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Purpose – Delivery of sustainability-related curriculum to undergraduate students can be problematic due to the traditional “siloing” of curriculum by faculties along disciplinary lines. In addition, while there is often a ready availability of courses focused on sustainability issues in the later years of students’ programs, few early entry-level courses focused on sustainability, broad enough to apply to all disciplines, are available to students in the first year of their program. Design/methodology/approach – In this paper, we describe the development, and preliminary implementation, of an entry-level, interdisciplinary sustainability course. To do so, the authors describe the development of a university-wide initiative designed to bridge units on campus working and teaching in sustainability areas, and to promote and support sustainability curriculum development. Findings – The authors describe the conceptual framework for organising course content and delivery. The authors conclude with an informal assessment of the successes and challenges, and offer learning activities, student assessments and course administration recommendations for consideration when developing courses with similar learning goals. Originality/value – The positive and negative experiences gained through developing and offering a course of this nature, in a large research-focused university, offers knew insights into potential barriers for implementing first-year cross-cutting sustainability curriculum.
International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
How an entry-level, interdisciplinary sustainability course revealed the benefits
and challenges of a university-wide initiative for sustainability education
Nicholas C Coops Jean Marcus Ileana Construt Erica Frank Ron Kellett Eric Mazzi Alison Munro
Susan Nesbit Andrew Riseman John Robinson Anneliese Schultz Yona Sipos
Article information:
To cite this document:
Nicholas C Coops Jean Marcus Ileana Construt Erica Frank Ron Kellett Eric Mazzi Alison Munro
Susan Nesbit Andrew Riseman John Robinson Anneliese Schultz Yona Sipos , (2015),"How an entry-
level, interdisciplinary sustainability course revealed the benefits and challenges of a university-wide
initiative for sustainability education", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol.
16 Iss 5 pp. 729 - 747
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How an entry-level,
interdisciplinary sustainability
course revealed the benets and
challenges of a university-wide
initiative for sustainability
Nicholas C. Coops, Jean Marcus, Ileana Construt, Erica Frank,
Ron Kellett, Eric Mazzi, Alison Munro, Susan Nesbit,
Andrew Riseman, John Robinson,
Anneliese Schultz and Yona Sipos
(Author afliations can be found at the end of the article)
Purpose Delivery of sustainability-related curriculum to undergraduate students can be
problematic due to the traditional “siloing” of curriculum by faculties along disciplinary lines. In
addition, while there is often a ready availability of courses focused on sustainability issues in the later
years of students’ programs, few early entry-level courses focused on sustainability, broad enough to
apply to all disciplines, are available to students in the rst year of their program.
Design/methodology/approach In this paper, we describe the development, and preliminary
implementation, of an entry-level, interdisciplinary sustainability course. To do so, the authors describe
the development of a university-wide initiative designed to bridge units on campus working and
teaching in sustainability areas, and to promote and support sustainability curriculum development.
Findings The authors describe the conceptual framework for organising course content and
delivery. The authors conclude with an informal assessment of the successes and challenges, and offer
learning activities, student assessments and course administration recommendations for consideration
when developing courses with similar learning goals.
Originality/value The positive and negative experiences gained through developing and offering a
course of this nature, in a large research-focused university, offers knew insights into potential barriers
for implementing rst-year cross-cutting sustainability curriculum.
Keywords University, Attributes, Curriculum development, First-year, SUST101
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Sustainability is a societal imperative and a critically important topic for ongoing
research and teaching (Cortese, 2003; Waas et al., 2011). University institutions,
containing a wide spectrum of actors, are uniquely qualied to address various
dimensions of sustainability, as they provide forums for thought, knowledge and
discussion across the humanities, social sciences and natural and applied sciences, as
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
International Journal of
Sustainability in Higher Education
Vol. 16 No. 5, 2015
pp. 729-747
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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well as the medical and health elds. Universities also have the capacity to develop
problem-driven and solution-oriented curricula (
Kates et al., 2001; Robinson, 2008;
Sarewitz and Kriebel, 2010), both of which have been demonstrated to be highly effective
at developing integrated and use-inspired knowledge along with transformational
action (
Blackstock and Carter, 2007; Wiek et al., 2011).
The University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, has since its
inception in 1910 actively involved itself in global discussions around sustainability,
with past and present faculty, staff and students, responsible for a number of
sustainability-focused advances, such as the ecological footprint (
Rees and
Wackernagel, 1994
), regenerative sustainability (Robinson et al., 2011) and shifting
baselines (
Pauly, 2011). In 1997, UBC adopted a sustainable development policy
encouraging sustainable practices in all of its actions and mandates and that all students
should be educated about sustainability (
Moore et al., 2005). The University actively
promotes sustainability as:
[…] the emergent property of a societal conversation about the kind of world we want to live in,
informed by some understanding of the ecological, social, and economic consequences of our
individual and collective actions (
SAS, 2009).
The University’s Vancouver campus, which is situated outside city limits, is used by
over 70,000 students, faculty, staff and residents. Like most universities, UBC maintains
signicant autonomy between individual faculties around both research and curriculum
development and implementation. This compartmentalisation (or “siloing”) of the
academy historically has ensured academic rigour within individual disciplines, as well
as ensuring that curriculum and learning outcomes meet the needs of the respective
professional organisations and the wider community. At the same time, however, such
compartmentalisation results in different ows of information within different groups
Burt, 2005) and may even limit the ow of information between groups. Silos also
particularly hinder problem-driven and solution-oriented elds, such as sustainability,
that inherently rely on the integration of knowledge and action across multiple
disciplines to solve complex, real-world problems (
Wiek et al., 2011).
