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Designing Introductory Courses in Sustainability
Designing Introductory Courses in Sustainability for Undergraduate Learners
Sustainability programs have proliferated in colleges and universities recently, including lower division courses designed to introduce students to the issues of sustainability. But as a field of study, sustainability is young, nebulous, and highly interdisciplinary. It is also lacking a recognized canon of literature, standard methodologies, and widely accepted definitions and aims. Without any of the hallmarks of the standard disciplines, including introductory textbooks, what should be emphasized in an introductory sustainability course? To address this question, and flesh out models of the content, learning objectives, and pedagogies of a “Sustainability 101” course, a community of 18 faculty members representing a variety of disciplines and 9 universities and colleges in Washington State engaged in a series of workshops sponsored by the Washington Center's Curriculum for the Bioregion initiative.
This post-conference workshop will engage participants in some of the activities that most engaged us as a community, including: (1) a brainstorming exercise in which participants identify and share the key concepts or “big ideas,” the critical skills, and the habits of mind that should be the learning outcomes of introductory sustainability courses. Working with these outcomes (written on large sticky notes and posted on a wall) we will ask participants to find the common patterns, in a similar fashion to what our faculty learning community undertook; (2) a round-robin of concurrent small-group discussions, in which participants will learn about several of the most successful activities that we have used with our students, including such topics as current-state analysis, future scenario development; tradeoffs and transition strategies, analysis of waste as a resource, systems thinking and sustainable design, and the use of debates to engage students in sustainability controversies; (3) a different round of small group discussions addressing the challenges we face as we embark on new territory in these new courses. Small groups will discuss and report out on questions such as:
• How do we teach interdisciplinary topics confidently without being experts?
• How do we deal with highly charged, controversial material?
• How do we encourage critical, creative, and collaborative thinking?
• How do we address student despair, resistance, and/or apathy?
• How do we empower students and promote engaged action?
• How do we make community-based learning and partnerships an integral part of our courses?
We will take notes on each of these discussions, collect them, and send them out afterwards to all the participants.
Participants will come away with: (1) a deepened understanding of sustainability learning outcomes, including content related concepts as well as skills and “habits of mind” outcomes, (2) a chance to test their objectives for sustainability learning against those of colleagues; (3) several proven examples of sustainability teaching-and-learning activities that have been taught successfully in introductory courses; (4) the opportunity to share their reflections, in the company of interested others, on the challenges of teaching this new material and engaging students in highly complex and often daunting problems; (5) multiple products of the Sustainability Courses faculty learning community, including several complete course syllabi, access to the Curriculum for the Bioregion’s web-based curriculum collection where additional course syllabi can be found, a working list of big ideas and learning outcomes that our community developed; an annotated bibliography of the texts we have been using in our courses; and access to the interactive website that we’ve created with a large and growing list of sustainability “big ideas” and resources.
Jean MacGregor directs Curriculum for the Bioregion at the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education at The Evergreen State College. This is a faculty- and curriculum-development initiative that has involved close to 1,000 faculty members in over 50 disciplines at colleges and universities in Washington State. Jean has close to 30 years’ experience leading faculty workshops and is particularly interested in integrative learning, collaborative learning, and community-based learning. She also teaches environmental and sustainability education in Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies program. (firstname.lastname@example.org 360.867.6608)
Dr. Robert Turner: is an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell. He is a member of UWB’s new Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability and is invested in the curricular design of the Sustainability and Society track of their Environmental Studies degree. He enjoys engaging his sustainability and environmental science students in community-based research projects and can’t think of a better nexus for interdisciplinary study and critical thinking than sustainability problems. (email@example.com; 425-532-3616)
Dr. Robert Cole: is a theoretical physicist who has taught in interdisciplinary programs at The Evergreen State College for thirty years. In addition to having taught renewable energy systems, with emphasis on passive solar design, for many years, he has taught environmental studies topics ranging from hydrology, freshwater ecology, climate change dynamics, and systems science. He is currently working with students on systems thinking approaches to sustainability and ecological justice. (firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-867-6714)
Dr. Benjamin Fackler-Adams: is Instructor of Interdisciplinary Sciences & chairman of the Sustainability Standing Committee at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, WA. He is involved in developing sustainability-specific courses as well as infusing it across the spectrum of geoscience, chemistry and interdisciplinary learning community courses he teaches. He also participates in similar efforts with colleagues at Western Washington University. He is currently leading the greenhouse gas inventory and mitigation planning effort at SVC as well as facilitating a comprehensive waste reduction effort. (email@example.com; 360.416.7967)
Dr. Sonya Remington: is a Senior Lecturer and Senior Sustainability Scientist in the School of Sustainability (SOS) at Arizona State University. She is involved in ongoing curriculum development efforts in SOS, especially for a lower division stand-alone sustainability course, and has conducted learning assessments aimed at key sustainability competencies as currently identified in the sustainability education literature. (firstname.lastname@example.org; 206.354.8518)