In September 2020, I was contacted by a colleague at New Mexico Tech with news that a professor had unexpectedly passed away, leaving a vacancy for teaching a course with 25 students already enrolled. When I accepted the invitation to teach Atomic America, I had to rapidly design the course syllabus, build the asynchronous course infrastructure on Canvas, navigate cross-institutional administrative relations, and figure out how to contribute to the learning outcomes of NMT, B-EiJ Teaching Collective, the Disaster STS Network, the Radiation Governance Project, and the UNM METALS SRP. I am grateful to Kim Fortun and Tim Schütz at the University of California Irvine for generously sharing teaching materials from the Environmental Injustice course (fall 2019), and extending an invitation to incorporate the comparative case study approach and collaboratively conceptualize “environmental health vulnerability” and “environmental injustice” across different contexts.
For the second part of the course, students collaborated with their peers by collecting and cross-analyzing data for two case studies. The original material for each case study was combined in one collective Google Doc nested in the Collaborations tab in Canvas. Each student contributed at least two unique “artifacts” per case study and contributed at least 200 words in typed response to any of the artifacts collected for the case study. During this collaborative process, students began to write their individual two-page double-spaced reports.
What count as “data” for our purposes are text, image, audio, video, and other media that range from news reports, to articles in scientific journals, to hyperlinks for websites, and online public fora. Students were encouraged to think creatively, critically, and ethically about what we can consider “data” or “artifacts” in online environments. In this part of the course, we offered basic training for students in methods of the digital humanities, and they became emergent anthropologists and ethnographers of “virtual worlds” (Boellstorf et al. 2012) by rapidly compiling qualitative case studies for comparative or juxtapositional purposes.
In addition to collaborating on a Google Doc in Canvas, students were also invited to contribute to the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE; pronounced “peace”) in order to archive their digital artifacts and develop analytic frameworks (lists of questions) for cross analyzing the artifacts. Students were invited to publish their finished collaborative case studies and individual reports on the Disaster Science and Technology Studies (STS) Research Network, a platform for sharing work with other researchers and impacted communities. Additionally, students are given the opportunity to broadcast their collaborative case studies on the website for the UNM METALS SRP.
Case study analysis is leveraged in this course as a pedagogical technique. Because this general form of analysis is used in academic research across the arts and sciences, and in different professional fields, the case study methods and analytic skills students learn in this course are likely to be useful in their later work. In case study analysis, a key challenge is to develop a set of questions that can be used to examine different cases. See examples of case study questions below. Students were asked to respond to the case study questions for selected artifacts and generate additional research questions.
Case Study Questions
1. What is the setting of this case?
2. What environmental threats (from worst case scenarios, pollution and climate change) are there in this setting?
3. What intersecting factors -- social, cultural, economic, political, technological, ecological -- contribute to environmental health vulnerability and injustice in this setting?
4. Who are stakeholders, what are their characteristics, and what are their perceptions of the problems?
5. What have different stakeholder groups done (or not done) in response to the problems in this case?
6. How have big media outlets and NGOs (nongovernment organizations) covered environmental problems in this setting?
7. What local actions would reduce environmental vulnerability and injustice in this setting?
8. What extra-local actions (at state, national or international levels) would reduce environmental vulnerability and injustice in this setting and similar settings?
9. What kinds of data and research would be useful in efforts to characterize and address environmental threats in this setting and similar settings?
10. What, in your view, is ethically wrong or unjust in this case?
revise before publication
De Pree, Thomas. 2021. V. B-EiJ Teaching Collective: Reflections on Pedagogy and Course Infrastructure. In Afterlife of Atomic America. Disaster STS Research Network.
Thomas De Pree, "V. B-EiJ Teaching Collective: Reflections on Pedagogy and Course Infrastructure", contributed by Thomas De Pree, Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 20 January 2021, accessed 22 January 2022.