In 2009, as part of its ongoing efforts in sustainability teaching, research and
operations, UBC prepared an academic strategic document (Sustainability Academic
Strategy, SAS) which aimed to provide a vision and implementable goals for enhancing
sustainability across the academy. Critical to the vision was building connections across
the university and create synergies to act as bridges to ensure that sustainability
teaching, research and operations would indeed advance in an integrated and holistic
way. To this end, in 2010, the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), a strategic
management group which integrates sustainability efforts across the University, was
created. The initiative comprises a central ofce that oversees all USI efforts, including
communications and engagement activities, and an academic ofce that supports and
fosters the advancement of undergraduate and graduate sustainability education across
all disciplines as well as links to research groups working in sustainability across
Undergraduate- and graduate-level teaching and learning was highlighted as a key
imperative within the UBC SAS, and became the key focus of the newly created USI
Teaching and Learning Ofce (recently renamed the Teaching, Learning and Research
ofce). As a rst step to enhance sustainability offerings across the university, an initial
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gap analysis was undertaken to more fully understand the current curriculum content
available to students from all faculties, as well as possible gaps and areas of overlap. A
number of key ndings were apparent. The inventory clearly demonstrated the
wide-spread availability of courses focused on sustainability issues in the later years of
undergraduate students’ programs, with most courses offered in the third and fourth
years. These courses were detailed and complex, requiring a number of prerequisites,
which effectively limited the capacity of students from outside these respective
programs to enrol and participate in the courses. This indicated that a key deciency in
the curriculum was that few early entry-level courses focused on sustainability, and broad
enough to touch all disciplines, were available to all students in the rst year of their
Another key product of the gap analysis was an online listing of courses that cut
across all faculties, enabling current and prospective students to easily explore
sustainability offerings across the whole university (
As a result of this initial work, the USI Teaching and Learning Ofce decided to
develop an entry level, interdisciplinary sustainability course (“SUST 101”), which
would be available to all students across the university, regardless of faculty or year
level. At the time the course was offered (January 2012), UBC had 47,582 degree-seeking
students enrolled in programs across 14 faculties. In this paper, the authors outline the
development process of the course, including the enlisting of faculty members to
develop and team-teach the course, a general course outline and a summary of key
successes and challenges associated with delivering the course at UBC. The authors
conclude with a discussion about the benets and challenges of a university-wide
sustainability initiative whose role is to foster and advance sustainability education
across all disciplines.
2. Organisational structure of sustainability at UBC
2.1 Sustainability teaching and learning at UBC
To begin working on transforming sustainability curriculum at UBC, the ofce
implemented a Teaching and Learning Fellowship Program in 2010. This program
annually brings together a group of six faculty members from a wide range of
disciplines who have demonstrated interest in sustainability education. Fellows are
chosen through a competitive selection process based on teaching history, current and
past research program, and interest in pedagogy and were provided with a nancial
stipend during their time in the program. In 2011, the fellows with the director and
associate director, addressed the lack of a sustainability course offered to students
within the initial years of their program at UBC, and developed an entry-level
sustainability course accessible to all students regardless of their program or year.
3. Curriculum design and development
3.1 Course administration
To enable piloting the course within a short time frame (from course inception to
delivery was less than eight months), and to meet the requirement that courses must be
situated within an academic unit, the Teaching and Learning Fellows agreed to offer the
course under course codes associated with their home faculties. This resulted in the
course being offered in ve faculties simultaneously under ve different course codes.
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The long-term intent was to nd an administrative home for the course which reected
the interdisciplinary focus of the course and the diverse teaching team.
The fellows also hired a senior PhD student to lead the initial course development, as
well as to elaborate options for the course particulars. They chose a student nearing the
terminus of an interdisciplinary program, who had published, practical experience with
applied sustainability education. Over six months, the student met regularly with the
fellows to ensure that the course development was incorporating their feedback and
reecting the vision and scope of the USI Teaching and Learning Ofce. Once an initial
design for the course was complete, the fellows were able to modify and implement the
course as they saw t.
3.2 Course design
During the initial course development, the teaching fellows considered a number of key
principles, based on previous experience and current understanding of sustainability
curriculum globally. First, they considered a number of conceptual frameworks for
organising the course content and delivery. The fellows then selected two key
frameworks: “head, heart and hands” and the UBC student sustainability attributes.
“Head, Heart and Hands” is a framework for achieving transformative sustainability
learning, developed a number of years ago by a team of UBC students and faculty with
colleagues (see
Sipos et al., 2008 for a complete description). This framework is effective
at fostering transformative sustainability learning through the use of experiential
learning linked with opportunities for reection (Sipos et al., 2008). The second
conceptual framework was an attribute document which had been developed a year
earlier by the Teaching and Learning Fellows in response to the need for clarication
around which concepts, contexts and issues are relevant to contemporary sustainability
and how they can be addressed by the curriculum. The document describes four
attributes that were designed to guide the development of sustainability learning
outcomes for undergraduate courses and sustainability “pathways” which are designed
to be a collection of courses taken by students through their program which incorporate
different aspects of sustainability curriculum at UBC (Figure 1):
Figure 1.
The USI student
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(1) Holism, or holistic systems thinking: Approaches and ways of thinking that
articulate and qualitatively and/or quantitatively measure how human and
complex ecological systems work and interact.
(2) Sustainability Knowledge: Developing a sustainability uency in the history and
underlying ideas and principles of sustainability, and in the evaluation of
competing sustainability models and paradigms.
(3) Awareness and Integration: Encouraging students to be aware of the ways in
which their context informs (or prejudges) their personal perspectives and how
these inuence the integration of new information.
(4) Acting for positive change: Engaging with others to implement positive change.
The fellows also considered critical pedagogies for sustainability education, and
discussed various teaching formats that would best support the course. First was
recognition that the delivery of the course should not follow traditional models of an
active instructor and passive students. Inherently, there was consensus, consistent with
the UBC denition of sustainability, that learning around sustainability should be
considered a conversation allowing multiple viewpoints and perspectives to be
recognised and treated as valid within the classroom space. Sustainability curriculum in
this context could be viewed as a journey, or a sense of mutually searching for the
meaning of the concept of sustainability (Steiner and Posch, 2006). Within this
environment, it is then hoped that the learning environment itself promotes dialogue,
collaboration and positive appreciation of diversity (Misanchuk et al., 2000; Selznick,
1996). A team-teaching model involving all of the fellows was proposed, recognising
that team teaching can help create a dynamic, interactive learning environment and
provide a way to model thinking within and across disciplines (Leavitt, 2006). The
fellows recognised that the curriculum must represent a balance of individual and team
interdisciplinary teaching and self-regulated learning (Fortuin and Bush, 2010). Three
overarching learning goals were explicitly formulated by the fellows for the course, such
that students would:
(1) explore concepts, systems, processes, values and ethics that support
sustainability across the disciplines;
(2) identify their interests and passions so that they can develop their personal
sustainability pathway; and
(3) contribute to UBC and regional conversations and actions for sustainability.
3.3 Course modules and team teaching
The course was organised into one 90-minute plenary and a 3-hour learning community
per week during the semester. In total, students from ve faculties were represented
(Arts, Science, Forestry, Land and Food Systems, Commerce) and included students
from all year levels. Plenaries were whole-class gatherings to collectively encounter
course material as well as a space for instructors to communicate and discuss concepts
in the form of a lecture. The learning communities provided a more informal block of
uninterrupted time consisting of tutorials and project time, and provided a space for the
instructors to lead activities focused on the application of the knowledge presented in
the plenary. This mix of classroom-based learning and the more exible learning
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communities, including an online component, appeals to diverse learning styles and
allows for more regular and ongoing contact (Schaber et al., 2010).
