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The Future of Sustainability in Higher Education

By Nathan Hensley

Abstract: In this article, I explore the future of higher education within the context of teaching and learning for sustainability. Challenges currently facing sustainability education are identified along with opportunities to face these challenges in ways that are transdisciplinary and holistic. I make the case that envisioning the future of sustainability education enables practitioners and educational theorists to better meet the needs of today’s generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). My vision of the future of sustainability education in higher education is grounded in transformative, experiential, and place-based approaches. Engaging students in authentic inquiry in the classroom enables students to become better citizens and stronger problem solvers within the context of sustainability and beyond.

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Making Sustainable Development Real Through Role-Play: “The Mekong Game” Example

By Andrew Perlstein, Michael Mortimer, David Robertson and Holly Wise

Abstract:
This paper describes a role-playing, negotiation “game” based on the Xayaburi Dam in Laos. We have used this activity in our graduate programs as a tool for bringing to life the complexities of decision-making around natural resources, economic development, and sustainability. Over the past several years of using the game in the classroom, we have found it to be an effective means of exposing students to the kinds of opportunities and constraints that different stakeholders face as well as the kinds of communication and negotiation tactics they might use to influence outcomes. We provide background on the real-world situation on which we based the fictional scenario for the game and discuss the learning outcomes we have observed.

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Teaching Issues of Inequality Through a Critical Pedagogy of Place

By Anthony Barnum and Jason Illara

This paper examines the conceptualization and implementation of teaching inequality through placed-based and experiential learning while focusing on issues that impact the sustainability of communities through the effects of the social and historical constructs of race, class, and gender. The goal is to push students to rethink issues of sustainability in a more holistic way including social, economic, and political aspects to sustainability. In turn, students are empowered through a Freirian pedagogy to become “student-teachers” for the society in which they live in partnership with a local community organization to create public interactive history exhibits that create educational opportunities to both identify and document historical and current inequalities and their effects on the present moment and to encourage the community to engage with and analyze their own history in a manner to create meaningful dialogue and public discussion for the creation of a more equitable and sustainable society.

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Open Spaces of Democracy: Connecting Students, Wilderness, and Community through Experiential Learning

By Eric Morgan

Chronicling a semester-long civic engagement project, this essay explores the efforts of a senior seminar course to collaborate with a local wilderness preservation organization. The essay reflects on the role of students in their communities, their connections to wilderness, and the challenges and rewards of civic engagement.

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Exploring the Politics and Sustainability of Energy Production: A Professional Development Program for Science Teachers

By Mark Bloom, Sarah Quebec Fuentes, Kelly Feille and Molly Holden

This paper describes a three-week professional development program, for inservice science teachers, which included on-site field trips to different energy production sites, explored the variety of opinions about them (via film, podcasts, news media, and expert lectures), and incorporated mathematical modeling as a lens through which to evaluate the relative sustainability of each energy type. The teacher participants explored oil, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and coal energy production methods. This paper describes in detail their experience at a coal strip mine and a coal fueled power plant. For each type of energy, the teachers completed a pre- and post-assessment on their understanding of how the energy source was used to generate electricity and their perceptions of the environmental costs of each. The participants’ change in understanding of the energy production methods and increasing awareness of environmental costs are shared. Further, in their own words, participants describe the impact of the professional development on their own knowledge base and their classroom teaching as well as their perceptions of experiential learning as a vehicle for conceptual change.

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The Self System Drawing: Teaching a Sustainable Worldview through Creativity

By Elizabeth Meacham

A personal reflection, from the professors’ perspective, of an arts integrated learning tool created to teach systems concepts in college level environmental studies and sustainability courses.

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Engaging Learners in Community Service Learning to Enhance Teacher Preparation Curriculum

By Linda Ramey

Project-based community service learning increases the effectiveness of sustainability education and demonstrates the importance of providing children with opportunities to be healthy, happy and eco-literate global citizens. At Wright State University, as students learned environmental and socio-economic content, they became informed citizens who were empowered as local change agents. Insights from these case studies illustrate how we can engage college students to foster skills as informed decision-makers and engaged future teachers. Examples of curricular models are proposed for educators and students to effectively address environmental dilemmas by integrating scientific content knowledge with civic engagement to best prepare sustainably literate citizens.

