learning in an Introductory Biology Class
Northland College is a small environmental liberal arts college in northern Wisconsin near Lake Superior. In the fall of 2007 and 2008 students in a mixed science majors/non-majors introductory biology course engaged in a semester-long, service-learning project to monitor E. coli in city stormwater draining into Bay City Creek, a small stream that flows through campus and the town of Ashland before flowing into Lake Superior. Such monitoring is beyond the budget of most municipalities, but is an important public health and aesthetic issue for Ashland and Lake Superior. Our hypothesis was that this service-learning research project would have a positive impact on student learning and student perception of science, and the project would generate useful information for city leaders. Students collected and processed water samples using a standard protocol, analyzed the effect of stormwater on stream water quality, and presented their data in the form of posters to the mayor, a city administrator, and the Provost. Student learning was assessed by a poster-grading rubric, and by online and Northland College instruments. Student perceptions of science were found to be more positive than in the year preceding this project, even when clear answers were not found from their scientific investigation, and there appeared to be no distinction in responses between science majors and non-majors.
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