Advice for Future Implementations
Part of the InTeGrate Wittenberg University Program Model
Consideration of context:
Wittenberg University is a 4-year liberal arts institution with a mission which "challenges students to become responsible global citizens, to discover their callings, and to lead personal, professional, and civic lives of creativity, service, compassion, and integrity." Our proposal was timed as a new First Year Experience (FYE) Program and as General Education Revision discussions began. Two of the team members leading this sustainability effort also served on the FYE committee. Our project activities strategically support both the FYE and General Education Program. In addition, one leadership member was part of Wittenberg's effort to support integrated cultures and languages curriculum through Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC), which provides students with opportunities to extend course content to explore cultural or language topics that relate to that course and expand their learning experience. With the start of the Environmental Science major in 2011, class-to-community connections have expanded to support sustainability-related efforts. For example, between 2011-2016, students in Geology and Environmental Science have worked on projects that 1) restored hydrologic access to a riparian wetland increasing the ecosystem services, 2) assessed stream ecosystem improvements resulting from lowhead dam modifications, 3) created climate change curriculum modules for a science museum, 4) quantified geese populations at a local park for nuisance species managers, 5) assisted county officials with honeysuckle removal as part of a stream mitigation credit, 6) evaluated stormwater detention in vacant lots, 7) improved soil health-lead education, 8) developed a wetland biodiversity database, and 9) analyzed crowd-sourced monitoring of coyote populations. Through initial project planning discussions we realized there was huge interest in expanding community-based projects around sustainability issues. We recognized that integrating sustainability topics into classes across the curriculum was key to supporting this. We also recognized through early partnering, committee, and co-teaching activities, that the gains for our students would be more meaningful with more diverse players from multiple disciplines and agencies. We were successful because collaboration was valued by all team members at all stages of this effort.
Manage time and share responsibilities: We planned our meetings effectively and did not require a lot of face-to-face meeting time, and no time was spent on briefing activities that could be completed via email. Key meetings were used to identify and develop resources needed for workshops that expanded our activities. At meetings, we divided responsibilities, and in between meetings, email sharing helped with task management and project reporting.
Seek new opportunities aligned with goals: As our project evolved, we paid attention to opportunities with shared goals or interests that could be leveraged (e.g. sustainability programming opportunities, or internships that could be built from class project work) to expand our audience or evidence of success (e.g. developing shared assessment tools that served our university in addition to our project). Keeping our focus on maintaining alignment with project goals helps to define new ways to participate in activities, which in turn, helps the effort grow beyond what was proposed. This was true even as audiences moved from campus-based activities to working more with community partners in classes and in planning events.
Share success: Through our effort, we tracked growth in campus and local news articles featuring Wittenberg's sustainability presence. In some ways, this made us more intentional about sharing activities with student, campus communications, and local news outlets. The unanticipated consequence was that greater visibility helped us to recruit new faculty, and was an asset to our community partners who also sought to make our community more sustainable. Similarly, we have identified that one way to attract new partners into class collaborations is to provide or describe a potential product that students will produce.
Things that worked well that we would do again
- We used lessons learned through our own experiences to anticipate faculty questions and needs. For example in the first workshop, we planned to address a variety of course fit issues that could arise when implementing modules into classes in multiple disciplines.
- We dynamically responded to the needs of faculty participants as quickly as we could. During the second workshop, we noticed that faculty wanted more time to talk directly with community partners and we provided that time and shared other resources after the workshop. The posted workshop materials and schedule reflect how we spent our time, and are not what we had initially planned.
- We anticipated that not all faculty who participated in workshops would implement curriculum and therefore, recruited additional faculty after workshop 1 and invited additional faculty to participate in workshop 2.
- We shared and recruited in open forums and at all faculty retreats.
- We collaborated with students, faculty, and partners on activities that aligned with our project goals, as they fit our own interest and schedules.
- We recognized that open sharing, or and tangible products of collaboration, are important to recruiting and building visibility.
- We took opportunities to learn from experts and to share our expertise.
- We honored the mission of our institution.
- We understood that change had to occur within existing classes, rather than through creating new ones.
- We planned to involve students, co-curricular, and community groups in as many ways as possible, which brought constant new energy and ideas.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
Flexibility is key to overcoming challenges. It is impossible to anticipate the diverse set of barriers faculty and students might experience across an institution when you are seeking participation across the curriculum. As the project continued, we took time to learn from experts, published models, and mistakes as they happened. This was important to revising our action plan. For example, after our first workshop, we recognized that it was likely that not all faculty who attended would implement our curricular strategy and hence, recruited a few additional participants. Respect and creativity is also important to supporting change, especially when helping faculty identify ways to adapt curriculum. When faculty expressed hesitation, we encouraged creative solutions and shared strategies used by others that aligned with the overall curricular framework.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
Identify successful models to use. We were pretty aware of the struggles we might encounter from the barriers we've seen through other curricular change efforts. This early awareness helped us identify a successful path to expand collaboration across the curriculum. At Wittenberg, the Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum effort was highly successful because faculty could participate without creating a new course. We saw this as an important feature of this effort and helpful to early recruiting because others had already seen the success of CLAC. Incorporate familiar tracking. Wittenberg has tracked its participation in sustainability curriculum through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System system since 2012, and this helped anchor our effort in a greater context, beyond Wittenberg. STARS definedsustainability-related courses as those that incorporate a sustainability module as part of the course. Hence, it was easy to communicate how participation would be visible throughout the project. It also allowed those who did not find modules to be good fits to participate in other ways.