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Disaster Analysis


Alexandra Penn

School of Interdisciplinary Studies

Durham College, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada


Penn, A. (2015). Disaster Analysis. Durham College.


The purpose of this assignment is to evaluate students’ ability to think critically about how natural disasters are portrayed in the media. Students are required to formulate an opinion, supported by evidence, on the accuracy of the information portrayed in the media and then communicate their thoughts to a specific audience. This assignment also aims to make students aware of the transferable skills (i.e., critical thinking, communication, problem solving) they are developing and requires them to explain how these skills will help them in their future careers. From the DQP, this assignment assess students’ Intellectual Skills and Applied and Collaborative Learning. This is a very versatile assignment. It can be slightly altered to suit the needs of a variety of courses.

Background and Context

The Disaster Analysis assignment has been used in a general education course at Durham College called Natural Disasters. It is open to all students at the college as an elective and therefore students in this course can be in any major and any semester of study. This assignment is worth 20% of a student’s final mark. All general education courses are designed to help students develop transferable skills while learning about a topic of interest. The goal is to create well rounded global citizens with the tools they need to be successful in the 21st century. This course is offered at the associate degree level.

This is a very versatile assignment. It has been slightly altered for a variety of courses. For example, in an astronomy course students were asked to analyze a popular movie about space and comment on the accuracy of the technology used in the movie. It could also be used in many professional schools. For example, a student studying to be a paramedic could comment on how well medical procedures are depicted in popular movies or TV series.

Alignment and Scaffolding

This assignment is used midway through the Natural Disasters course at Durham College. Since this assignment is used in a general education course, it does not have any prerequisites, but there are a number of learning activities that should be completed before students attempt the Disaster Analysis assignment.

  1. Students should be introduced to a number of different natural disasters before completing this assignment. In this course, each week a new disaster is presented and we discuss the different aspects of the disaster. This includes the location, short and long term damage caused, rescue effort, and mechanical processes that cause the disaster. Students need some content knowledge before they complete this assignment.
  2. Research skills should also be developed before this assignment is given to students. In class a number of activities are done to teach students where to look for good resources on natural disasters (especially online) and how to identify a reliable source of information.
  3. It is also important that students are aware of the transferable skills they are developing throughout the course before they are asked to explain how they will apply skills in the workplace. This involves explicitly discussing what transferable skills are, how they are developed and how they can be applied to a variety of situations.

The Disaster Analysis assignment is designed to help students improve their critical thinking, communication, and research skills. Specifically it is designed to encourage students to think critically about what they see outside the classroom.


I have used this assignment in three different courses over the past three years so it has been modified many times. It has produced good results. Students have a great deal of choice with the assignment. Some students enjoy the choice while others feel overwhelmed by the lack of structure. Overall, students have been very creative with their final products. I enjoy reading the self-reflections because it is a rare chance to hear students talk directly about the skills they are developing. It has become clear to me that students often lack the language needed to talk about their skills and they find it difficult to clearly express how skills developed in the classroom can be applied in the workforce. This worries me because I feel the ability to articulate the skills they possess is essential during the job search process. I continue to look for new ways to help students develop the language they need to show employers what great skills they possess. If you have ideas, please let me know!

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