To facilitate the team-teaching process, the chair of the fellows program (Director of
the USI Teaching and Learning Ofce) took on the role of lead course instructor, and a
course coordinator was hired as a support staff for the course. The lead instructor
attended every class (plenary and learning community) to provide the students with
consistent and clear guidance for the duration of the course. This role is critical, as the
lack of clear and consistent leadership can lead to students feeling ungrounded and,
thus, greatly hinder the success of a team-taught, interdisciplinary course (Kurland and
Zell, 2010). Based on the attributes document described above, the fellows developed
content in six thematic modules, with each module addressing each of the four attributes
(holism, sustainability knowledge, awareness and integration and acting for positive
change). This modular structure allowed the students to cyclically engage with, and
develop prociency in, the attributes and for fellows to participate in the course as their
obligations permitted. The six modules, each generally two-weeks long, were centred on
the following themes (see Table I for a description of the modules):
(1) sustainability concepts;
(2) systems thinking and nature;
(3) systems thinking and technology;
(4) sustainability values and ethics;
(5) systems thinking and people; and
(6) sustainability in action.
The rst and last modules of the course were designed to be taught by the whole
teaching team (lead instructor, plus six fellows). In the rst two plenaries, the teaching
team briey introduced themselves. The lead instructor presented an overview of the
course, and was followed by three members of the teaching team, who gave brief
previews of the topics they would be covering. This introduction of the main topics by
the teaching team was based on recommendations of Kurland and Zell (2010) as a way
to unify the course and bridge across disciplines. For the remainder of the course, two
fellows led each two-week module and were jointly responsible for content development
and delivery (except Module 4 which was one-week long and taught by one fellow). In
the rst week of each module, the theme was developed as an overview of a high order
concept, followed by a related case study in the second week. A number of the most
exciting and successful components of the course are described in detail below.
3.4 Course component highlights
The teaching team endeavoured to develop a number of experiential learning activities
to promote learning through direct, self-initiated experiences and through reection, to
catalyse the formulation of new ideas (Kolb, 1984; Dewey, 1938) around sustainability.
Of the learning communities developed, three activities in particular excited the
teaching team in their development and execution, and are expanded in more detail
3.4.1 Interactive team activity for holistic systems thinking. For students to gather a
more interactive and in-depth understanding of systems thinking (dened broadly as
recognising that seemingly separate activities, from many interdependent social,
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Table I.
The course design,
modules and themes
offered within SUST
Module Plenary Learning community
Sustainability concepts Introduction to course and learning objectives
Overview of different models of sustainability
Fellows introduce their big concept (Part 1)
Intro activity
Community builder and dialogue activity
Personal sustainability denition activity
Personal sustainability portfolio and
guidelines for reection
Sustainability concepts Fellows introduce their big concept (Part 2)
Context setting for the Sustainability Scavenger
Hunt: What is a system?
Sustainability Scavenger Hunt: explore UBC’s
energy, water, waste and food systems
Systems thinking nature Life is?
Complexity is not complicated
Intro to perplexity
Introduction to mind-mapping for
CS-1 food systems The global food system through a social, economic
and environmental lens
Components of the food system and interactions
Vancouver foodshed
Scavenger hunt presentations of Food and
Waste systems
Food system concept map
Food system mindmap
Systems thinking technology Energy technology and human history
Energy technology transitions through time
Implications of current societal energy use
Scavenger hunt presentations of energy and
water systems
CS-2 cities Population growth, urbanization and energy
Cities as energy systems/making (and re-making)
cities as if energy mattered
Teams create alternative urban residential
block prototypes based on different energy
demand, supply and distribution assumptions
Sustainability values and ethics Sustainability through the cultural lens
Needs (culture), reality (earth), empathy (spirit)
and action (art)
Review community-based social marketing
Personal sustainability action
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Table I.
Module Plenary Learning community
Systems thinking people Regenerative sustainability
Attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviour
Individual versus collective action
Calculate your eco-footprint, reect, share,
CS-3 Climate change and health Review basic climate change science
Impacts on human health
Discussion about eco-footprint activity
Community Engagement Action Project
Sustainability action 1 Learning for change: introduction to
community-engaged scholarship
Invited panel of UBC and community experts
Work on personal sustainability pathway
(support from student advisor and campus
Sustainability action 2 Student stories for change: examples of student
leadership on campus
Student sustainability coordinator and selection of
student sustainability leaders
Explore UBC farm and forest as global model
for sustainable food systems and
Final exam and presentations Final exam Team project presentations
Source: Created by authors
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ecological and economic systems, form one complex global system (Holling, 2001; Kay
and Schneider, 1994
), and to illustrate how different systems can work together, the
teaching team, in collaboration with a number of undergraduate students from UBC
Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS), designed an interactive team activity based on
smart phone technology (
Shirk et al., 2012). The “UBC scavenger hunt” app was
designed for students to explore: water, energy, food and waste systems on campus.
Each team of students (5-6) was assigned to one system, and teams had to go to all the
locations displayed in the app which was then veried by the GPS location and provided
students with a multiple-choice question and some clues and resources to assist in
nding the answer. If participants answer the question correctly, they receive additional
information about their current location and component of the system. At some
locations, participants met UBC staff who gave them a tour of that particular location
(e.g. the steam plant, water pump house, electronics recycling, light bulb crusher,
student residence dining hall). Once the hunt was complete, students had a spatial map
of locations and had to create a system ow diagram/concept map of the key system
components, explain in a presentation how they linked together and intersected with
other systems on the UBC campus, and discuss the relevance of their ndings to their
understanding of systems thinking.
3.4.2 Personal sustainability pathway. A second highlight of the course was the
requirement for each student to develop their own personal sustainability pathway as a
mechanism for the students to examine their own individual course of learning at UBC
and consider how their program at UBC could be enriched by additional curricular and
co-curricular sustainability learning. Given that the students within the class were
highly diverse, with no single course faculty or year level represented, the teaching team
developed a two-component learning package. First, a number of leading sustainability
thinkers at UBC (UBC sustainability student organisations, UBC staff focused on
operational sustainability and other UBC community-focused staff and students) were
invited to a learning community and an interview-type format was organised where
students could hear the sustainability leaders’ experiences, and opportunities, available
to students across the full range of disciplines and interests.
Second, each student completed a Strength, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results
(SOAR) analysis which prompted students to consider:
Strengths: What advantages and unique resources do you have access to?
Opportunities: What are some good opportunities facing you? What new ideas or
opportunities might you pursue?
Aspirations: Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years? How do you want others to
perceive you? and
Results: What does success mean to you and how will you measure your success?
