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Teaching with the Campus and Local Environment: Connecting Nearby Examples to Global Challenges

Concepts on this page were derived from faculty discussions at the workshop, Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences, held in July 2012.

Pedagogic guidance for teaching with the local environment

The local environment, including the campus and surrounding community, often offers a rich collection of opportunities for students to apply their classroom knowledge to the real world and to improve upon skills such as working with field equipment, critical thinking, and team work. The nature of working in the local environment engages students since it builds on the sense of place and can help students make connections between what they learn and their every day experiences. Learn more about pedagogies that lend themselves to using the local environment as a pedagogy:

Concepts that can be taught using the local environment and community

The campus can be used as a classroom to examine many aspects of sustainability. Teaching about energy, water, and food are great places to start teaching about sustainability issues since students can identify with these topics. InTeGrate workshop participants identified specific concepts and skills that can be taught at the local level:

Specific concepts that can be taught on a local scale

  • Science:
    • The physical geography of the campus. What was this landscape before the campus or community was built? How has the area evolved over time? What are future plans for development?
    • The watershed that includes the campus. What types of water resources are nearby? Consider streams, lakes, wetlands, coastlines, groundwater.
    • The drinking water. What is the source? How is it treated? How does the campus impact water quality?
    • The campus landscaping. From baseball fields to hiking paths, there are likely to be several different strategies for managing the landscaping.
    • Air quality
    • Stormwater management
    • Birds and other wildlife that live on the campus
  • Policy and management: the sources, costs and impacts of resources the campus uses
    • Energy production and use
    • Water
    • Food
    • Materials
    • Waste
    • Construction and architecture: efficiency in heating, cooling, lighting, water use and materials use, LEED certification
    • Pathways to efficiency: modifying behavior (i.e. turning off unused lights) vs built-in efficiency (installing LED light bulbs)
  • Campus as a mini-city, mini-community
    • Campus transportation
    • Parking
    • Paths, open space, recreation, land use
  • Civics: ways to affect change on campus
    • Understanding that institutionalization is important at large scales
    • Identifying and working with the most relevant offices, committees and individuals

Skills that can be taught by working in the local environment and community

  • Experimental design and implementation: for both the initial work and as the project evolves, based on both expected and unexpected results or changes in logistics
  • Development of observational skills, note taking, drawing, record keeping
  • Spatial reasoning
    • Map reading
    • Field measurement and surveying
    • Use of GIS, GPS, Google Earth or other spatial tools
  • Data collection and analysis, from deciding which data to collect, to using measurement techniques to analyzing the results
  • Effective communication, social skills, diplomacy, humility in confronting others with problems
  • Sharing of results with the larger community
  • Critically reading, analyzing, and evaluating professional reports for local projects (e.g. engineering report for building a new road; geological report for effects of mine development on the ground and surface water, etc.)

Other pedagogic benefits of using the local environment to teach about sustainability

  • Increases awareness of human resource cost of sustainability initiatives
  • Promotes student ownership of projects
  • Counteracts the unsustainable norms of modern society and the disconnect between living spaces and nature through outdoor experiences
    • students from (sub)urban communities and their (dis)comfort in "natural" environments (cf. "Novelty Space" discussed below)
    • modern distractions and how to disconnect/unplug
  • Develops respect for the natural environment
  • It has the potential to change perceptions of field-based careers (social status)
  • Students gain perspective of humans as an integral part of the natural world
    • e.g. landscape concept (dynamic interplay of cultural and natural systems)

Strategies for using the campus community

Incorporating the local and campus community into your course can be done in a variety of ways and at a variety of scales. Some examples include:

Connecting Local Examples to Global Challenges

Building bridges between local studies and global issues can empower students in several ways. These connections can help students find relevance in global issues and potentially light a spark that leads them to action. The local-global connection also promotes solution-focused thinking rather than focusing solely on problems. Some strategies that can be used to make the connection between local examples and global challenges include:

Engaging the Campus Community to Promote Buy-In and Action

Getting ideas for projects

Discussing project ideas with staff, faculty, and community members is not only a great place to get ideas for projects, but it's also a catalyst for building beneficial connections to facilitate the project(s). Great resources to start with include:

Promoting Campus and Community Buy-In and Involvement

A common obstacle instructors face when incorporating local projects is lack of buy in from the department or institution. Below are some ideas for promoting buy-in, including identifying benefits and incentives for these types of projects along with proposing easy ways to incorporate these projects in a way that integrates content and strengthening skills with working in the community.

Materials and Resources for Using Local Examples

See how other faculty are using their local environment with these examples from a range of disciplines and learning environments.

Relevant materials from InTeGrate workshop participants




Related Resources

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