The Project: Students in assistant professor Rachel Brummel’s Environment and Community seminar worked in groups of two to produce podcasts about environmental issues ranging from sustainable transportation in the suburbs to the tiny house movement to frac sand mining. The students conducted research, interviewed people, wrote scripts, and learned to record and edit audio.
The Group: Laura Proescholdt ’16 and Amy Thor ’17
Brummel loves group work: “My overarching goal in assigning collaborative work is to cultivate a community of learners in the classroom. My hope is to create an environment where students experience both the joy and creativity of joint inquiry—and where they’re challenged by working with others.” Group projects, Brummel believes, teach students to work through conflict and differing visions—and the final product is often better because of its collaborative nature.
Plus, she says, when students are working in groups, “Everything is more lively and engaged. There is more chatting before, during, and after class. When students have a shared experience—even if they are working in different groups—it unites them, gives them the opportunity to share insights and tips, and gives them a common language.
Senior Laura Proescholdt and junior Amy Thor worked as a team to create a podcast exploring the role of hope in environmental education and action. Thor sees value in collaborative work, especially in upper-level classes: “I think as students move to more advanced courses and are more intensely involved with their major, there is a lot to be gained from group work. In upper-level classes there is a great opportunity to interact with and learn from fellow students in the major. Plus, students most likely have a similar background and understanding of problems since they have probably taken similar classes in the past.”
For Proescholdt, two was the magic number: “I would highly recommend groups of two because both members are equally accountable, and it is easier [than in a larger group] to find someone with the same excitement and commitment to the topic you’re exploring.”
She continues, “I appreciated the new ideas and perspectives Amy brought to the project. It was also nice—especially during an extended project like this—to get to know someone new and laugh about the challenges we encountered along the way.”
Brummel says that collaboration is the norm in environmental action, which “draws upon multiple disciplines—biology, political science, philosophy—to understand issues and craft ways forward. Whether working for the DNR on invasive species, for the Nature Conservancy on private land management, or Target on corporate sustainability, collaboration is a key element of working for the environment.”