Course Guide Information | Learning Objectives | Teaching Methods | Expectations | Deadlines and Grades

Spring 2019 Course Guide Information

Course Title: Food Production Systems and Sustainability (formerly Food System, Sustainability and Climate Change).
Course Guide Listing:   DY SCI 471 and INTER-AG 471 starting spring 2019
Prerequisites: Junior, Senior, Graduate standing
Date/Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4-5:15 pm 
Location: Animal Science Building, room 209
Instructor: Michel Wattiaux, 434 Animal Sciences Building,
Teaching Assistant: tba.
Description: This trans-disciplinary course delves into aspects of biological, social, and agricultural sciences underpinning the assessment of food production systems as related to mitigation and adaptation to climate change. After engaging students in an example multidisciplinary case-study of milk carbon foot-print, instructors will guide students through the development of their own food production and climate change case-study research projects culminating with students creating multi-media web-pages, giving audio-visual presentations, and (for grad students) writing a peer-review style article. Students will engage in collaborative projects with people from disparate disciplinary paradigms.
Additional info: This course partially fulfills the course requirement of the Food System Certificate (CALS) and the Sustainability Certificate (Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies), and the CALS three credits of International Studies (pending). The course is also listed in the category E: Applied Biology, Agriculture and Natural Resources of the Biology Major as well as in the list of electives for the Global Health Certificate. This course contributes also to your eligibility to participated in a two-week Field Study Program in Mexico (i.e., This course can be used as fulfilling the prerequisite for the international field program.)

Learning Objectives

Overarching objective: Students will develop the skills to critically evaluate food production systems as they relate to sustainability and climate change using recent findings from biological, physical, and social sciences.

Theme 1: Reading and discussion of core research in food systems and climate change, for a milk production case study

  • Students will learn to integrate knowledge from crop science, livestock science, environmental science, and social science about distinct production systems, including urban and rural, local and global, and small to industrial scale (see Figure below).
  • Students will learn about distinct food production systems':
    • contribution to climate change: greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O)
    • mitigation of climate change: carbon sequestration and emissions reduction
    • adaptation to climate change: adapting management of production systems to changing weather patterns
  • Students will learn how social structures profoundly affect not only people, but also biology, ecology, and our very climate (contribution to/mitigation of climate change). And the complement: how people's race/class/gender/occupation/nation status within the global social structure, as well as the nature of the global social structure itself, profoundly impacts their ability to cope with changing climate (adaptation to climate change).

Theme 2: Student Group Projects

  • Students will develop the capacity to critically assess the greenhouse gas emissions of food production and distribution systems, including:
    • contributing your personal effort as a member of a goal-oriented learning community;
    • identifying a researchable question;
    • searching for sources of information and evaluation methods and tools relevant to your project; and
    • developing analytic and problem solving skills as you use the information and evaluation tools.
  • Students will develop their ability to communicate information to multiple audiences through multiple media, including:
    • creating multi-media web pages;
    • co-authoring a peer-review style article (for grad students); and
    • audio-visual presentation of your findings.

Additional Learning Objectives for Graduate Students

  • Students will develop skills working with mixed teams including undergraduate students.
  • Students will hone their research and writing skills in drafting academically rigorous literature reviews.
  • Students will learn to assess the broader impacts of research beyond the academic setting.

Teaching Methods

Theme 1

image describing the scope of food production systems
Throughout the course the instructors will use a mix of the following techniques: the case-study teaching methodology, flipped classroom, and interactive class discussion of assigned readings. Course material will span social and natural science approaches to assessing sustainability of food production systems, with special emphasis on livestock production in domestic and international contexts. The instructors will model what they want students to do in their team projects in theme 2 of the course. Using the example of milk production, and comparing large, confined, industrial milk production in Wisconsin with small, family-based, pasture production in Wisconsin, instructors will model: identifying a research question or problem and its various production, social, and environmental aspects, evaluating possible research methods and metrics, describing the results, and interpreting results. Using this dairy case study, instructors will also model how to develop web pages for public consumption and how to write peer-review style research articles.

By the end of Part 1, Students will have a good understanding of the relationships among "food," Production Systems," and "Sustainability" as illustrates in Figure 1. More importantly, students will be prepared to identify and address mitigation and adaptation issues of other food production systems in different parts of the world and how they may relate to one another.