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Book Review: Beyond Learning by Doing: Theoretical currents in experiential education

By Elizabeth Andre

eview of Roberts. J. W. (2012). Beyond Learning by Doing: Theoretical currents in experiential education. New York, NY: Routledge. 129 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-8828-8

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Graduation Rates of Students Participating on Hurricane Relief Team

By Eric Lassahn

After Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the Gulf Coast, Susquehanna University (SU) responded by launching the Hurricane Relief Team (HRT) program. In the past six years, SU has sent 16 teams of 15-20 students each and the program has evolved from a basic volunteer service opportunity into a service-learning experience and later into a two-week, cross-cultural service-learning program. While this study is not designed to determine whether participation in HRT, as a specific program, impacted graduation rates, it is intended to provide support for the correlation between civically engaged students and persistence to graduation. Through this example of a cross-cultural, service-learning program, the examination of graduation rates of HRT participants provides evidence of the potentially transformative nature of the experience as derived from historical data.

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Enhancing food security through experiential sustainability leadership practices: A study of the Seed to Supper program

By Denissia Withers and Heather Burns

Experiential and inclusive sustainability leadership practices in learning garden programs can lead to increased community food security. This recent study shows that Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper program increases food literacy, builds social capital, and creates opportunities for fostering inclusive leadership in learning garden communities. Through a mixed-methods community-based research process, the study found that learner empowerment through food literacy and sustainability leadership increased access to locally-grown foods for food insecure populations. The leadership model discussed in this paper uses the concept of the web of inclusion (Helgesen, 1990) as a framework for discussing the intricate social networks within the Seed to Supper program.

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Integrating Shared Action Learning into Higher Education for Sustainability

By Scott Jiusto, Stephen McCauley and Jennie Stephens

It is widely acknowledged that the sustainability challenges facing the world require new approaches to teaching and learning. At the community level, however, sustainability priorities are context specific, so prescriptions of what and how to teach for sustainability are limiting. In higher education, one innovative approach to sustainability education that acknowledges the limits of conventional coursework involves courses based on “shared action learning” – a process in which students, faculty, and community sponsors share learning experiences while working on sustainability projects for a specific community. Shared Action Learning can be applied in any community context near or far from campus ranging from the very local campus community to distant settlements across the globe. This paper describes the processes, opportunities and challenges of shared action learning through five stages: (1) project impetus, (2) contextual research and project planning, (3) community engagement and project refinement, (4) action, and (5) reflection and reporting. The roles of students, faculty, sponsors, and communities throughout the semester-long shared action learning project are explored through two examples – a course at Clark University in Worcester, MA that focuses on SAL within the college campus community and a Worcester Polytechnic Institute program through which students work on projects with partners in informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Building and boarding a bigger boat together: Learning about sustainability through direct encounters with diverse people in our watershed

By Laura S. Meitzner Yoder, Tom C. Hartzell, Jonathon W. Schramm and Lisa R. Zinn

Regional movements toward sustainability recognize that we share a common future. An approach to sustainability education infused with social justice requires joining this common endeavor alongside transformational approaches on individual, community, and larger scales. Transformation occurs most deeply through developing personal relationships with others working in these complex areas. Such relationships humanize abstract issues and build empathy, and they also help learners to better understand and describe ways in which they share similar motivations towards sustainability with others who initially seem quite different from themselves. This paper describes how a residential and experiential undergraduate semester in sustainability studies used personal encounters with a diversity of actors in our watershed to illustrate the range of people who must be considered and included in moving toward regional sustainability. Engaging a broad spectrum of people enables students to acknowledge the need to move forward alongside those who are different from and similar to themselves in various ways, redefining “them” as “us” within the watershed.

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Sustainability Leadership Programs: Emerging Goals, Methods & Best Practices

