We explore how effective public policy in health, agriculture/food systems, environment and certain other domains should be informed by evidence that is based in the natural/life and social sciences. We use current examples of challenging policy issues of considerable interest and importance to Columbia, Missouri and the Nation (e.g., in recent years, we discussed health policies pertaining to water fluoridation, contraception (plan B), Medicaid expansion/healthcare access and manipulation of the genome; environmental policies have focused on climate change, energy conservation and sources of energy; food/agriculture policies have included the Farm Bill, School Lunch program, animal welfare and modification of plant and animal genomes). I and invited experts provide background in dialogues with the students, who students are required to seek out additional sources of information/evidence. Students are required to write about and discuss topics in class using a variety of genres (total 3-5 assignments) including a ~5pg group capstone policy statement/proposal. Grades for the course are based upon quality of writing and oral communication/participation.
I used a pre-post assessment to determine whether the course altered student interest and understanding of public policy. The instrument contained questions derived largely from the Longitudinal Survey of American Youth (LSAY) developed by the University of Michigan and National Science Foundation. the class did make large differences in several areas. By the end of the class, students indicated increased interest in medical discoveries in comparison to their interest at the beginning of the class. Students also considered themselves more informed about the general issue of climate change, as well as about environmental quality and about the supply and cost of energy. Students significantly increased their use of the following information sources: the internet, attendance of discussions and lectures, and media about climate change. Students were generally more trusting in environmental agency reports after the class. With respect to behavior pertaining to energy conservation and climate change, students indicated that they are likely to reduce driving, and students indicated increased agreement that GMO’s are likely to reduce biodiversity.
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