The teaching method used in Theme 1 emphasizes ACTIVE participation of students before, during and after class. The course will be based primarily on pre-assigned readings followed by in-class discussion of papers. The in-class time will include a variety of learning activities (case studies, group discussion, etc.). PowerPoint presentations will be used sparingly only to clarify key concepts as needed. The work you do before and after class: reading the articles, taking the quizzes, completing the pre- and post-class blogs, and doing other homework (as described on the Materials and Schedule page) is essential for you to do well in this class.

Theme 2

Concurrently with the development of knowledge through readings and discussions, students will learn and practice hands-on skills. Students will conduct group projects and practice several modes of communication, including designing web pages, public speaking, and writing for lay and scientific audiences. Each group will focus on a specific aspect of a specific type of food system, and compare the climate implications of at least two distinct production approaches within that food system.

After a series of library and web-development workshops, students will concurrently construct multi-media web pages as they advance their projects. Class will take the form of student-led presentations and discussion of their project content and their websites as they progress through specific project milestones. Instructors will give feedback and guidance in class. Groups will contain a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students who will work together towards and initial deliverable of an annotated bibliography and outline of their basic analysis to answer their research question. Then team members will communicate these results in separate products. Undergraduates are expected to take leadership on the design of a webpage that conveys the project analysis while graduate students are expected to place more time and effort on a peer-review style paper. At the end of the semester, each full team will give an audio-visual class presentation with project results.

Expectations: What am I expected to do to get good grades?

1. Class Participation

Your role as a student: 
As a student, you are expected to take an active role in your own learning. Please review the lecture material or complete the reading assignment before class. The ways you can be proactive and gain credit in this class include:
  • Be prepared for class and team work: Allocate enough time to read the papers carefully before class. Think of the reading and homework assignments as a way of helping yourself find out what you know and what you don't know or don't fully understand. For making sense of the course material, you have to continually question yourself, your teammates, your classmates and your instructor.
  • Another important aspect of being prepared for class is synthesizing the material from the readings through your own summaries and notes before the class. In addition, you should be taking notes during class to be able to study and have a record of your thinking (and how it changes) through the course of the class. To facilitate both the pre-class and in-class learning and synthesizing, we will require that each student submit a 70-80 word pre-class blog post each class, which offers a reaction to the reading and/or a question to address in the day's discussion. 
  • Be an active participant in class: Active participation in class means listening, thinking, taking notes and asking questions. There are (almost) no stupid questions in this class. As long as you have a genuine interest in learning the subject matter, all questions will be valid questions!  Be honest with yourself and you will find out what your current level of knowledge really is, and what your misunderstandings might be.
Depending on the schedule, here is what you are expected to do for this class: 
    Before class:
    • Use your NetID to log onto the "restricted" (internal) Schedule and Materials page of the website
    • Read the posted paper(s) and/or view posted videos  
    • After reading (and/or watching videos, synthesize what you've learned by completing the quiz and pre-class blog. The quiz will test your knowledge and understanding of the pre-class assignments (readings, videos, etc.) 
      • Deadline to complete the quiz and pre-class blog is 1:00 PM the day of class.
      • Students are allowed two attempts at each quiz, however the quiz grade will be assessed by averaging the scores of every attempt.
    During class we may engage in any of the following class activities:
    • Group discussion of the readings;
    • Introduction of the topic with a mini-lecture (if needed);
    • Small group activities;
    • Discuss a case study.
    After class:
    • After reflecting on the day's discussion, synthesize what you've learend by completing a post-class blog.
    • Deadline to complete the post-class blog is 4:00 PM the day after class (i.e. 24 hours after class).
Note that the blog entries and the quizzes should be completed as your own effort reflecting your understanding of the topic. If you have access to materials from previous offerings of the course, the act of copying/pasting answers or partially editing answers from others is an instance of academic misconduct, the definition of which includes "any act aimed at making false representation of one's academic performance." The University has strict rules and provides for disciplinary action on this issue. Please see the UW academic misconduct page for more details.

