NAGT > Publications > In the Trenches > The Use of InTeGrate Modules as Pedagogical Bridges into Higher Education

The Use of InTeGrate Modules as Pedagogical Bridges into Higher Education

JOSHUA VILLALOBOS ( is an associate professor of geological sciences at El Paso Community College, El Paso, Texas.

The state of education and how we educate is ever evolving. These changes are often subtle and are misperceived or go unnoticed. Understanding how education evolves, and how it is dictated by several factors, is an important aspect for educators. How students learn is often influenced according to their generation. Each generation has different attributes that are derived from a collection of social and cultural experiences that affect the way they perceive their world and how they learn from it. Students in Generation-X (these are the students who might ask "Why is this on the test?") learn very differently from Millennials (who instead might ask "What is going to be on the test?"). Students from Generation Z, who were born in the mid-1990s after the Millennials, will be in our classes within the next decade and will again require us to reexamine how we teach.

The students who are now entering college are much more active, rather than passive, learners. Recently, I've found that a variety of active, cooperative, and problem-based learning pedagogies, that have been utilized from very early on in our students' education, is highly effective. InTeGrate's Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources module is one tool that can address the broad range of interests among students in the classroom, while engaging students through active pedagogies. The module introduces the concept of environmental justice in the context of the science of freshwater systems. It enables the class to identify freshwater components of the hydrologic cycle and connect them to the basic need of all human beings for equal access to clean fresh water. When I was invited to participate in authoring the module, I was intrigued on how a topic such as environmental justice (EJ), one that I had not heard of, much less taught, in my classes, would fit into my students' education. The module teaches the subject of freshwater resources, a common topic in many intro geology courses, through the lenses of various EJ case studies from around the world. The case studies range from issues that were fundamental in the creation of the EJ movement, such as Love Canal, to issues that are currently debated on both global and national landscapes, such as the increasing scarcity of freshwater in arid communities. Living and teaching in an arid region of West Texas means that many of these issues, both those related to geology (e.g., groundwater and freshwater resources) and EJ (e.g., the unequal distribution of water resources between the US and Mexico) are relevant in my students' lives.

After using the module, I found that students were able to learn about groundwater and surface water through a completely different perspective. The module provided a rare opportunity for students to associate what they learn in the classroom to what they see in their everyday lives. Many of my students are first-generation college students who are familiar with issues regarding the scarcity of clean water. Many have family members who live in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where water is a precious resource and is not to be wasted, and are familiar with the lifestyle and customs that conserve this resource. Even though many of my students are aware of this issue, they were not aware that this lifestyle was either uncommon or that it had a name. Using the module allowed me to transform what was once a simple lecture on groundwater and freshwater resources to a vibrant week-long discussion and investigation of issues that my students can relate to. The units within the module use various pedagogies (think-pair-shares, minute papers, jigsaws, etc.) that encourage the students to work together or think about the issues at hand. I often find myself stopping the engaging class discussions in order to complete my lecture and course objectives! By using this and other InTeGrate curricular modules, instructors can begin to test, develop, and incorporate active, cooperative, and problem-based learning pedagogies into their classes with relative ease. This makes the important transition from passive to active learning in our classrooms less problematic and, in the end, our teaching more effective.