1.74 | Fall 2020 | Graduate

Land, Water, Food, and Climate

Instructor Insights

Instructor Interview

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 the episode of the Chalk Radio podcast embedded below, 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.  


In the written insights linked below, Professor McLaughlin describes various aspects of how he teaches 1.74 Land, Water, Food, and Climate.

"The students in this class are not just science and engineering students, they’re also citizens, and they have to come up with a position on these issues."
— Dennis McLaughlin

Course Readings as Catalysts for Discussion

Teaching the Uncertainty

Conversations on Values

Presenting the Science

Curriculum Information



Requirements Satisfied

1.74 can be applied toward a Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, but is not required.


Every spring semester


Grade Breakdown

The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 70% Presentations and general participation
  • 30% Research paper

Student Information


12 students

Breakdown by Year

A mix of graduate and undergraduate students

Breakdown by Major

Largely Civil & Environmental Engineering students; some from other fields including Architecture, Urban Studies and Planning, and Management

Typical Student Background

A mix of American and international students, with varying levels of prior exposure to farms and farming

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 6 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class

Met 1 time per week for 3 hours per session; 12 sessions total; mandatory attendance

Out of Class

Students spent time outside of class reading assigned papers and working on their presentations and research projects.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Instructor Insights