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Case Studies in Sustainable Social Work: MSW Students Explore Principles in Practice

By Kevin Jones, Lindsay Merritt, Ashley Brown, Shelby Davidson, Diana Nulliner, Jennine Smart, Lisa Walden and Nick Winges-Yanez

In 1999, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in the United States published a policy statement on the environment that acknowledged the social work profession’s apparent “lack of interest” in environmental issues, and called for a new urgency among social workers to address the challenges of pollution, environmental contamination, and resource depletion. Despite this call for urgency and the increasing certainty of widespread social and environmental crises due to climate change, the integration of ecological concepts into mainstream social work education and practice has been slow and sporadic. Only recently have some social workers begun to openly discuss a re-centering of social work within a sustainability paradigm, emphasizing the importance of interconnectedness among humans and the natural world, interdisciplinary alliances and partnerships, and holistic justice-focused practice. This paper explores the potential for a case study assignment in a Master of Social Work (MSW) program to help make explicit connections between sustainability concepts introduced in the classroom and the practical application of these concepts in a wide range of social work practice settings. Three sample case studies from students are presented, and advantages and challenges of this pedagogical approach are discussed.

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Teaching Kincentric Ecology in an Urban Environment

By Enrique Salmon

Abstract: The author has written extensively about American Indian relationships to the natural world with a focus on his published concepts of kincentricity and kincentric ecology (Salmon, 2000). Both are explanatory models of how American Indian cultures feel a sense of direct relationship and responsibility toward their surroundings. Traditional American Indians understand that they are directly related to everyone and everything in their natural surroundings. Everything in one’s environment is animated with a life force. How then does one teach kincentric ecology in an urban environment? A suggestion is to assign projects that will help students recognize the relationships happening all around them and to recognize that we humans exist in a relationship with everything around us. The author devised a project asking students to make periodic observations of the sun and/or moon. In the process of their observations students were asked to become aware of and to journal about their surroundings during their observations. The result was that students became periodically immersed in their natural surroundings and were, therefore, exposed to a facet of kincentricity.

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On Hope and Agency in Sustainability: Lessons from Arizona State University

By Christopher Boone

Abstract: Since Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, founded the School of Sustainability in 2006, sustainability has become a central focus at the University. ASU offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in sustainability, from Bachelor’s degree to Ph.D. level. The author, the Dean of the School of Sustainability at ASU, discusses how the University’s programs foster hope and agency among students and prepare them to address the pressing challenges of living and working sustainably. The author focuses primarily on curricular strategies and also addresses some extra-curricular strategies employed at ASU. He also discusses post-graduate employment patterns of alumni who have built upon their educational experience at ASU to become agents advancing sustainability in their work.

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Global Sustainability: An Authentic Context for Energy Education

By Danica Hendrickson, Kimberly Corrigan, Alicia Keefe, Danielle Shaw, Sheeba Jacob, Laura Skelton, Jennifer Schon, Karla Bradley Eitel and Justin Hougham

Reimagining energy education involves moving beyond the basics of energy use, conservation, and efficiency toward a more robust exploration of energy. This exploration should address energy access and equity, the impacts of energy choices, and personal attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to sustainable energy solutions. One approach to encourage this evolution is to use a learning context that inspires educators and students to delve deeply and methodically into the social, economic, and environmental interconnections of energy issues—in other words, to learn about energy within the context of global sustainability. In this article, we share Facing the Future’s definition of global sustainability education (GSE), explain why GSE is an effective context for energy education, and use Facing the Future’s newest energy curriculum to demonstrate how GSE can be employed to develop engaging and rigorous interdisciplinary energy curriculum.

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Sustainability Stew: A Recipe for Problem Framing and Discussion

By Catherine P. Chambers, Erik Koepf, Courtney Lyons and Matthew L. Druckenmiller

The concepts and practices surrounding sustainability are increasingly the focus of many new post-secondary and graduate education programs. However, the term sustainability refers to a complex mixture of disciplines, methods, contexts, and topics. This complexity is often confusing and can create barriers to learning. Comprehensive understanding of sustainability issues requires that students engage in an active learning process, focusing on context and perspective. Our “Sustainability Stew” curriculum, designed by doctoral students in various fields related to sustainability, is intended to guide sustainability education while offering the freedom to explore complex issues in an active, project-based learning environment. In this paper, we provide background and details for the design of the Sustainability Stew Guide and report results from student surveys on the curriculum itself from one undergraduate sociology course at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (n=37), one community college course at Delaware Technical and Community College (n=11), and one graduate-level research group at the University of Delaware (n=7). Student survey results and instructor reports suggest that the Sustainability Stew curriculum is an effective and innovative approach to sustainability education. Finally, we offer analysis and future directions for similar post-secondary sustainability education. Our objective is to offer a novel exercise to aid educators in teaching and discussing the concepts of sustainability in a way that encourages critical, multi-disciplinary engagement.