Based on these individual questions, students considered and discussed in small groups
three overarching goals they wanted to pursue in relation to sustainability in their
remaining time at UBC. Students were then provided with a simple table to record what
activities they could undertake, involving coursework, campus involvement
(co-curricular), community involvement and others. To ensure students were fully
aware of their options, the teaching team also presented the students with resources to
consider in their activity planning, including access to the sustainability student
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advisor, sustainability-focused student groups, conference dates, the sustainability
course listing and other alterative non-credit options.
3.4.3 Personal sustainability portfolio (PSP). Finally, students were also required to
develop their own personal sustainability portfolio, which was intended to capture the
students’ journey through the course allowing them to focus on their learning and reect
upon the development of their own sustainability thinking over the semester.
Throughout the course, the PSP had both required and voluntary components. The PSP
was thus provided as an opportunity to unite directed study of sustainability topics with
self-directed explorations in life goals and personal sustainability. To do so, the PSP was
principally self-directed, though the students were provided with a list of resources for
each topic within the course as well as more general content. The list of materials
included readings, websites, poetry, movies, documentaries, papers and ction and
non-ction books. Students were encouraged to read and experience the material, and
then reect weekly on a subset of the material through written expression.
Ideally, the PSP brought together relevant knowledge and skills in addition to the
student’s own set of personal values, beliefs and connections to inuence sustainable
behaviour (Murray et al., 2002). Completing an effective PSP allowed students to both
demonstrate familiarity and functional literacy with major concepts in sustainability,
and demonstrate its application to their own life and life goals. PSP’s could be submitted
on paper or online. With innovative submission formats allowed, students could use a
variety of media to demonstrate their understanding of sustainability (Colucci-Gray
et al., 2006).
3.5 Learning assessments
Initially, student learning assessment consisted of three major components: a personal
sustainability portfolio (described in more detail above, 40 per cent), a major team
project (35 per cent) and a nal exam (25 per cent). However, as the course attracted
students from rst to fth year of study, additional assessment was developed for senior
students (third year or higher). Thus, the initial student assessment consisting of three
components applied to rst- and second-year students, while for students in their third
year or higher, assessment consisted of four major components: personal sustainability
portfolio (32 per cent), major team project (28 per cent), developmental evaluation paper
(20 per cent) and nal exam (20 per cent).
4. Discussion
4.1 Key course successes
4.1.1 Fostering a sense of community. The unique format and delivery of the course
created a sense of connection among the participants, including both students and the
teaching team and fostered a community identity that proved to be motivational for
students. Students not only enjoyed interacting with peers from different faculties and
programs, but formed mentor mentee relationships, and created an online information
and support network. Prompted to organise themselves into groups for the major nal
project, students started a Facebook page as a central means of communication.
However, the role of this page evolved from being a logistical tool, to a communication
platform where students updated each other on sustainability events on and off campus,
and shared co-curricular projects they were engaged in. The Facebook page continues to
be active two years after the course ended. In addition to sharing information, this
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community of peers also acted as a support network. Senior students mentored junior
students during project work, students gave each other advice during peer review of
assignments and they also encouraged each other to set personal sustainability goals.
During a reection activity in the course that asked students to examine their own
behaviour and choose a sustainable alternative, students felt inspired and motivated by
the goals and experiences their peers shared. One student described how “[t]he intimacy
experienced with this class allowed individuals to feel like they were in a safe
environment to make real change, even in their own lives”. Another example of the
support and catalytic inuence of the course community was a movement to reduce
bottled water consumption at the university which formed of a group’s major project
presented at the end of the course. After the course ended, two students from this group
with many others continued working on the idea to make it a reality on campus.
4.1.2 Meaningful assignments and course legacies. Two assignments appeared to be
particularly meaningful to students: the personal sustainability portfolio and the
personal sustainability pathway. The portfolio gave students creative licence to express
their learning in a format of their choice. Students chose such mediums as photography,
lm, creative writing, collage, drawing and mixed media. Most students made critical
connections between what they were learning and their personal actions. One student,
following lectures about relationships between climate change, transportation and
health, bolstered by discussions with his family and classmates, and propelled by his
various unsuccessful attempts to curtail his driving habits, included this in his nal
portfolio “I woke up one morning, and thought ‘Why don’t I just sell my cars’ […] And
this is exactly what I did”. Another student reected on her food choices based on the
food lecture and her decision to stop eating dairy and shared the impact her action has
had on herself and the people in her life: “My mother […] is following a similar regime
now”. Another portion of the PSP that saw the class writing poems from the prompt
“Things to Save […]”, an idea from Jack Collom’s Ecology Literature course at Naropa
University, and then sharing them in an in-class poetry slam, had an interesting offshoot
Collom and Noethe, 2005). Soon after the course ended, one student turned her poem into
a song, her rst original recording, and posted it on the course Facebook page and on
YouTube. By summer, she had formed a band which performed for two years.
The personal sustainability pathway assignment encouraged students to map out
potential courses, programs, co-curricular and professional activities that would
contribute to their sustainability learning at university and beyond. Students found this
assignment challenging, especially because some were still exploring degree options.
However, once they completed the assignment, the majority agreed that it was helpful to
learn how to plan for their future. They also appreciated the opportunity to nd out
about all the ways they could learn and practice sustainability at UBC. Another
component that resonated with students was reecting on their strengths,
opportunities, aspirations and ways to measure their own success. By combining their
aspirations and interests with a year-by-year action plan, students recognised that
constructing a personal pathway, although difcult, was a powerful process giving
them a valuable tool. In addition, it broadened their perception of learning opportunities,
to include not only academic courses but also co-curricular involvement.
4.1.3 Teaching team dynamic and interdisciplinary. The teaching team dynamic
provided a unique, interdisciplinary forum for the fellows to provide curriculum and
engage in the sustainability journey. As would be expected, a wide range of views was
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expressed by the teaching team on many of the modules, and throughout the course, the
teaching team constantly challenged each other and the students on the course content.
The strong interdisciplinary, integrative nature of the course continually highlighted
that ideas are stronger when viewed in combination, making the team-teaching
approach highly valuable (Sherren, 2005). Much of the conversation between the
teaching team during class took the form of a “devil’s advocate” strategy (Stradling
et al., 1984), where ideas and beliefs were challenged in an effort to ensure a balanced
approach was provided to the students. As most students did not initially feel
comfortable presenting counter views to the teaching team, it was often the teaching
team’s responses to each other that led to discourse, which opened the door for the
students to continue the subsequent discussion. The team-teaching philosophy was
therefore a signicant benet of the course, both to the students and the teaching team
members themselves. As has been critiqued in environmental education, some teaching
team members wished to avoid expressing their own values openly, rather viewing the
teacher’s role as involving questioning or challenging students and being a “neutral
teacher” (Cotton, 2006). Others meanwhile encouraged students and teaching team
members alike to form clear positions on issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions and
lifestyle choices. Clearly, however, the exibility and more open forum of a teaching
team model beneted the course signicantly, and the response of the student to the
team format helped shape the nature of classroom interaction (Cotton, 2006).
