Encouraging critical thinking in a combined Arts and Science course on the relationship between people and the environment

Richard Baker, Mandy Lupton

Abstract


The Australian National University’s course Resources, Environment and Society (SRES1001) was born out of the desire to combine Arts Faculty and Science Faculty approaches to understanding the relationship between people and the environment. While meeting the needs of both Arts and Science students it has also attracted a wide range of students from across all of ANU’s faculties. At ANU, about 50 per cent of students are enrolled in a double degree, the most common degree being Arts/Science. In the two years SRES1001 has been running, it has attracted students from 32 different degree programs.

The course developed as a three-way collaboration between a Geographer – Dr Richard Baker, a Forester – Professor Peter Kanowski, and a Sociologist – Dr Alastair Greig. As such, it presents a unique interdisciplinary course that presents science in a way that is accessible to Arts students, and social science in a way that is accessible to Science students. It has successfully integrated the practical vocationally oriented aspects of first year Forestry, with first year Geography’s broad ranging society-environment concerns and first year Sociology’s emphasis on critical thinking.

The course has a strong skills development focus with the aim of giving students the research and communication skills required to successfully complete later year courses. Particular attention has been given to critical thinking and writing skills. The course is team taught by staff from the Science and Arts Faculties, key researchers from the ANU Research Schools, staff from the Information Literacy Program and the Academic Skills and Learning Centre, experts from Federal and ACT government departments, as well as key Canberra based non-government organisations. In one sense there have been two teams involved in SRES1001: firstly the course design and coordination team of Dr Richard Baker and Dr Alastair Greig; and secondly the wide range of presenters, panelists and tutors. In the two years that the course has been taught 55 experts have been involved in the teaching of the course.

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