A student-centered environment promotes student learning and potentially encourages future careers in ESS. To create a positive learning experience for students, ESS instructors should consider prior student knowledge, student learning styles, student interests, student learning objectives, learning resources, pedagogical approaches, and assessments tied to student learning objectives at the beginning of course design. Furthermore, students should be active participants in their learning. Active learning engages students to construct meaningful new cognitive associations rather than merely to receive information. Precise content will vary from course to course, but an effective learning environment starts with the student in mind.
A common theme for ESS courses is the study of Earth as an integrated system of air, land, water and life. It is important for students to take into account multiple processes, interactions and feedbacks among the various components of the Earth system. Systems thinking is therefore fundamental to ESS and should be infused throughout ESS courses and curricula. There is no single “best” way to introduce systems thinking. Over the past 15 years, various methods have introduced effectively the systems approach in ESS. These approaches are described throughout the Scientific Framework and Teaching, Learning, Evaluation sections of the Design Guide.
ESS courses have many common learning objectives, including: demonstrating systems thinking; developing an ESS knowledge base; applying ESS to the human dimension, expanding and applying analytical skills; improving critical thinking skills; building professional/career skills; and acquiring an enjoyment of and appreciation for science.
Special pedagogical approaches have been implemented in many ESS courses. These approaches include use of exciting topics (the “Wow” factor), systems thinking, interdisciplinary team-teaching, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning, use of technology, international experiences, scientific communication, and undergraduate research.
ESS courses have used a variety of evaluation tools, including exams, project reports, concept maps, surveys, portfolios, rubrics, and interviews. The ESSE Evaluation Toolkit provides examples of the uses of these tools.