4.1.4 Funding. The teaching team developed a complete nancial model for the
ongoing nancial sustainability of the SUST 101 course. A future class size of 300
students was assumed for analysis purposes, although a wider range of class sizes could
apply. Using the University’s standard nancial assumptions as dened by the
centralised Strategic and Decision Support services, it was estimated that a fully
resourced course would incur expenses of $102,000 (including lead instructor buy-out,
co-instructor stipends, multiple teaching assistants, guest lecturer compensation and a
nominal expense fund). A key strength of the University’s nancial management is a
widely recognised structure for transfer of tuition revenues for undergraduate students.
Applying this standard revenue structure, it was estimated that a 300-student
classroom would generate revenue of $144,000. Therefore, each section of this
hypothetical 300-student undergraduate SUST 101 course would generate a surplus of
$43,000. While the nancial analysis could have been conducted for many other
scenarios, it was clear that the concept of the introductory course could be self-supported
nancially within the University’s existing undergraduate funding structure.
4.2 Key course challenges
4.2.1 Administrative. As highlighted in the introduction, the lack of an entry level
sustainability course facilitated the development and implementation of SUST101;
however, the lack of an administrative home within the University (i.e. with a specic
existing faculty) even for a one-year trial proved to be a major issue for the students,
faculty and administrators within the relevant faculties. These major issues principally
related to enrolment and the multiple course codes, access to registration and student
support services within the University and exam timetabling given the large number of
faculties (and the complicated timetables) the students were registered in. While using a
highly exible model (directed study term credit) allowed a wide range of students to
register in the course, the team essentially bypassed a number of the faculty-level
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procedures which are typically necessary to provide structure and rigour to student
undergraduate program design. As a result, the course essentially became an “elective”
to the individual student’s program in the purest sense, and did not count for a science
credit within an arts program for example, and vice versa. While the course was never
intended to be housed or offered by the USI indenitely, issues around the future
viability, size, ownership and resourcing of the course cast sufcient uncertainty around
the model that the course was not offered again in the following year. These issues
included concerns around ongoing academic management of the course, and the lack of
a single responsible faculty within which to enrol and advise students, as well as
mechanisms for ensuring academic standards and principals are upheld; difculties in
timetabling as it involved many programs and units across campus and lack of policies
and approaches to deal with such a large teaching team from across different academic
4.2.2 Teaching team challenges. With a diverse teaching team, lead course instructor
and course coordinator, obstacles in communication contributed to some inefciency
and inconsistency in the delivery of the course. At times, communication became a
time-consuming responsibility of the course coordinator, who became the middle person
carrying messages between teaching fellows, students and the lead instructor.
Inevitable delays in receiving reading materials, assignments and learning community
activities for modules made it difcult for the course coordinator and lead instructor to
have a clear, overall view of the course. The team also experienced logistical
inefciencies in the assessment of assignments with teaching fellow responsible for
marking their own assignments with the course coordinator elding feedback to
students and the recording of grades. Teaching fellows had a broad understanding of
expectations for their involvement; however, they did not receive a description of
specic responsibilities. They were expected to attend the introductory plenaries, nal
project presentations and the plenaries for their module, with optional attendance for
other plenaries. As the course progressed, fellows attended plenaries on a drop-in basis,
which created a level of inconsistency both in what content was covered and in
expectations in terms of student assessment and activity.
4.2.3 Student challenges. The unique course format and diversity of people in the
course proved to be stimulating as well as challenging for students. Although students
liked learning alongside peers from different programs, they experienced a difference in
understanding and work style between junior and senior students. While working in
teams, senior students had to take on a mentoring and leadership role, which sometimes
resulted in an imbalanced work load. Also, some senior students would have been ready
for more challenging course content, while the introductory nature of the course was
more appropriate for rst- and second-year students. Furthermore, students had to
adapt to an emerging curriculum. As the course unfolded, some teaching fellows
adjusted their own course content to complement the material already taught. Because
assignments had been outlined at the beginning of the course, on the course website,
students became confused about what they were required to know and which
assignments to complete, as these then changed. The course coordinator communicated
the assignment changes to students via email. However, students struggled with the
uncertainty associated with changes and navigating the different communication
venues used in the course.
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4.3 Future directions
Looking beyond the successes and challenges of delivering the course, the construction
of the course spurred the development of a number of other initiatives, and also provided
important information for future work in developing sustainability education at UBC.
Specically, the course and its delivery provided a very important lens through which
university administrators could examine the culture, structures and institutional
capacity for courses that did not t within the standard departmental structure. The
administrative challenges of the course helped to shine a spotlight on issues that were
not completely clear prior to the offering and which had in fact, not been anticipated by
even the senior university administrators who initially fully supported the idea of the
course. Since the SUST 101 pilot, the understanding of how the university will be able to
develop student pathways in sustainability at UBC has evolved, and faculty interested
in sustainability issues now have a stronger shared understanding that this work will
need to be done by individual departments and faculties (for program level changes) and
instructors (for course adaptations).
In terms of content development, innovative pedagogy and interdisciplinarity, as
well as enriched student experiences, the teaching team deemed the SUST101 trial a
success. By utilising team-teaching approaches, thematic approaches to sustainability
themes and integrated content design, the course meets the denition of a true
interdisciplinary education discourse which can be a powerful learning experience for
students and instructors alike (
Klien, 2006). The course met the need for an early entry
level course available to all students in the rst year of their program and focused on
sustainability broadly enough to touch all disciplines. While the course was not offered
in the following year, a number of ongoing initiatives have developed based on the
SUST101 experience, two of which are discussed here. While SUST101 was
administratively difcult to implement, faculties recognised the importance of the
underlying principles of early entry level classes on sustainability and interdisciplinary
curriculum which brought together a range of topics, viewpoints and approaches. As a
result, a number of new courses have been developed within individual faculties
covering some of the topic areas, for example an entry level sustainability course in the
faculty of science. Development of this course in particular, while undertaken within one
faculty, did utilise some of the expertise and experience of the SUST 101 teaching team
and the course was explicitly designed at the outset to be open to students beyond the
faculty. This course is now being offered to students, has enrolment of students from a
number of faculties, covers topics from a number of different disciplines and has
long-term support within the faculty. There is also potential for this course to be
co-listed with other units across campus. Second, in addition to the model of new course
development, interest in inserting sustainability content or re-casting curriculum
through a sustainability lens within existing large rst-year courses has increased, with
a number of courses now being actively examined. Courses which are currently being
adapted to add sustainability content include introductory chemistry, psychology,
applied science, mathematics and sociology. A combined approach of specically
designed introductory courses with these augmented existing discipline-focused
introduction courses may provide a sustainable solution to sustainability education
resulting in second-order change (Sterling, 2008) to students, across the university as
well as the broader community.