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GRASP: Testing an Integrated Approach to Sustainability Education

By Beth Karlin, Nora Davis and Richard Matthew

The current paper introduces and presents a preliminary pilot study of the Guided Research Applied Sustainability Project (GRASP) model for sustainability education. GRASP integrates curriculum, research, operations and engagement at the university level to create specialized projects that both engage students with real world issues and provide usable outputs for campus and/or community partners. Drawn from theory and practice in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as well as experiential education, the GRASP model includes five primary elements, which are the project topic (substantive issue being studied), groups (students working together), mentors (conduit between the instructional staff and enrolled students), assignment (pedagogical deliverable students submit for grade), and procedure (process of topic selection and project completion). GRASP was designed to enable implementation in both small and large courses at the undergraduate and/or graduate level and was tested in a large (200+ student) undergraduate Sustainability course. Projects included a campus sustainability audit and mixed methods analysis of documentary film campaigns. Survey data collected from students and mentors determined that the GRASP model is effective in providing students with a positive and engaging learning experience. Outcomes identified relate to attitudes and values as well as knowledge and skill attainment (e.g. teamwork, applied sustainability research). Suggestions include additional instruction on research methodology and greater clarification of project guidelines and mentor roles. The results of our pilot study reaffirm the potential impact of an experiential approach to sustainability education that incorporates multiple stakeholders from within the university campus and is scalable to large classes. GRASP is recommended as a model with which to meet these goals.

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For the Child and the World – a language of connection in education for sustainability. Fertile minds seeking dirt.

By Linda Zibell

In this report from “down under,” Linda Zibell recounts the triumph of eco-centric language over a techno-centric approach to bringing sustainability into the Australian school curriculum. She brings deep insight into deconstructing the power of word choice and language patterns with real examples of how school-age kids might perceive and understand the words we use.

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Review of Education for Sustainable Development Teacher Resources from the Geographical Association, UK

By Shelby Gull Laird

In this succinct and informative review, Shelby Gull Laird provides a good overview and solid recommendation for the comprehensive package of sustainability education K-12 curricular materials about geography—from a local to a global level—available from the UK Geography Association.

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Embedding Education for Sustainability in the School Curriculum: the contribution of Faith Based Organisations to Curriculum Development

By Lssozi

Embedding education for sustainability, in Faith Based Organisations’ (FBOs) school curricula in Uganda, puzzles. Any progressive education system should be dynamic-always calling for timely transformations in content, instructional methodologies, imparted values,
skills and attitudes, to remain holistic. Once these are adequately embraced, the system tends to remain vibrant and relevant to the institutions, the learner and the community. However, in Uganda especially in education institutions of FBOs, Education for
Sustainability (EfS) – a universally conceived aspect of holistic learning seems not to be whole-heartedly attended to either by omission or unawareness. Problems centre mainly on ideological and operational premises. These include lack of awareness, lack of goodwill of
key stakeholders to plan for and manage EfS and lack of competent teachers in EfS aspects. Answers to these problems in essence center on the theoretical underpinning of this report-curricular transformation. Secondly, proper capacity building, integrative planning,
financing and management to enable sustainable programme growth and development should also be enhanced.

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Sustainability Education in the Interior Design Curriculum

By Jane Nichols and Erin Adams

Nichols and Adams show how central design must be to sustainability by showing the numerous ways and multiple disciplinary perspectives that allow sustainability to be incorporated into the design curriculum. The program described goes far beyond a nod to “green building” technologies and shows how design is at the root of the ecological, economic, social and transformational aspects of sustainability.

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Northwest Earth Institute’s Discussion Guides Enhance Sustainability Education at University of Michigan

By Mike Shriberg

Mike Shriberg shows the power of implementing a true discussion-based curriculum in his sustainable campus course at the University of Michigan.

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Implementing Education for Sustainable Development: The Potential use of Time-Honored Pedagogical Practice from the Progressive Era of Education

By Cosette Marie Armstrong

Education for sustainable development (ESD), a UN initiative, is an emerging field and a movement advocating for a reorientation of education. Integration of ESD has been slow, especially in higher education. The most notable progress is marked by campus greening and research initiatives, while pedagogical innovation, the topic of this paper, has been much slower […]

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The Many Faces of Sustainability

By Paul Rowland

In this broad overview of where sustainability curricula in higher education currently stands and where it might go, Paul Rowland covers the bases of how the varied and diverse institutions of higher learning are integrating or incorporating sustainability ideas. He concludes that, while currently standing outside the status quo, sustainability proponents and their ideas are increasingly accepted and should, ultimately, hope to become part of the cultural norm. He compares this process to what has occurred with diversity studies and technology studies.

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Organic gardening: Sustainability Education From Within

By John Gookin

In an insightfully pragmatic way, John Gookin shows us how we can incorporate sustainability concepts into an innovative curriculum like that of NOLS without forcing the issue. He espouses the NOLS “organic” approach to curriculum design, where each taught element serves a real purpose, while finding great instances for including sustainability theory and practice.

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