Inspire Your Students to Make a Difference through Civic Engagement in Societal Issues
Students are energized and mobilized by real-world issues, and expand their interests by becoming involved in the local community [e.g. Brozo, 2005] . There are many strategies to help your students move beyond talking, including community partnerships, place-based approaches, and taking part in research projects. These strategies are pedagogically strong, student-centered approaches, which support deep learning and application. Sensory mapping, ethnography, and Service Learning projects are just a few examples of strategies for moving students to action in the community.
Incorporating topics that students can relate to, no matter what their major is, such as teaching about energy (where it comes from, self-assessment of usage, efforts to reduce use), water (where drinking water comes from, usage, water quality and quantity issues), and food (where does it come from, the energy involved in transport, getting students to think about sustainable practices) can further help students make the connections between what they learn in the classroom with their personal life. For example, the Lifestyle Project is a great way to build students' self-awareness with regard to consumption and sustainability and to move students to action at the personal level.
Connect students at a personal level by incorporating Environmental Justice into your course. Environmental (In)Justice incorporates personal and community impacts with the scientific examination of the cause and effects of environmental contamination, climate, energy, and more. Respectful engagement with effected communities allows students to grapple with a dynamic and complex system that involves power inequities, historical context and environmental hazards and resources. Engaging your students with Environmental Justice directly in the local community or developing empathy in the classroom (e.g. through contrasting narratives) can prepare students to face and solve grand societal challenges.
Pave the way to prepare students for the workforce with course-level hands-on experience
Encouraging students to take advantage of internships and other pre-professional opportunities is a great way to give students a flavor of the real world and how they can apply knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to the workplace. Engaging in the workforce gives students a better context for what they are learning in the classroom and illuminates the opportunities that exist. Three ways to incorporate workforce preparation in the classroom are to provide relevance, give credit, and illuminate opportunities to build networks.
Give students relevance for the material they're learning and how it can help them get a career by including jobs data in your course. Gain insight about what the workforce for a sustainable future will look like, including the job outlook and competencies and skills employers are looking for in hiring new employees to engage them as you introduce new topics and to better prepare them for the workforce.
Give credit: Internships and pre-professional opportunities
Turn internships and other pre-professional opportunities into upper-level course credits as an independent study opportunity. Encouraging students to seek out these experiences is a powerful approach to helping them make connections between their course work and the real world, utilize skills they learned in courses, and prepare them for the workforce through actual experience. The experience may even pave the way for them to attain employment either at the institution they worked with or with the network they build with the experience.
Illuminate opportunities and build connections
Explore strategies for building connections with potential employers and partnering with industry to illuminate the careers that are out there and to build a network you can use to set students up with internships, pre-professional or professional opportunities. A simple way to start is to invite guest speakers to your class who can talk about their experiences and describe their career.
Service learning, using real world examples, and using the local environment are some of the pedagogies that lend themselves to strengthening the connection between the knowledge and skills students learn in the classroom to the outside world, including the community and workforce. The pages linked below describe how each method can be implemented at a variety of scales, environments and disciplines, tips on how to incorporate it into your course, and links to related materials that describe the method in more depth. The example activities and courses provided on these pages can be used wholesale or be modified to fit your classroom.
- Strengthen community connections with Service Learning
This technique can get students out in the community, applying their knowledge to solve concrete problems and that provides the opportunity to build bridges between institutions and the community. Promote sustainability concepts and develop students' skills and apply classroom knowledge by getting students involved in designing and building a solar house, designing and planting a community garden that promotes water and food sustainability practices, and more. The Service-Learning to explore Sustainability activity, by Tracy Lai, Seattle Central Community College, explains how she gets her students involved in setting up and following through with a service learning project of their choosing.
- Bring relevance to classroom concepts and skills Using the Local Environment
Using the local environment, including the campus and surrounding community, is a great place to start! Learn about how to utilize resources in your area to engage students and give them an opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge and skills in familiar environs. Learn more about infusing sustainability into your course.
Incorporating the local environment can be done at the course-level or activity-level. For instance, Steve Semken's course Earth Science in Arizona and the Southwest, utilizes place-based learning to teach about earth topics. Single activities or a series of activities can also be implemented into an existing course. For example, Holly Ewing uses this Carbon Storage in a Peat Bog activity to develop her students' quantitative skills by determining carbon storage in a local bog. You can also team with service-learning type projects that utilize the local environment such as Lori Troxel's Habitat for Humanity Build Day activity, where students explore sustainability concepts such as energy efficiency and then apply them with a hands-on activity at a real and local site.
- Engage students with examples they can relate to Using Real World Examples
Real world examples include case studies, field work, and local data. This technique engages students by giving a real-world context and applicability to the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom. You can use local examples to teach about sustainability issues such as this Assessing Water Resource Demand in New York City activity, by Kyle Monahan, which builds students' quantitative and data analysis skills using multiple datasets (e.g. census, water use, watershed characteristics) to analyze water resources and use.
- Teaching Sustainability and Social Justice through Contrasting Narratives
Explicitly comparing and contrasting narratives about the same topic, or how a story changes through time, can illuminate interesting differences and changes. This process can also help students think critically about differing viewpoints and influences. One method to help students cultivate awareness of differing perspectives is to examine an issue through a specified lens other than their own. For example, Lauren Waterworth, Appalachian State University, has her students evaluate a proposed highway project through different public and private organizational lenses in her activity Mock Public Comments on the Draft EIS for West Virginia's King Coal Highway.
Curriculum for the Bioregion offers examples of Promising Pedagogies for teaching about sustainability issues
Washington Center's Curriculum for the Bioregion identified six effective strategies faculty commonly cited using to teach about sustainability. This page describes these pedagogies and offers resources to learn more about why they work and how to use them in your classroom.
- 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
- Campus Based Learning activity collection from Pedagogy in Action
- Experience-Based Environmental Project examples, including the Lifestyle Project, from Pedagogy in Action