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Consequently, with respect to the initial student needs, some students in certain
facilities at UBC now have access to sustainability curriculum which did not exist prior
to SUST 101. Other students, however, who are either unable to register into courses in
these faculties or unable to add the course into their program nd themselves unable to
partake in the experience. Similarly, the content developed within these faculty-led
initiatives is likely to be more tailored to the individual faculty’s perception of student’s
needs, potentially limiting the interdisciplinary nature of the course content.
4.4 Overarching recommendations
The authors conclude with a number of recommendations, which should be considered
when endeavouring to develop and ultimately offer an entry level university-wide
course, focused on sustainability issues. First and foremost, the authors highlight the
need for strong support for these types of introductory courses and their development
from high-level administrators within the University both at the individual faculty level
and within the central administration. In addition, it is important that the university
recognise that innovative pedagogies, such as experiential learning and team teaching,
at least initially in the course development are not cost-saving solutions, and that in fact,
the course may require more resources than a standard lecture course with hundreds of
students. However, it should also be recognised that the experience in delivering SUST
101 on a pilot basis and subsequent analysis indicate that the course can be
self-supporting nancially.
When developing such courses, the developers should strive for interdisciplinarity
content, broad-based student enrolment, use of innovative pedagogies which promote
sustainability behaviour and dialogue both in teaching and content development. The
course should, as much as possible, be offered within the existing university faculty
structure, for example, be housed within a single faculty with a collaborative and
inclusive mindset. The advantages of being housed within a single faculty (with
acknowledged discipline biases) may be outweighed by the disadvantages of the course
being offered across the entire university but without sufcient standard faculty
support and supervision. Based on the experiences of the authors, the role of the course
coordinator to provide continuity for both the teaching team and the students is
fundamental to the success and cohesion of the course. Finally, integrating university
operations, staff, educators and researchers into the course curriculum can lead to
signicant advances in teaching and learning and offers the potential to ensure that the
developed course does indeed prepare students to meet the challenges of and full their
aspirations for a just and sustainable future.
5. Conclusion
In this paper, the authors describe the context and background, development and
delivery of a rst-year sustainability-focused course in a large research-focused
Canadian university. The course was specically developed to overcome traditional
“siloing” of curriculum by faculties along disciplinary lines. Two conceptual models for
organising the course content, delivery and organisation of the teaching team were
utilised, including the “head, heart and hands” framework and the UBC student
sustainability attributes; holistic systems thinking, sustainability knowledge,
awareness and integration and acting for positive change.
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Of the learning communities developed, three activities in particular excited the
teaching team in their development and execution, including:
(1) an interactive team activity for holistic systems thinking;
(2) the requirement for each student to develop their own personal sustainability
pathway as a mechanism for the students to examine their own individual
course of learning; and
(3) the requirement that each student develop their own personal sustainability
portfolio, to capture the students’ journey through the course allowing them to
focus on their learning and reect upon the development of their own
sustainability thinking over the semester.
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Author afliations
Nicholas C. Coops, Faculty of Forestry/UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) Teaching, Learning
and Research ofce, Vancouver BC, Canada
Jean Marcus, Ileana Construt, UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) Teaching, Learning and
Research ofce, Vancouver BC, Canada
Erica Frank, Faculty of Medicine, UBC, Vancouver BC, Canada
Ron Kellett, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, UBC, Vancouver BC, Canada
Eric Mazzi, Faculty of Applied Science, UBC, Vancouver BC, Canada
Alison Munro, UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) Teaching, Learning and Research ofce,
Vancouver BC, Canada
Susan Nesbit, Faculty of Applied Science, UBC, Vancouver BC, Canada
Andrew Riseman, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC, Vancouver BC, Canada
John Robinson, UBC Sustainability Initiative, Vancouver BC, Canada
Anneliese Schultz, Faculty of Arts, UBC, Vancouver BC, Canada, and
Yona Sipos, UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) Teaching, Learning and Research ofce,
Vancouver BC, Canada
About the authors
Nicholas C. Coops was the Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative’s Teaching, Learning and
Research ofce from 2010-2014 and is a faculty member within the Faculty of Forestry at UBC.
Nicholas C. Coops is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:
Jean Marcus is the Associate Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative’s Teaching,
Learning & Research ofce and has been actively advancing sustainability education across
campus since 2008. As a marine ecologist, Jean is also a Scientist in Residence with the Vancouver
School Board, and has taught various ecology and conservation biology courses.
Ileana Construt is a Student Engagement Ofcer in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of
British Columbia. Her background in sustainability education has led her to explore and
experiment with pedagogies that create inclusive, multi-directional, experiential and reective
learning environments.
Erica Frank, MD, MPH, is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Preventive Medicine and
Population Health at UBC, and the Founder and President of
Ron Kellett is a Professor of Landscape Architecture and co-director of the elementslab in the
Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. His
research develops sustainability-oriented design and collaboration tools for community planning
and urban design.
Eric Mazzi has degrees in mechanical engineering and resource management, and 25 years of
experience as a professional practitioner and researcher. He was the Lead Instructor for the Master
of Engineering in Clean Energy for 5 years, and Faculty Supervisor for the rst 101 graduates of
that program.
Alison Munro has worked in sustainability groups at UBC for a number of years, managing a
variety of projects and programs. She is currently an Associate Director, Teaching, Learning &
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Research at the UBC Sustainability Initiative. Alison holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
from Simon Fraser University, and a Master of Public Administration from Dalhousie University.
Susan Nesbit is a Professor of Teaching in the Department of Civil Engineering at the
University of British Columbia where she has developed and taught several undergraduate and
graduate courses aimed at uncovering aspects of engineering for sustainability through novel
pedagogies, including community service learning. Her scholarship examines the inuence of
these pedagogies on student attitudes and beliefs.
Andrew Riseman is an Associate Professor and Academic Director of the Centre for
Sustainable Food Systems-UBC Farm. Her research interests include innovative pedagogies,
immersive learning environments and skill-based learning.
John Robinson is an Associate Provost, Sustainability at UBC, and a Professor in the Institute
for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Geography.
