Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 550–561 | Cite as

Engaging nonscience majors in urban ecology: Recommendations for course design

  • Mikaela Schmitt-HarshEmail author
  • Joseph A. Harsh


Courses in urban ecology are increasingly being offered in higher education to advance students’ understanding of the relationships between humans, their built environment, and ecosystem services and functions. Yet despite the social and scientific importance of issues related to urban development, and the potential to actively engage students in biological topics relevant to their daily lives, few urban ecology courses have been developed and taught at the introductory level. This article describes an introductory nonscience majors’ urban ecology course that was designed and implemented to align with recent reform calls aimed at improving undergraduate biology education. The broader intent of this manuscript is to outline the design process and highlight resources and instructional strategies that may inform the efforts of faculty interested in teaching introductory or advanced urban ecology courses. Information on lecture topics, sample readings, and in-class activities is presented. The course emphasizes active learning and focuses on developing core scientific competencies and higher level thinking skills that encourage students to be inquisitive, analytical, and creative in the learning of ecological concepts. The described course is designed as a traditional 3-credit hour course with no formal laboratory component; however, the content and configuration of the urban ecology course would align well with a dedicated laboratory.


Urban ecology Course development Student-centered learning General education 


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Copyright information

© AESS 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Interdisciplinary Liberal StudiesJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

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