A Curricular Approach to Facilitating Transdisciplinary Thinking about Sustainability
Addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development goals requires educating a citizenry who can undertake the wicked problems of sustainability from multiple disciplinary perspectives. It requires curricular approaches that provide opportunities to integrate different perspectives, gain understanding of how different disciplines approach problems in different and sometimes conflicting ways, and involve connecting personal experience to a problem. The NSF-funded Business and Science: Integrated Curriculum for Sustainability (BASICS) project developed and piloted such a transdisciplinary curriculum with natural science, business, and social science faculty at Bentley University, Northern Illinois University, and Wittenberg University. Two "common exercise" modules incorporate systems and transdisciplinary thinking with course-specific teaching activities to provide disciplinary context. The curriculum is available for use on the BASICS website (https://serc.carleton.edu/basics/).
Cohorts of faculty at the three institutions developed the curriculum through two-year development cycles. "Local learning communities" (LLCs) were employed within and across institutions to support the implementation of the materials, including student and faculty assessment and module refinement. An additional cohort of faculty, who were not involved in module development, were introduced to them in order to further evaluate obstacles for adoption or adaptation within and outside the targeted disciplines. One module asks students to address the challenge of downstream pollution in the Mississippi River watershed and the second facilitates student's examination of a product's lifecycle and its implications of a linear versus a circular economy. Assessment data suggests that students gain an understanding of the importance of seeking expertise from different disciplines and the value of integrating those perspectives to address complex problems. Faculty report gaining confidence in practices for facilitating transdisciplinary learning. This poster will present information about the two modules, examples of the disciplinary teaching activities, the curriculum development approach used, and preliminary student assessment findings.