By Mike Shriberg and Lindsey MacDonald

Colleges and universities are rushing to respond to an increasingly urgent challenge: developing the next generation of sustainability leaders. Although diverse in program design, teaching methodologies, assumptions, and skills taught, sustainability leadership programs, with experiential education as a core methodology, are rapidly emerging. This study – the first comprehensive attempt to analyze this phenomenon –explores three primary questions via interviews with 20 program directors and analysis of 50 programs’ materials: 1) What program designs and teaching strategies are sustainability leadership programs utilizing? 2) What principles and assumptions underlie these training methodologies? 3) What are the key requisite skills for sustainability leadership development? The analysis reveals that programs currently focus on network-building, systems thinking and project-based learning. Program leaders define sustainability broadly, with an emphasis on social justice. They focus on communication and engagement in defining leadership. Challenges in program design include the tradeoffs of breadth versus depth as well as tradeoffs in training in specific skills versus analytical methods. Programs tend to either focus on leadership with sustainability as one application or sustainability education with leadership as a subtext. Consistent across programs is the emphasis on peer-to-peer learning. Best practices for program design include employing experiential learning, integrating disciplines, moving beyond sustainability knowledge, building community, expanding the boundaries of transformational leadership, change agent training, and acquiring specific skills. While the growth of sustainability leadership programs appears slated to continue in the near-term, the lack of effective assessment limits the ability to demonstrate success and may be a barrier to future growth.

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Beekeeping as Experiential: The Ashland Apiary Project

By Ryan King

The Ashland Apiary Project is a multi-pronged, multi-aged learning design that uses beekeeping as a thematic avenue for hands-on experiential learning and the cultivation of land stewardship. The project is a student-led, collaborative effort by Southern Oregon University to establish an on-campus apiary that serves as a model of place-based and community-based education for a wide audience of students in an elementary, secondary, and collegiate setting. Through the Ashland Apiary Project, the pedagogic approach of “apiary-based learning” is considered in the field of sustainability education.

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Building Community Through Engaged Students: CommUniverCity and Experiential, Service-Based Education

By Hilary Nixon and Dayana Salazar

Experiential learning, and more specifically, service learning (SL) can serve as an ideal mechanism to support sustainability education. In particular, because of its emphasis on collaboration between students, faculty, and the community partner(s) and on social change and civic engagement, SL provides an excellent vehicle to address issues related to social justice. In this article, we document a unique SL partnership at San José State University—CommUniverCity. CommUniverCity’s primary mission is to build social capital and empower residents in an underserved community near the university. Each year, students, faculty and residents invest more than 21,000 hours in service to the community. Because of its unique mission, sustainability-related projects lie at the heart of what CommUniverCity does. We analyze student surveys from more than 30 classes engaged in SL projects during 2012 across a wide range of disciplines. All projects address at least one, and often multiple “Es” of sustainability. Our findings indicate that students find value in the SL experience, not only in terms of better understanding of the course subject matter, but also in terms of their understanding of “community” and the larger issue of social justice and equity.

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Ear-Witnessing in the Galapagos Islands: The Case for Experiential Learning Abroad

By Joseph B. Treaster

Joe Treaster showcases an intense experiential learning course using audio recordings to create original student work in the Galapagos Islands. he makes the strong case for the transformative nature of study-abroad experiences when students are challenged to be directly involved in the communities and locations where they go to study.

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Children’s Observations of Place-Based Environmental Education: Projects Worlds apart Highlight Education for Sustainability Inherent in Many Programs

By John Rafferty and Shelby Gull Laird

        PDF: Rafferty and Laird, Spring 2013 Abstract:  This paper explores the observations and perceptions of school children as they engage with nature through place based environmental experiences. The paper reports on two projects, one based in the USA and the other in Australia, designed to promote understanding of sustainability through outdoor […]

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These twenty high school students were part of the first Conservation Leadership in Action Week, an experiential conservation camp hosted by the Tennessee Aquarium and Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN.  These ambitious teenagers spent the week discovering conservation challenges, including urban water quality, biodiversity of Tennessee rivers and streams, and how day-to-day actions impact our environment.  Sustainable Food Day was a big hit, as students spent the morning on a local farm picking beets.  With the help of a local chef, students cooked these beets for dinner that evening.  For many, it was the first time they were responsible for their food from farm to table.

Conservation Leadership in Action

By Ashford S Rosenberg

These twenty high school students were part of the first Conservation Leadership in Action Week, an experiential conservation camp hosted by the Tennessee Aquarium and Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN. These ambitious teenagers spent the week discovering conservation challenges, including urban water quality, biodiversity of Tennessee rivers and streams, and how day-to-day actions impact our environment. Sustainable Food Day was a big hit, as students spent the morning on a local farm picking beets. With the help of a local chef, students cooked these beets for dinner that evening. For many, it was the first time they were responsible for their food from farm to table.

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