Syllabus (and home page)

Homepage for the Food Systems, Sustainability, and Climate course


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

Spring 2017 Course Guide Information

Course Title: Food Systems, Sustainability, and Climate Change
Course Guide Listing:   Agroecology 875, Agronomy 375, Dairy Science 375, Environmental Studies 400, Food Science 375, Geography 475, and Plant Pathology 375
Prerequisites: Junior, Senior, Graduate standing
Date/Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4-5:15 pm 
Location: Sterling Hall, room 2301
Instructors: Michel Wattiaux, 434 Animal Sciences Building, wattiaux@wisc.edu
Erin Silva, 593a Russell Labs, emsilva@wisc.edu
Alfonso Morales, Music Hall 104, morales1@wisc.edu
Teaching Assistant: Sarah Stefanos, 434 Animal Sciences Building, sstefanos@wisc.edu
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.

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.
  • 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

Throughout the course the instructors will use a mix of the following techniques: the case-study teaching methodology, flipped classroom, interactive class discussion of assigned readings, and traditional lecture by the three instructors. Professor Wattiaux will focus on the relationship between livestock and climate change, Professor Silva will explore the relationship between crops and climate change, and Professor Morales will highlight the social structures that shape farmers' climate-relevant choices and determine farmers' resources in responding to climate change (Figure 1). In this section of the course, 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 Figure 1 (below) as it relates to several approaches and scales of milk production and associated crop and manure management. 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 minute papers, and doing other homework as required) is essential for you to do well in this class.

Theme 2

Concurrently with the development of the milk case study, students will learn and practice hands-on skills. Students will conduct group projects and practice several modes of communication, including designing web pages. 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 undergraduates and graduate students will communicate these results in separate projects. Undergraduates will design a webpage that conveys the project analysis while graduate students will complete 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 keep a weekly journal summarizing and reacting to the pre-class assignments and in which each student will add his/her in-class notes. This journal will be one Word document to which students add information every week as the semester progresses. Please see the Journal Entry Template.docx. In addition to this, students will be expected to submit a 70-80 word pre-class blog post which offers a highlight of the student's journal entry for that week. 
  • 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 a journal entry and posting a pre-class blog.
      • Deadline to complete the journal and the pre-class blog is 1:00 PM the day of class.
    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:
    • Take the post-class quiz, if there is one appointed for that day. The quiz will test your knowledge and understanding of the pre-class assignments (readings, videos, etc.) 
    • Students are allowed two attempts at each quiz, however the quiz grade will be assessed by averaging the scores of every attempt, rather than taking the high score and then final points will be assigned for the quizzes based on the following scale:
      • 80-100% = 10/10
      • 70-79% = 9/10
      • 60-69% = 8/10
      • 50-59% = 7/10
      • 40-49% = 6/10
      • 30-39% = 5/10
      • 20-29% = 4/10
      • 10-19% = 3/10
      • 1-9% = 2/10
    • Deadline to complete the post-class quiz is 4:00 PM the day after class (i.e. 24 hours after class).
    • If necessary, make an appointment with a member of the Instruction team for help
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 communicate with you in a way that facilitates your learning,
  • To set the level of expectations and evaluate your progress and your work.

2. Short Essay Assignments 

Two take-home, one-page essays will be assigned throughout the semester. Prompts will be provided one week before the due date and the content will relate to topics covered in the instructor example project classes. You should reference assigned readings, but you do not need to cite any additional materials, though you may if you feel it is integral to your argument. The first essay (about rice production) should be 400-600 words, double spaced with 12 point font and 1 inch margins . The second essay (on the debate about incentivizing production/rearing/farming of insects for food) should be 600-800 words, double spaced with 12 point font and 1 inch margins. Essays will be due at 11:59 pm (CST) on:

3. 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, see the Team Projects: Instructions and Timeline page.

    3(a): Multi-media Website (Undergraduate)

    Undergraduate students 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.

    3(b): Peer-Review Style Article (Graduate)

    Graduate students' final written deliverable will be a peer-review style article summarizing your 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.

    3(c): Audio-visual Presentation (Team)

    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.

At the end of the semester, students will complete a grading rubric to rate the effort and involvement of their other team members in the final project. This will adjust the student's final grade for the sum of all the team project deliverables by up to 5 points.

Deadlines and Grades (tentative)

  Due Date Undergraduate Graduate
Individual Graded Elements
Class participation 1: Journal and pre-class blogs on assigned material ongoing 20 points 20 points
Class participation 2: Quizzes (to be completed after some classes) ongoing 15 points 15 points
Short Essay 1  03/02 10 points 10 points
Short Essay 2 04/20 10 points 10 points




Team Project Graded Elements
Team-led class discussion of case study project 3/9-3/14 10 points 10 points
Team annotated bibliography and analysis outline 03/16 5 points 5 points
Initial peer-review style article (graduate level expectations) 4/21 15 points
Final peer-review style article (graduate level expectations) 5/11 5 points
Initial web page (undergraduate level expectation)  4/21 15 points
Final web page (undergraduate level expectation)  5/11 5 points
Class presentation of team project case study 4/27-5/4 10 points 10 points
Total 100 points 100 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%



Keywords:homepage, food systems, climate, sustainability, syllabus   Doc ID:45963
Owner:Kate A.Group:DS Food Systems, Sustainability and Climate Change
Created:2015-01-06 12:20 CSTUpdated:2017-04-13 18:48 CST
Sites:DS Food Systems, Sustainability and Climate Change
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