Materials Development

Building off of lessons learned from a pilot study, 32 faculty members (eight PIs and 24 participating faculty members) representing diverse STEM and business disciplines from Bentley University, Northern Illinois University, and Wittenberg University will form communities of faculty to create and rigorously assess transdisciplinary curriculum modules focused on sustainability.

Development Process Guidelines

The mechanism for realizing curricular change is the production and dissemination of transdisciplinary curriculum modules focused on sustainability problems that can be used in a wide variety of STEM and business courses. Each two-year cycle of curriculum development will revolve around a unifying theme in sustainability. Theme selection is critical for at least two reasons:

  1. The theme must have broad enough appeal to recruit faculty members with an interest in teaching sustainability and be able to support the teaching of core concepts in any discipline, and
  2. The theme must be sufficiently well defined to facilitate efficient and productive workshops and allow for large-scale assessment across our institutions.

Therefore, theme selection cannot be a "top-down" process; yet it also has to be constrained for practical efficiency and pedagogical research validity.

Themes may have more or less appeal based on:

  • Student and faculty populations (e.g. majors vs. non-majors, specialists vs. generalists),
  • Institutional cultures and strengths, and
  • Geography (e.g. problems with regional emphasis).

Themes will be sufficiently broad within sustainability (e.g. Agriculture, Renewable Energy, and Water Resources), but we will remain flexible in final theme selection to accommodate the interests of individual faculty and their ability to incorporate the modules into courses.

Curriculum Development Process

Common Exercise

Summer workshops for faculty among the three institutions will be the linchpin of curriculum development cycles. Over a three-day period, faculty will receive instruction in module and assessment design and work on concrete tasks with deliverables each day.

Workshops will include 12 faculty participants (two from business and two from STEM disciplines at each institution), the 8 PIs, including a curriculum design specialist from the Science Education Resource Center (SERC). In the absence of these workshops, pedagogical collaboration among faculty in STEM fields and faculty in business fields would be rare, if not impossible.

Approximately four weeks prior to each summer workshop, we will hold introductory video conferences to provide participating faculty with background on each team members' disciplinary teaching and research expertise. Faculty will be asked to review introductory materials on the year's proposed theme (determined with faculty input described above) and prepare a disciplinary perspective on the theme they will share with colleagues during the actual workshop.

By the end of each three-day workshop, the faculty group will have designed a common exercise that introduces students to the transdisciplinary aspects of a complex sustainability problem. The group will determine the length and format of the exercise in consultation with the PIs, and the exercise will be aimed to accommodate students (and faculty) in any class and any discipline with our focus area. PIs will contribute to refining the common exercise, including editing, addition of materials and data sets, and formatting.

Course-Specific Exercise

After the workshop, each faculty member will be responsible for crafting a course-specific exercise that helps teach a core disciplinary concept in the context of the larger sustainability theme. The exercise will include at least one formative assessment aimed at evaluating student learning with respect to the disciplinary concept. (The workshop schedule will include guidance in assessment development.) Together, the common exercise, the course-specific exercise, and assessment plan comprise the thematic module. Faculty will then implement the module – including a common summative assessment of learning use by all participating faculty – in the following fall and/or spring semester.

Module Revision

In year two, the first cohort of faculty will participate in a second summer workshop focused on revising the module. This plan is expected to increase the impact of the modules in terms of future implementation, as well as adoption (after dissemination). The group will overlap with the second cohort of faculty for one day, which will offer an opportunity to communicate lessons learned, while simultaneously building new connections among the "nodes" in our network. As described above, communication between cohorts will also be facilitated through video conferences, where individuals and groups can continue to provide feedback and improve the modules. These activities support and encourage peer instruction throughout the process.