Anneliese Schultz has incorporated sustainability into her Italian courses since 2007. A
published author and Pushcart Prize nominee, she has completed the rst novel in her climate
ction series, “Distant Dream”.
Yona Sipos is a Food Systems Analyst specialising in community food systems, food policy,
school food, community university engagement and sustainability education. She holds a PhD
in Integrated Studies in Land & Food Systems from the University of British Columbia, Canada
and lives in greater Washington, DC.
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... Scholars have called for changes in current teaching practice to emphasize interdisciplinary perspectives and focus on critical problem solving, experiential learning, collaboration, and personal empowerment (Davis 1995;Burns 2013). Recently, scholars have examined team-teaching in sustainability courses (see, for example , Burns 2013;Michelsen 2013;Coops et al. 2015;Levintova and Mueller 2015). ...
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... Thus, institutional change and buy-in is necessary to overall program success (Box 5). Barriers to such change may be 1) structural, such as challenges working across disciplinespecific departments, lack of support for interdisciplinary team teaching, or lack of incentives for interdisciplinary or community-based research; 2) cultural, such as biases about specific disciplines, lack of experience with and knowledge about effective interdisciplinary or experiential teaching, or lack of long-term planning to institutionalize the courses and opportunities for altered graduate education; and/or 3) financial, in particular insufficient resources (Blanco-Portela et al., 2018;Coops et al., 2015;Marchesi and Rolls, 2016). ...
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The multiscale, complex challenges at the nexus of food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) demand approaches to graduate education beyond traditional disciplinary training. Here, we present a vision for training FEWS leaders developed by faculty and students from interdisciplinary graduate training programs focused on the FEWS nexus. We discuss the imperative to create interdisciplinary, next-generation FEWS leaders and the core skills and proficiencies such leaders need: employ systems thinking, thrive in interdisciplinary teams, communicate effectively, and engage diverse stakeholders and communities. These skills will prepare students to connect science to innovative, actionable solutions and to successfully lead across a variety of careers. Graduate training that integrates these approaches must, on the one hand, overcome structural, cultural, and financial barriers in higher education, but on the other hand, will help develop a community of practice capable of developing sustainable solutions for the FEWS nexus and other vexing environmental challenges.
... This study described an approach to incorporate sustainability in an introductory research skills course. Previous studies have argued for the need to include sustainability education throughout the curricula offered by higher education institutions, rather than confining this type of education to specialized, isolated sustainability programs (Moore, 2005;Coops et al., 2015;Dmochowski et al., 2016). Given many university programs contain introductory courses on research skills (Murtonen et al., 2008), the presented approach provides a promising means to offer practice-oriented sustainability education across curricula, spanning a broad range of disciplines. ...
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Purpose Despite increasing efforts to incorporate sustainability in curricula and practices of institutions of higher education, effective implementation remains challenging. The purpose of this study is to present an approach to incorporate sustainability into a practice-oriented research skills course, which was implemented at a small island state university in the Caribbean. Design/methodology/approach First-year university students followed a four-week course module, starting with the introduction of the sustainable development goals, and culminating in a symposium in which the students present the findings of their research projects to the campus community. Pre-course module and post-course module surveys measured the students’ knowledge and perceptions regarding sustainability. These survey results were also compared with the result of a similar survey held for the university’s employees. Findings The survey results suggested that following the course module increased students’ knowledge about sustainable development, as well as their support for the university campus and its community putting more emphasis on teaching, practicing and encouraging sustainability. Interestingly, university employees scored significantly higher on the latter component than students, suggesting that in this case a lack of interest of the staff is not a barrier toward a sustainable campus. Originality/value The presented course module offers a novel and low-cost approach to introducing sustainability into a broad range of academic curricula, specifically tailored to the needs of institutes of higher education in small island states. The survey results suggest that this type of education may not only ensure reaching academic goals but also increase students’ interest in sustainable development within their local environment.
... Explicit in students' reflections was their openness to listen to alternative perspectives and engage in dialogue. Scholars have noted the difficulty in teaching interdisciplinary topics calling for critical and systems thinking to effectively address the complexities (Capra, 1996;Coops et al., 2015). That is, "the more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. ...
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an international framework to improve global wellbeing, and SDG 4 Quality Education serves as a substructure to achieve sustainability. However, absent from the SDGs is explicit reference to critical thinking which is needed to contend with structures of power. Similarly, tertiary education systems globally are facing challenges due to appropriation by neoliberal agendas favouring capitalism over cogitation. Accordingly, the aim of this paper is to propose a framework for bringing criticality to sustainable tourism education to strengthen SDG 4 and empower future decision- makers as Critical Tourism Citizens (CTC). A definition of a CTC is presented to further critical citizenship scholarship in tourism. This paper examines the role of criticality in advancing sustainability in tourism. Supported by empirical qualitative data, we propose a pedagogical framework that aids critical examination of tourism systems to advance sustainability in relation to the SDGs. The framework is positioned within current scholarship on global citizenship and critical citizenship education to propel theory into praxis.
Since 2016, the authors have been teaching an interdisciplinary module on the global clothing industry to students enrolled in an introductory psychology course and a second year chemistry course at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. In 2016, the module also involved third year chemistry students, and in 2017, second year sociology students and graduate students in English literature from the University of Stuttgart in Germany took part. The module has the following features: (1) it focuses on a complex industry with ramifications for social and environmental sustainability, (2) it involves an issue of direct relevance to the students, (3) students teach those from another discipline as “subject experts,” and (4) students are assessed on their learning within their home course. An evaluation of the 2018 iteration with psychology and chemistry students (N = 185) showed post-test decreases in participants’ materialistic values, increases in knowledge and concern about the social and environmental impacts of the clothing industry and reported changes to clothes buying practices. The authors discuss the institutional barriers faced and provide five recommendations for other university teachers considering integrating an interdisciplinary sustainability module into existing courses.
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Faculty and staff at Duke have collaborated to teach a one-semester, introductory, undergraduate course on sustainability ten times over 12 years, including both theoretical and applied project-based content. This article describes the overall process and rhythm of the course, and provides a unique contribution by summarizing our process to accomplish on-campus sustainability projects where three- to five-person student teams collaborate with on-campus clients throughout the semester, researching questions posed by the client, and ultimately providing recommendations. The faculty/staff partnership on the instructional team permits five to six projects to be designed each year, with a much broader array of clients and authentic research questions than could be envisioned by an academic faculty member alone. Having a strong connection with the Sustainable Duke staff provides the trust with other staff on campus that project results can endure past the semester time period if warranted.
