When There Isn't A Simple Answer with Prof. Dennis McLaughlin

Most of the students in Professor Dennis McLaughlin’s course 1.74 Land, Water, Food, and Climate come to it with established opinions on some very controversial topics: whether GMOs are safe, whether climate change is real (and really human-induced), whether organic agriculture is preferable to conventional agriculture, and whether it’s better for land to be worked by individual farmers or by larger corporations. Dealing with topics like these in an introductory graduate-level class can be challenging. You have to train students to read the scientific literature so that they can evaluate the facts on both sides of an issue. But you also have to strike a balance between those concrete facts and the intangible social values that enter into debates on sensitive topics. In this episode, Professor McLaughlin describes his approach to those two challenges in teaching 1.74; he also explains how a diversity of backgrounds among the students in the class enriches class discussion, and he describes what he sees as the teacher’s role: to adjust and when necessary reframe the terms of discussion, while still allowing students the freedom to explore the ramifications of their ideas.  

Relevant Resources:

MIT OpenCourseWare

The OCW Educator Portal

Share your teaching ideas and insights with Dennis McLaughlin

Professor McLaughlin’s course on OCW

Professor McLaughlin’s faculty page

Other environment courses on OCW

The MIT Climate Portal

Connect with Curt Newton at LinkedIn or Twitter

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions


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Sarah Hansen, host and producer 

Brett Paci, producer  

Dave Lishansky, producer 

Script writing assistance by Nidhi Shastri

Show notes by Peter Chipman


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