Sustainability: An Introductory Interdisciplinary Graduate Course

Kate Davies
Center for Creative Change, Antioch University Seattle


This courses uses practical examples and conceptual models to explore the many dimensions of sustainability - ecological, social, economic, organizational and personal - and how they interact with each other.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

This is one of seven required core courses for all graduate students in the Center for Creative Change, no matter which masters degree they are registered for - Communication, Environment & Community, Management & Leadership, Organizational Development, or Whole Systems Design.

Course Content:

This course teaches that how we treat the earth reflects how we treat each other. Human relationships and ecological actions are shared aspects of human culture that are manifestations of historically constructed patterns.

It is about our humanity in relationships with nature and the nature of human relationships. Some of the cultural patterns developed in recent centuries are disrespectful of both human and the more-than-human world. This makes the challenge of shaping sustainable relationships in social organizations directly relevant to ecological sustainability. Personal, social, organizational and ecological sustainability all depend upon substantial changes in cultural values and beliefs.

One of the best ways to address sustainability is to begin from a particular place. So much of our lives are carried out without reference to the unique ecological and social influences where we live, work and play. Thus, we often feel no attachment to nature, community and even the people we associate with every day. This course explores sustainability within the context of place and connects this with sustainability at the global level.

Course Goals:

This course engages all of the Center for Creative Change's competencies. These are: reflective practice, systems thinking, collaboration, leadership and diversity. These competencies are informed by the Center's guiding principles of sustainability and social justice.

The learning objectives for this course are for students:

- To become familiar the different dimensions of sustainability;

- To understand how Western culture's values and beliefs shape the social structures and institutions that influence sustainability;

- To examine and apply the concept of sustainability in their own lives.

Course Features:

This hybrid course has three one-day onsite residencies in a ten week quarter. Students work collaboratively online between the residencies. The course has two main assignments (see syllabus), weekly readings and online discussions, two formative learning essays and an integrated learning reflection paper.

Course Philosophy:

This course blends experiential learning, reflective learning and "received" learning. By having the students observe sustainability in a particular place (in the built or natural environment) they get to know it more intimately. By designing their own sustainability practice they learn to translate concepts into practical actions. By reflecting on the question "What does sustainability mean to me and how do Western culture's values and beliefs shape the social institutions that enhance or impede it?" they strengthen their capacity for self-reflective learning. By reading about the history of "this place" (Seattle) they increase their place-based knowledge. And by reading about initiatives that enhance sustainability they can see that there are signs of hope amid the ecological and social challenges faced by Western culture.

This course has evolved from an earlier course on ecological sustainability and now encompasses many other dimensions of sustainability. This is because ecological unsustainability is just one manifestation of Western culture's unsustainable values and actions.

It has been taught and developed by different faculty over the past 4 years. Sometimes it is taught by a single instructor and sometimes it is co-taught by two instructors, depending on the number of students. It is usually modified to suit the instructors' strengths and preferences, but the essence remains the same. This version was offered in spring 2011.


Students are given feedback on their online postings and assignments. At the end of the course, a narrative assessment is prepared for each student. Antioch Seattle does not give grades.


Syllabus for Sustainability Course (Microsoft Word 125kB Aug4 11)

Teaching Materials:

Agenda for First Residency (Microsoft Word 26kB Aug4 11) Agenda for Second Residency (Microsoft Word 27kB Aug4 11) Agenda for Third Residency (Microsoft Word 26kB Aug4 11)

References and Notes: