Above: (Left to right) Luisa Poveda Bautista ’13 and Ainsley Hoglund ’13 check out fresh vegetables and talk to farmers at the Lynchburg Community Market as part of their coursework for The Good Earth.
Interdisciplinary studies (I ST) courses at Randolph College give students the best of all worlds by providing students with the opportunity to explore the relationship and mutual dependence of ideas, methods, and beliefs within different disciplines and areas. The curriculum includes a number of courses taught jointly by faculty members of different departments that may be counted toward departmental major requirements. In addition to courses offered to all students, first-year Randolph students are required to take two seven-week seminars. These I ST seminars are designed to introduce them to the liberal arts and sciences and to help them begin to make connections between subject areas. The following stories detail two of the I ST options available to students at Randolph.
A new interdisciplinary studies (I ST) course at Randolph College is impacting the way students learn. John Abell, an economics professor, and Brad Bullock, a sociology professor, used a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to incorporate metacognition into the course, The Good Earth: Consuming As If the Planet Mattered.
Like other I ST courses, the class approached an interesting subject—in this case consumerism and its environmental effects—from different disciplinary perspectives. By adding a learning concept like metacognition, which teaches students about the learning process in order to make them more strategic learners, Abell and Bullock were able to challenge students to think about their buying habits as consumers and the environmental effects caused by their consumption in new ways. “Metacognition is the idea of learning about learning, or learning how to learn,” said Abell. “It has students taking a greater ownership of their learning.”
In macroeconomics, Abell’s area of interest, consumption is studied as it relates to economic growth and job creation. Traditionally, the presumption has been that ever-increasing consumer purchases represent positive contributions to the economy, a concept that Abell said in recent years has begun to be challenged by some economists. Bullock’s sociological interests, on the other hand, examine how shopping online might be more cost effective or convenient to some consumers, but may create consumer isolation by eliminating the human contact found by shopping in a store or market. Lessons from both disciplines were blended together in the new course.
“We asked students to think about issues that they care about, from several different points of view,” said Bullock. “We wanted to give them a broader context in which to understand their habits as consumers and the consequences of their behavior, whatever they may be, as consumers.”
The course included trips to an organic farm and the Lynchburg Community Market, where students discussed growing methods with farmers and vendors. Another portion of the class included discussion of how some products, food in particular, generate extensive and dangerous negative costs.
Luisa Poveda Bautista ’13, who plans to major in environmental studies, said the course made her think twice about her buying habits. She now tries to purchase as much as she can from smaller, local businesses. “I think everyone should take this class. It’s pretty life changing.”