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FOCUS in Climate: Flights of Courses Unified for Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.786.1 - 26.786.18



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Paper Authors


Deanna H Matthews Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Deanna H. Matthews is Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Affairs and Assistant Teaching Professor in Engineering and Public Policy, as well as Education Director and researcher in the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. In her role in Engineering and Public Policy, Dr. Matthews oversees the undergraduate programs in EPP. In the Green Design Institute, her research centers on the development and deployment of the Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment tool. As Education Director, she oversees education and outreach initiatives for the Green Design Institute. She is the coordinator and instructor of outreach programs to K-12 students and teachers in school settings and informal educational events. She received her B.S.E. in Civil Engineering from Duke University (1994) and her M.S. (1995) and Ph.D. (2001) in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

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Kelly Klima Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Kelly Klima is a Research Scientist at the Department of Engineering and Public Policy of Carnegie Mellon University. She has more than ten years of research experience on adaptation, hazard mitigation, climate, extreme weather, and risk communication. Her research supports community resilience throughout the world, and has been applied in the City of Pittsburgh and counties in New Jersey. Previously, Dr. Klima worked at the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), where she helped New York and Washington DC advance their adaptation planning. Dr. Klima completed her doctoral research in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) at Carnegie Mellon University where she used physics, economics, and social sciences to conduct a decision analytic assessment of different methods to reduce hurricane damages.

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FOCUS in Climate: Flights of Courses Unified for StudentsTo best convey material, the audience must receive an appropriate effective frequency (thenumber of times a person must be exposed to message before a response is made). Smith (1885),Krugman (1965), and others have demonstrated that the effective frequency varies with theabsolute exposures to, frequency of, and intensity of a particular material. Thus, it would seemthat linking diverse courses together in a defined schedule would allow students to plan out theircourses to a) repeat in an area of interest, b) occur more frequently, and c) increase in intensityover time. To do this effectively, we further hypothesize that instructors would need to partiallyoverlap their teaching responsibilities between classes to sustain class dynamics and energy.This may have the added benefit of reducing lecturer time wasted in organizing class dynamics.We call this structure FOCUS (Flights of Courses Unified for Students).Our University is testing FOCUS in Climate. Specifically, we hypothesize that restructuringclimate classes into a coherent structure of classes will 1) Improve student learning experienceby converting repetitive classes into effective learning, and 2) Reduce burden on instructors tomanage extensive coverage of topics, and 3) Assist academic advisors who are often staffmembers in guiding students in elective choices.In the first year, we conducted a needs assessment of the lecturers, academic advisors, andstudents. We worked with lecturers and academic advisors from different departments tounderstand potential barriers to a FOCUS program. Some barriers included class semesterrotation, class length, departmental teaching requirements, and curricula changes. Furthermore ,we conducted both retrospective and pre- and post- surveys to better understand students’barriers to learning and how they might be addressed. We then conducted extensive focus groupdiscussions to help us understand the data we had collected.Informed by these data, we suggest the FOCUS class content and structure. For the Climatecontent area, a content possibility would be informed by the structure of the IPCC FifthAssessment Report which has distinct sections of 1) Climate/Weather, 2) Mitigation, 3)Adaptation, and 4) Policy. Also, on-line modules with “climate basics” available to allinstructors would provide out-of-class materials to allow the students who have variedbackgrounds to fill in knowledge gaps. Two possible class structures are a) to create four half-semester courses designed to follow each other over the course of one year with linked content,and b) to take existing courses and spread them intelligently over the full year. To help reducetransition time and smooth classroom dynamics, we further propose a novel teaching component:overlap between classes.We anticipate that the FOCUS approach will also be applicable to other content areas, and thuswill present the approach in a way that could be adapted to energy, innovation, and other topics.References:Thomas Smith’s Successful Advertising (1885).Herbert E. Krugman. “The Impact of Television Advertising: Learning Without Involvement”Public Opinion Quarterly, volume 29, page 349, 1965.

Matthews, D. H., & Klima, K. (2015, June), FOCUS in Climate: Flights of Courses Unified for Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24123

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