This study investigated best practices in teaching environmental responsibility to inventors and innovators. Because successful invention includes engineering, design, and business, best practices in all three disciplines were investigated, as well as connections among them. The investigation sought best practices in curriculum, delivery methods, and administrative leadership to maximize environmental responsibility in invention education. To find best practices, interviews of 25 instructors, administrators, and graduates from sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship programs were performed; a small literature review provided background and validation. Results found that for curriculum, there was no “silver bullet” but a wide spread of topics for different contexts; however, core topics included business knowledge, measurement of impacts, systems thinking, communication, and inclusion of social justice for broader sustainability. For delivery methods, project-based learning in interdisciplinary teams was a best practice, especially when partnering with industry or other external stakeholders. For leadership, faculty leading with strong administrative support was often praised, though other models were also described, and barriers were mentioned. Leadership best practices also included involvement of all aspects of institutions: faculty, administration, students, facilities, and operations.
Higher education institutions (HEI) have the potential to engage local and global communities in transformative learning for sustainable principles and practices. However, transforming a university campus into a model of sustainable development and best practice is a challenging task. It is only possible by engaging students, faculty, staff, and the campus community, as well as local and global partners. During the last decade Canadian universities have ramped up their efforts in order to support community engagement and partnerships. They aim to connect their research and innovation capacity with the policy and implementation challenges of partner organizations. The University of British Columbia (UBC) has actively pursued sustainability goals and targets for over twenty years. By establishing the University Sustainability Initiative (USI), UBC went a step further than other Canadian universities. The paper presents an overview of the evolution of the university’s sustainability strategy and focuses on sustainability-related developments within the last decade. It discusses five on-campus and off-campus engagement programs that contribute to UBC’s sustainability goals: the SEEDS program, Sustainability Ambassadors, “UBC Reads Sustainability”, Student Sustainability Council, and Sustainability-in-Residence, the Greenest City Scholars at the Point Grey campus in Vancouver, Canada. These programs exemplify joint efforts for promoting sustainable behaviors and practices that contribute to a net-positive campus and promote human and ecological wellbeing. Developments and findings discussed in the paper could be of value for many HEI interested in successful ways to engage students, staff, faculty, and the broader community in the practice of sustainability.
Purpose This paper aims to investigate the educational benefits and challenges of introducing natural science students to on-campus and off-campus sustainability research projects as an approach to education for sustainability. Design/methodology/approach The course “Science and Sustainability” at the University of Leuven is a stand-alone course that aims at providing master students in the natural sciences, education for (the benefit of) sustainability action. It was launched in 2016-2017 and has been running for two years now. The first year focused on getting students acquire a similar level of knowledge in sustainability, while, on a higher level, the experiential learning phase (project work) was supported with specific reflection assignments. In the second year, more specific attention was directed toward allowing students to get acquainted with systems thinking and deal with inter- and transdisciplinary issues by approaching problems from a multi-stakeholder view. Insight in the impact and the appreciation of the setup of the course was obtained from a series of questionnaires offered to all participating students at the beginning, about midway, and again at the end of the course. Findings Analysis of the students’ self-reported sustainability competence development shows a clear positive impact for almost all students who participated. A clear relation between the observed change and the students’ self-rating and attitude at the start, as well as with their discipline, is observed. Originality/value Information is gained on a number of factors of importance to impact the students’ attitude toward action for sustainability, and how this can be further improved.
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Purpose - The article aims to describe the problem- and project-based learning (PPBL) program and the institutional context at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability (SOS), with the goal of offering experience-based guidance for similar initiatives in sustainability programs around the world. Design/methodology/approach - This case study presents the diverse PPBL activities that SOS offers on the undergraduate and the graduate levels and examines the institutional structures in place that support these activities. Data were collected through literature and document reviews, observations, interviews, student evaluations and faculty surveys. Findings - The review of the PPBL program at SOS illustrates a case of successfully inaugurating a PPBL program in sustainability at a major university in the USA. Yet, a key challenge for this program and similar programs around the world is how to maintain the institutional momentum and make advances after the initial takeoff. SOS is attempting to address this issue by developing greater program cohesion and coordination, synthesizing past products and learning, monitoring and evaluating impacts, and developing PPBL training programs for faculty and graduate students. Practical implications - The experiences and findings presented can help other programs to articulate the benefits of a PPBL initiative, anticipate implementation challenges and successfully support their own PPBL initiatives through adequate institutional structures. The review points to the fact that the major impact on both student learning and outcomes for partner organizations is achieved through a concerted effort by the organization as a whole. Successful PPBL programs require both top-down commitments from the administration and bottom-up drive from interested faculty and students. Originality/value - This case study discusses the PPBL program at SOS. The findings can inform and support the ongoing transformation in sustainability education with the ultimate objective to build students' capacities to address and solve wicked sustainability problems in the real world, competently collaborating with partners from government, business and civil society.
“Disciplinarity” and “interdisciplinarity” have become keywords for knowledge and education in the twenty-first century. This development requires that administrators, curriculum planners, and teachers at all levels of the educational system have a common understanding of both terms and their relationship. The primary case study is the school level in the United States. Yet, comparisons with other nations suggest a platform for longer-term international dialogue that bridges the discourses of interdisciplinarity across national contexts as well as school and university levels. A shared discourse and programs of teacher training require awareness of historical contexts of interdisciplinary education, major terminology for distinguishing design models, characteristic pedagogical approaches, and related learning skills.
Sustainability is a growing priority for higher education institutions around the world. Many universities are responding to global imperatives by committing to strong operational sustainability goals and targets. Similarly, many universities are realigning their resources and redefining their academic priorities to respond to the need to prepare students to understand and address sustainability challenges. Yet few post-secondary institutions have identified the need to deeply integrate academic and operational sustainability as a prerequisite for permanent positive change toward sustainability on campuses and beyond. At the University of British Columbia (UBC), the integration of operational and academic sustainability has catalyzed the development of an aggressive portfolio of programs and activities that aim to transform the University into a test-bed for sustainability and an agent of change in the wider community. However, while the specific actions and projects described herein represent a tangible manifestation of UBC’s intent, the most important change taking place at UBC lies at the level of institutional culture around sustainability. From this perspective, the cross-fertilization of academic and operational cultures becomes an indispensable armature on which the more specific actions rest. This chapter reviews the UBC Sustainability Academic Strategy (SAS) process that led to the creation of the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), with a mandate to integrate academic and operational sustainability campus-wide and to act as a clearinghouse for sustainability programs and activities. Special emphasis is placed on a critical review of the USI’s most ambitious sustainability implementation strategies deployed and the resulting challenges. Potential solutions to these challenges are hypothesized before concluding remarks concerning the process of institutionalizing deep and lasting transformative change. The general intent is that this synthesis be of value to higher education institutions considering how they might deepen their commitment to sustainability.