Our role as instructors: 
As your instruction team, our goal is to help you learn (and as a result help you get good grades). The variety of instruction strategies used for the course will help you acquire knowledge that makes sense to you. We are happy to accommodate for the variety of interests that each student brings to class, but to do so, we need to hear from you! Do not be afraid to set a time to visit with us if you have any concerns. In other words, we want this course to be of interest to each one of you. We hope this class will motivate you to expand your interest in sustainability, food systems and climate change. Our role is:
  • To define the course topics and relative importance of various subject matters,
  • To provide you with the information and resources you need to learn,
  • To facilitate class activities designed to foster deep thinking and critical analysis;
  • To communicate with you in a way that facilitates your learning,
  • To set the level of expectations and evaluate your progress and your work.

2. Team Research Project

The group research project is, in some ways, the heart of the course. Through your efforts, with guidance and feedback from the instructors, you will learn how to make evidence-based assessments and recommendations. You will most likely learn to assess the greenhouse gas emissions from different food system configurations, although some projects will focus more on adaptation, mitigation, and social implications. Groups will form early in the semester to begin the important process of team-building and topic identification. Intermediate components of the final project will be due periodically throughout the semester.

For more information on the intermediate deliverables and instructions, a list of recommended projects, a timeline, and helpful resources, we will be posting a link here shortly.

    2(a): Multi-media Website 

    Team members will develop a website that conveys the findings of their group project. The internet has become more of the most effective and important means of communication. Having the capability to develop and maintain your own web pages allows you to respond quickly to breaking news, present content exactly as you want, and save time and expense by avoiding intermediaries. As part of your group project, you and your team will develop your own web page in order to share what you have learned with the broader public. We expect undergraduate students to take the leadership, but surely graduate students could and should contribute to this effort.

    2(b): Peer-Review Style Article

    Team members will produce a peer-review style article summarizing the team project, modeled after a respected peer-reviewed journal. We expect graduate students to take the leadership, but surely undergraduate could and should contribute to this effort. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals allows researchers to contribute to our collective knowledge and to take an active role in their respective field. Publications contribute to your reputation and to your ability to fund your research projects and find engaging employment. Peer-reviewed publications are needed to establish the credibility of your work. The relatively high turn-around for journals allows you to communicate your research results and impact your field quickly.

    2(c): Audio-visual Presentation

    Effective presentation skills are vital for getting a job, getting your project funded, and communicating information so people understand it, remember it, and use it. At the end of the semester, your team will deliver an effective and engaging audio-visual presentation of your project and findings to the class.

Deadlines and Grades (tentative)

  Due Date Undergraduate Graduate
Individual Graded Elements
Class participation 1: Pre- and post-class blogs on assigned material ongoing 20 points 20 points
Class participation 2: Quizzes ongoing 15 points 15 points
Class participation 3: Discussion skills (contribution and reflection)  ongoing 10 points 10 points

Team Project Graded Elements1
Team annotated bibliography and analysis outline 3/01 5 points 5 points
Initial peer-review style article 3/13 5 points 10 points
Team-led class discussion of case study project 3/20-3/22 10 points 10 points
Initial web page  3/20-3/22 10 points 5 points
Final peer-review style article 04/10 5 points 10 points
Final web page  4/17-4/26 10 points 5 points
Class presentation of team project case study 4/17-4/26 10 points 10 points
Total 100 points 100 points
1: At the beginning of the project team members will jointly plan their respective contribution to the effort (identify major steps, allocate tasks, set deadlines, etc.). At the end of the semester, students will complete a self evaluation along with an evaluation of other team members for effort in relation to the initial plan. These evaluations will be used to adjust the student's final grade for the sum of all the team project deliverables by up to 5 points.

How will letter grades be assigned? A criterion-referenced grading will be used in this class and therefore you do not need to worry about your standing relative to others in this course. In fact, working together with others may be to everyone's advantage. The following is an approximate grading scale that the instructors will use to determine the letter grade associated with students' percentage achieved in the class. However, the instructors will adjust the grading scale as they see fit to reward student effort.
  • A: 90-100%
  • AB: 87-89%
  • B: 80-86%
  • BC: 77-79%
  • C: 70-76%
  • D: 60-69%
  • F: 0-59%