Teaching with the Campus and Local Environment: Connecting Nearby Examples to Global Challenges
Pedagogic guidance for teaching with the local environment
- Field Labs introduce students to complex natural systems, breaks down barriers among academic fields, encourages multiple observations, and introduces students to the area near their campus.
- Campus-Based Learning uses the campus environment itself as a teaching tool.
- Experience-based Environmental Projects get students involved in their own learning.
- Teaching Urban Students assists educators of urban students to bring a rich set of experiences to the classroom that may be significantly different than those of students in small-town settings. Effective teaching of urban students requires instructors to tap into these rich experiences, cultural customs, and practical skills sets.
- Teaching Geoscience in the Field offers tips and advice for teaching in the field. While aimed at geoscience, the information provided is applicable to a range of disciplines.
- Service Learning offers the opportunity to link academic learning with community service.
- Teaching using Real World Examples can help students make connections between what they learn in class and the real world to illuminate the significance of what they are learning.
Concepts that can be taught using the local environment and community
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
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- Short field trips and outdoor labs that use local examples to illustrate sustainability concepts. Many campuses have relevant features within walking distance.
- Analyze facilities data (water, energy, waste) with a sustainability lens/point of view
- The same data could be collected and analyzed from one year to the next, looking for changes and trends.
- Data could be compared between different campuses
- Utilize group work and activities - particularly using teams of students with different backgrounds (i.e. a group consisting of a science major, government major and economics major)
- Service learning projects
- Capstone projects within a given course
- Undergraduate research projects - summer research, semester research; can be offered for credits
- Spending a day volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or a similar organization
- "Adventure" education and outdoor skills
- (Chemistry/Environmental Science):longitudinal sampling of local watershed for chemical analysis
- (Environmental Education): all very outdoor based, with three focus components 1)"adventure" education and outdoor skills, 2)non-formal education: local parks and rec systems, 3)outdoor education methods. For instance, the use of the Superior Hiking Trail that runs through campus and has been set aside as public space. Isle Royal National Parks research team reports
Connecting Local Examples to Global Challenges
- Utilizing activities that use Kolb's experiential education cycle, such as a lifestyle project, whereby students reflect on their own behaviors with a sustainability lens.
- Make explicit connections between the local example and the larger issue. Use case studies that illustrate the larger issue and draw connections between the local version and the global example.
- Consider scale. For example, if students measured a savings of 5 gallons of water per student per day, what are the impacts of that if you scale it up to all campuses in your state?
- Consider roadblocks. What were the sticking points in the local project? How might those same obstacles present themselves on a larger scale?
- Consider economics
- Whenever possible, link global topics to local examples, even if the local example is not one that the students have directly worked with.
- Look at medium-scale projects as an intermediate step between a very small scale example and a global example.
Engaging the Campus Community to Promote Buy-In and Action
Getting ideas for projects
- Engage the campus sustainability committee or Facilities Management Director for ideas
- Make sure not to reinvent the wheel! Keep a list of previous projects for future classes
- Engage colleagues in sustainability education opportunities
- Engage the community beyond the university
- Look at what other campuses are doing
- Having a sustainability director than can facilitate access to data, as well as access to staff
- Compilation of exercises that use campus facilities data
- See the resources section below for ideas of what others are doing in their classroom
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.
- Get involved with Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a self-report program from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to have students assess their institution's current performance and investigate ways to improve campus sustainability practices
- Encourage your institution to embrace sustainability - make sustainability a socially and economically preferred behavior
- Incorporate it into new employee training and incoming student info - encourage learning about the institutional culture
- Make education more experiential - connections between theory and practice, more interdisciplinary
- Strategic planning, prioritizing projects and focusing on an important few
- Calculate Return on Investment (ROI) on various efficiency projects to then inform the decision-makers on campus of the opportunities/benefits
- In a departmental review, select "model" schools that have excellent sustainability programs
- Recognize faculty's sustainability efforts as part of the service component of their job
- Break down administrative barriers to cross-disciplinary teaching
- Use the grant writing process as a means of building interdisciplinary teams
- Use campus gardens as a means of building community
- Record continuity as students come and go - make a list of incentives
- Professional development funding for faculty to develop sustainability-related course materials, invite speakers, workshops, AASHE conference, etc.
- Institutional support for experimentation in course development
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
- Sustainable Urban Adventure - Thomas Beery
- Determining Carbon Storage in Garcelon Bog - Holly Ewing
- Environmentally Sustainable Mining - Stephen Kissin
- Habitat for Humanity Build Day - Lori Troxel
- Sustainability project - Pablo Toral
- Action to Enhance Sustainability - Bill Stigliani
- Earth Science in Arizona and the Southwest - Steve Semken
- Introduction to Environmental Science - Ben Cuker
- Sustainability Workshop: Green Building Seminar - Derek Larsen
- "The Sustainability Champion's Handbook" - Bob Willard
- Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)
- American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment
- Service Learning
- Service learning example projects, from Pedagogy in Action, contains projects from the sciences, economics and education.
- Service learning projects, from On the Cutting Edge, has examples from the geosciences.
- Using Real World Examples such as case studies, field work, and using local data