This pedagogical project examined how embedding an interdisciplinary case study in an undergraduate ecology course impacted student learning outcomes. Specifically, we examined learning outcomes following participation in a group-based case study project, which asked students to adopt the role of an expert phycologist, microbiologist, agronomist, or limnologist in order to jointly investigate the problem of eutrophication in Lake Erie. We examined student learning outcomes on exam questions that tested students’ knowledge of eutrophication compared to their performance on exam questions that tested knowledge of course content taught using traditional lecture-based methods. We also examined how students’ recognition of the value of interdisciplinary approaches to solving science problems changed across the semester, as well as changes in students’ views of the ways in which the skills and knowledge of their major could contribute to solving eutrophication problems and the complex problem of climate change. Results indicated significant increases in student understanding of eutrophication through comparisons of pre- and posttest scores, and dramatic twofold increases in student learning on the eutrophication exam questions relative to the content taught using traditional instructional methods. Interestingly, at the end of the course, the non-science majors in the course were more likely to endorse interdisciplinary approaches for solving complex science problems than were the science majors in the course. Implications for educational practices for both major and nonmajor science courses are discussed.

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