Course: ENV200E
Instructor: Nixon + Pacala, Mintz-Woo, Fleurbay
F 2019

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

The goal of the course is to introduce students to the “environmental nexus” – the four intersecting issues of food, water, biodiversity, and climate – and to teach them to think about its problems (and how to approach them) from a variety of disciplinary lenses: scientific/technological (Pacala), political (Pacala + guest lecturers), ethical (Mintz-Woo), economic (Fleurbay), and aesthetic/literary (Nixon).   The organizational “flow” of the 36 lectures is not obvious. The course switches off between the different lecturers (though Pacala leads the most) and, generally speaking, later lectures within a particular disciplinary approach may build upon material from earlier lectures within that approach (e.g. later science-focused lectures presupposed a basic geological understanding of the greenhouse effect, which we learned about earlier in the course).   The lack of obvious “flow” makes it difficult to know what one should be taking away from each lecture. Luckily, though, each lecture slideshow included a slide (either at the beginning or at the end) containing the lecture’s “learning goals”. On the midterm and final exams, you will only be tested on these learning goals. Because there is an incredible amount of information in the course to be tested on, I suggest downloading the lectures slides before coming to lecture (they’re generally posted the same morning) so that you can know beforehand what the learning goals and focus your note-taking primarily on what you will later be tested on.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

This course is unconventional in that, in addition to a shared lecture, it has different types of precept/lab sections, each in different distribution requirements (STN, STL, EM, LA, QR) and situated within each of the course’s disciplinary lenses. I can only speak to the LA precept with Nixon and the shared lectures.   Lectures: Because there’s so much material in this course, I recommend taking notes (see above for how to make sure these focus primarily on the “learning goals”) in lecture so that you can easily return to them ahead of the midterm and final exams.   LA Precept: In some ways, precept is a class in its own right. It has its own readings and assessments (two essays, and several precept-specific short essay questions on the exams). Since this is a discussion-based precept and since the essays and exams test your understanding of and insights regarding the precept texts, it is very important to do the assigned readings beforehand so that you can both participate in discussion and write insightful essays. It’s worth noting that precept almost felt like a class unto itself, and it has a decently large amount of reading. Also helpful for when you have to write your essays and prepare for the exams is having notes from the class conversation about the key themes and important aspects of each text you read.

Learning For and From Assignments

Exams: There’s a misconception that the ENV200 exams are completely memorization based. This is not the case. The exam is made of short answer and short essay questions that require you to demonstrate a thorough understanding of not just the “what”, but also the “why” behind the material you’ve learned, and to apply that “why” to bigger-picture questions. If you can give a nuanced and evidence-based answer to each of the “learning goal” questions, you will be in very good shape. Now, doing so does in some cases require some memorization (e.g. memorizing some historical examples of un/successful environmental policies), but you also need to understand the “why” (e.g. why did this policy fail/succeed? What does that tell us about how we should now approach the environmental nexus from a policy perspective?) Since no practice exams are released, the best tool for studying is the “learning goals”. Making a large document with all the lectures’ learning goals and then working through each of them (if needed, with the help of the relevant lecture’s slides), one by one, allows you to make sure you can really answer each one’s “what” and “why”.  

External Resources

One very helpful resource for if you ever miss class (which is not recommended because 5% of your grade is iClicker attendance, though it’s sometimes inevitable when lecture is three times a week) is that the lectures are filmed and uploaded to youtube. This allows you to catch up with the lecture itself and not just try to make sense of soundless PowerPoints!

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

It’s like having two mini classes: one that has ~3 hours of class time per week with minimal external preparation (except for ahead of exams), and another one that has only ~1 hour of class time but a bunch of external preparations (readings/films + the two essays). In total, it was maybe like taking 1.5 classes.
The Environmental Nexus

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