Professor Reilly-Report on the Successful Use of Science Context in EBS classes

SLS Integration into One EBS Class
In the Fall 2012 semester, I worked with Barbara Davis and Mary Flannery to integrate a
science topic into two EBS-021 classes. EBS-021 is the highest level of EBS, the class students
take right before entering WRT-101. I was interested in working with Professors Davis and
Flannery because I wanted to experiment with an approach known as contextualization in my
writing classes. Working on the SLS gave me this opportunity. Contextualization enables a
reading/writing instructor to teach content while teaching reading and writing techniques. Instead
of assigning essays from a developmental English reader, an EBS instructor who implements the
contextualized approach uses reading material from a subject area like science, psychology,
sociology, etc. This material would inform the reading and writing instruction in the class. With
the help of Professors Davis and Flannery, I was able to contextualize the topic of E-coli into my
fall EBS classes. The support they gave me was amazing. They created a Moodle site that was
filled with dozens of articles on E.coli and food safety. They also identified a book-length, nonfiction work entitled Poisoned, by Jeff Benedict, which told the story of the deadly E.coli
outbreak in Seattle Washington in 1993. I modified my syllabus and created new assignments for
my students that used this book. This approach worked well, but my students felt over-saturated
with E.coli by the end of the semester.
In the Spring 2013 semester, I decided to expand the focus of my two EBS classes to
cover food safety, not just E.coli. I added articles and podcasts from the fabulous Moodle site
that was in place and created assignments that required students to write about these sources. I
also refined the section of my course that covered how epidemiologists respond to
epidemics/pandemics. I re-used the movie Contagion and relevant parts of Poisoned, to discuss
this, but added a graphic novella from the CDC website entitled Zombie Pandemic. This novella
was written to inform students about disaster preparation by creating a world that had been
overrun by zombies. The novella describes the zombie “outbreak” and also covers several of the
steps scientists followed to respond to that imagined pandemic. We discussed all three sources in
class, compared them, and then students used this information to write an essay in which they
analyzed the process epidemiologists use to respond to outbreaks. This was a very successful
activity. Other successful activities included the interview with Rita Bernstein. My students
really rose to the occasion as their counterparts did in the fall. They came to class prepared with
serious questions and engaged Ms. Bernstein in meaningful ways. Based on the results of the
spring survey, my students appreciated this activity.
At the end of the spring semester, my students worked on group research projects. They
visited the CDC website and chose one public health risk (obesity, STDs, the new strain of E.coli
in frozen foods, etc.) and did research on this risk. Then they integrated their research into
PowerPoint presentations which they shared with the class during the last week of the semester. I
was most impressed with their effort on this. They were very serious about their research and
very engaged in their projects. The PPTs were well done.
I believe my students benefitted from the expanded coverage of this class, but I still
sensed that they felt overloaded by the intense focus on E.coli. If I were to do this again, I would
add more films on food safety, perhaps add other bacteria, like salmonella, into the mix. I would
also try to integrate more science. I was sorry that my students were unable to interview the
epidemiologist. I think they would have enjoyed this exercise. I’d like to see more hands-on or
experiential activities. Field trips would be nice. It would be interesting to have students visit a
lab where E.coli testing might take place. What a thrill it would be to have them buy chopped
meat or cilantro, have these items tested, and learn the results. Maybe be shocked by them. I
don’t know if it’s possible, but a trip to a meat processing plant or a meat distribution center
might be informative.
Overall, my participation in this project was very rewarding. I have experienced the
power of the contextualized approach, and while my implementation of it was far from perfect, I
believe it made my class more interesting and rewarding for my students and me. My eating
habits and food preparation process have changed, and I know that my students experienced the
same, if to a lesser degree. I want to take this opportunity to thank Professors Davis and Flannery
for their unwavering support. Anytime I asked for their help with additional resources, they
answer the call admirably. They always had great ideas about how to move this pilot to new and
exciting levels. This pilot should be a model for future attempts to contextualize science into
other writing classes: EBS, WRT, or ALP.
I forwarded my syllabi and assignments to Prof. Davis. I would be happy to answer any
questions about them.
Don Reilly