In this episode, guest host Curt Newton talks with Prof. Dennis McLaughlin about how and why he makes space for scientific controversies in his engineering course about land, water, food and climate.



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:

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

Scriptwriting assistance by Nidhi Shastri

Show notes by Peter Chipman