Infuse Sustainability into Your Course

Strategies for Incorporating Sustainability

Bringing sustainability into your teaching offers a wide range of benefits to student learning, such as establishing relevance for your students, connecting course content to current topics in the news, and connecting course material with other disciplines. It can also empower your students to begin thinking about society and the Earth on a broader scale. By bringing together the challenges and solutions to living sustainably on Earth, you can connect to and involve many core concepts. These core concepts can be illustrated by focusing on a variety of topics like energy, water, or hazards, or through an assortment of pedagogical approaches.

Choose a key topic that connects to your course

What do we mean by
sustainability? »

Sustainability is vast in terms of the content that could come under its umbrella. It would be impossible to cover it all in a single course - but how do you decide which topics to focus on? One simple approach is to pick an aspect of sustainability that relates well to your existing core content and align your teaching activities to speak to that topic.

Why teach this way? »

Learn more about how to tie key concepts in sustainability into core course content, and the components of a strong sustainability assignment.

Or, explore specific topics that lend themselves to sustainability connections with ideas and strategies for incorporating them into your course:

  • Energy (e.g. renewable and non-renewable resources, environmental impacts, infrastructure, regulation)
  • Water (e.g. quality and quantity, economics)
  • Food (production and security, availability, environmental impacts)
  • Hazards - (natural and man-made risks, preparedness and planning, mitigation and adaptation)

Bring interdisciplinary voices into the course

Sustainability is an inherently interdisciplinary concept covering the interplay between different kinds of systems. Getting students to understand the extent of that interdisciplinarity requires that they appreciate the variety of perspectives involved, and building interdisciplinary teaching into the course from the outset is a strong strategy. Try incorporating interdisciplinary teaching strategies such as inviting guest speakers, or team teaching a course with one or more colleagues from other departments. Or, think about listing a course in more than one discipline to bring together students from different perspectives. These approaches also help build a culture of collaboration that is needed as our students tackle the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability challenges now and into the future.

Establish relevance for your course content

Whether they are taking a course in history, economics, or oceanography, students often need to feel that the content is relevant to their own lives before they will engage. Connect your course content to the sustainability issues that students deal with every day, and bring your course content to life. For example, a powerful tool for engaging students is to use real examples, including working with local data, service learning, or field work. This approach can make abstract content and skills more concretely applicable to students' lives, and allow them to see the impact of their work while learning valuable skills.

Useful Pedagogical Approaches

  • InTeGrate Pedagogy: Themes and strategies describes the InTeGrate project's approach to incorporating sustainability issues into the classroom.
  • Service Learning offers an opportunity to connect students with their community while applying the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom and lab.
  • Using the Local Environment puts sustainability issues in contexts that students can relate to.
  • Using Real World Examples capitalizes on real-world issues that students hear about through the media or word of mouth.
  • Curriculum for the Bioregion's Promising Pedagogies - learn more about methods the Washington Center has successfully used to teach about sustainability issues and see examples of resources from each pedagogy.

Resource Collections

  • See community collections of teaching activities, courses, and essays, contributed by InTeGrate workshop participants.
  • The Sustainability site guide provides links to SERC-hosted websites involving teaching about sustainability, including how to teach about sustainability, example courses and activities, and more.
  • These textbooks address sustainability in the context of environmental science and geology. They can be used for classes in those disciplines or as resources for courses in other subjects.

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