Brownfield Action

Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning

Teaching and Learning

Brownfield Action was designed to expose students to the problem solving skills needed by environmental scientists in diagnosing sources of groundwater contamination. It was designed to be used with an accompanying sequence of lessons that work synergistically to maximize the educational value and impact of the experience students have while working within the simulated environment. 


Pedagogical Approach  

The underlying approach employed is that of problem based learning which is based on the constructivist learning theories of Vygotsky and Dewey and is frequently defined by:

  • Teachers taking the role of facilitators, acting as guides to student-centered learning rather than deliverers of knowledge. As such, instructors in this approach are typically available to scaffold student skills "just in time", as needed in the lab, rather than supplying direct techniques or lessons ahead of time that students merely practice using.
  • Students work in collaborative groups and explore pieces of the problem via: investigative action, conversation, reflection and collaboration with each other.
  • Learning is driven by challenging problems that have no obvious answer until certain discoveries are made that can lead to increasing confidence in student-designed solutions. 


Use Cases

As the laboratory foundation for Dr. Peter Bower's Introduction to Environmental Science course at Barnard College, students use BA over the course of a semester to explore the complexity and ambiguity of large-scale real-world environmental problems. The simulation has also been adapted for use in a variety of higher-education contexts. Faculty members at Connecticut College, Lafayette College, and Georgia College & State University have incorporated BA into their upper level hydrology and environmental site assessment courses. Outreach plans are also underway to find partners to help develop pedagogy and courses using BA in secondary schools and in environmental science professional settings.

An annual BA seminar is offered to new instructors interested in learning about BA's extensive features and range of pedagogy. If you are interested in trying out the simulation and using it in your own course, please contact us to discuss.