Environmental Chemistry students go global without leaving the lab
Students in CHEM 270 Environmental Chemistry labs have always used local water sources to test for basic indicators of quality, but this year they’ll be getting a fresh perspective by comparing their results online with students at the Mahatma Gandhi University in India.
“Water quality is essential to human health, it’s tremendously impacted by human activity and it’s something that most people understand the importance of,” says Jonathan Withey, associate professor and chair of Physical Sciences. “When we ask our students to compare and contrast their data on water quality with data from students on the other side of the world, it allows us to share an international perspective in our lab without the financial and other resources that travel commands.”
With support from a grant from Alberta Advanced Education Internationalization at Home in Science Education, lab instructor Laurie Amundson travelled to Kottayam, India earlier this summer to meet with instructors at Mahatma Gandhi University, run through the tests, review how to use the equipment, see where they would be collecting their water from and make sure both universities were using the same water collection methods.
“In India, people get their water differently, they use it differently and they think about it differently than we do in Edmonton,” says Laurie, who drew from her experience in India to create a series of online questions that students from both universities will answer.
“ We hope the experience will give students an international perspective on their results, and also a start at better understanding one another.” Laurie Amundson
Throughout the semester, students in Edmonton and Kottayam will make predictions, learn theory and standards for water quality in Canada and India, and then test water from different local sources—the municipal water system, wells, rainwater and nearby rivers or ponds—for indictors including nitrates, nitrites and dissolved oxygen. Then, they will share online both their results and answers to the questions Laurie developed.
“We hope the experience will give students an international perspective on their results, and also a start at better understanding one another,” says Laurie. “International experience might seem obvious in some disciplines, but chemistry tends to be thought of as more of a local experience. But whenever I talk about this project, people get very excited.”
Not only does the project score high for being innovative and interesting, it’s also scalable.
“If it’s successful, we could look at including partners in other parts of the world, and expanding to include other fundamental elements of the environment and how they might differ cross-culturally or across continents,” says Jonathan.
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