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Report from the 2017 AASHE Sustainability Across the Curriculum Leadership Workshop

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Report from the AASHE Sustainability Across the Curriculum Leadership Workshop, hosted at Emory University, January 5-6, 2017.

By Jeane Pope, Associate Professor of Geosciences and Faculty Sustainabililty Coordinator

“That’s interesting,” one workshop participant remarked, “student learning outcomes for sustainability (e.g. critical thinking and problem solving, good communication skills, ability to work with multiple perspectives, empathy) are the same as we would want for any college graduate.”  Indeed, this is what DePauw faculty know and embrace:  that the transformative and empowering opportunities afforded by a liberal arts education are the key to positive changes for society at large.

The workshop sponsored by AASHE (the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in HIgher Education) at Emory that I recently attended was an exciting time not only to meet and talk with like-minded colleagues, but also to think about ways to better support interested faculty in infusing sustainability content into their courses.  Workshop leaders Peggy Bartlett (professor of Anthropology at Emory University and leader of the Piedmont Project) and Geoffrey Chase (Vice President for WASC Senior College and University Commission and developer of the Ponderosa Project) advise that the key is to build a curriculum around the study of place.  And so my two days were spent both learning about the Piedmont region of Georgia (Emory’s location) while considering how to provide similar models for DePauw faculty to develop classroom materials for our region.

Of course, DePauw already has a rich history of academically engaging with place. Numerous classes – from FirstYear Seminars (FYS) to science labs to history and literature courses – make use of the Nature Park.  Additionally, professors regularly engage beyond DePauw’s property to connect to Greencastle or Putnam County.  For example, last semester, Mona Bhan’s FYS “Culture and Climate” investigated the social and environmental consequences of replacing fossil fuels with locally grown corn for ethanol.  This involved a trip to the POET Ethanol plant in Cloverdale and a Prindle-sponsored lunch discussion with local farmer Jerry Birt.  Finally, students from Professor Bhan’s class presented what they had learned to Khristen Phillips’s 10th grade chemistry classes.  In another example of literally connecting with place, Joe Heithaus is currently teaching a WT course called “Outside:  A Course in Environmental Awareness” in which students are walking to socially or scientifically important environmental places in Greencastle.  (Yes, he’s doing this in January in Indiana).  These classes are only two of the many ways that professors are creatively helping their students find connections between what they study in the classroom and the way that they live their lives.

I hope to offer a workshop at DePauw modeled after the Piedmont Project in 2018.  In the meanwhile, the workshop offered several suggestions for ways that faculty can adjust their courses to address sustainability topics. In addition to the examples listed below, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability for Higher Education (AASHE) website offers a number of content- or discipline-specific examples and case studies that may be of interest to DePauw faculty.  Because we have an institutional membership in AASHE, DePauw faculty, students, and staff are able to access all “members only” content once they sign up for an individual login.

This following list is modified from Peggy Bartlett’s “Eight ways to change a course” presented on January 5, 2017.

  1. Consider the Hidden Curriculum – what examples and materials are used to teach concepts? How can conventional norms be challenged or new thinking inspired by using sustainability concepts to teach class content?  Example:  Michael Roberts has done this by considering campus sustainability projects as part of his Cognitive Psychology lab.
  2. Paradigm Shifts – a change to course strategies and goals.  With our new Science & Math course by this name, the Division III faculty is clearly thinking about this.  So is Glen Kuecker with his City Lab course in which he takes his training as a historian and applies it to thinking about how social systems will organize and operate in the future.
  3. Introduce New Content – new text(s) that connects disciplinary content to sustainability issues.  Many of us have done this to connect DePauw Dialogue to our teaching.  Additionally, Meryl Altman, Dana Dudle, and I offered a teaching round table on this topic back in 2008 in preparation for the first Focus the Nation that helped a number of DePauw faculty think about the connections between their disciplinary content of their classes and climate change.
  4. New Assignment – develop an assignment based on course learning goals that uses sustainability content. Danielle Kane has used building energy data associated with DePauw Environmental Dashboards to teach critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills in her Contemporary Society class.
  5. New Unit or Module – adding an additional section to a course, perhaps on Environmental Justice.  Last summer, Jen Everett, John Caraher, Christina Holmes, Leigh-Anne Goins, and Lydia Marshall organized a workshop on this topic that was attended by an additional 14 faculty members.
  6. Engage an Outside Expert – many faculty members report that they “don’t know enough about sustainability to have it in my class,” but there are numerous, locally available resources that can provide well-curated content based on your classroom goals.  Many faculty members enjoy being able to share their knowledge and experience in a new way.
  7. Engaged learning/community learning – there are many ongoing campus sustainability projects that can be used in the classroom.  For example, Angela Casteneda, Fred Soster, Dana Dudle & Sarah Lee, and Christy Holmes all used DePauw’s campus farm as part of their courses this fall.  And next spring, James Wells is developing an Honor Scholar class using the farm as well.
  8. New course – some people will be intellectually engaged with this material in such a way that they will want to develop a whole new course, which is, of course, great!  For example, Harry Brown created an excellent course on sustainability discourse called “Environmental Crisis Narratives” in 2014. However, this extreme isn’t necessary.  There are numerous ways to empower students to think critically and imaginatively about the environmental problems that we face so that they can go about the serious work of creating a socially just, thriving society.

About AASHE:

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) membership organization that empowers higher education faculty, administrators, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation.

AASHE enables its nearly 1,000 members to translate information into action by offering essential resources and professional development to a diverse, engaged community of sustainability leaders. We work with and for higher education to ensure that our world’s future leaders are motivated and equipped to solve sustainability challenges.

AASHE defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods and a better world for all generations.




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