Integrate > Workshops and Webinars > Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences > Activity Collection > Science, Complexity and Sustainability in the University of the Future

Science, Complexity and Sustainability in the University of the Future

John L. Motloch, Phd; Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director, Land Design Institute
Ball State University, Department of Landscape Architecture
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This activity begins with a series of seminars that build student knowledge about systems, regenerative systems and complex adaptive systems. These seminars give students access to thought leaders that helps them develop their systems-thinking skills and ability to make whole-system decisions.

The seminars develop student understanding of the Earth and the human Mind as complex adaptive systems; and how both can co-adapt to allow people to live within nature as a complex adaptive systems. The seminars also build student understanding of the relationship to different building traditions, science and sustainability; and their understanding of the relation of sustainability, system degradation and the converging forces of global change. It also builds student understanding of the relationships of complexity science, sustainable land systems, sustainable communities, and the cognitive shift from competitive to collaborative thinking and engagement.

Students then apply this understanding in the conceptualization of a Regional University of the Future, and curricular approach to educating people to be societal leaders that could help communities address the profound environmental, social and economic challenges of the present and future. These include the challenges of: how to co-adapt with systems to produce an ecologically, socially and economically healthier world; how to live within nature's laws and limits; and how to help communities live within the dynamics of a place and culture to produce sustainable communities.

Learning Goals

Activity goals:

Context for Use

This activity was designed for upper level undergraduate and graduate students. It includes a series of seminars that are informed by readings and other communications of thought leaders. The seminars build student understanding of: complex adaptive systems; Earth and Mind as complex adaptive systems; the implication of different development traditions to complex adaptive systems; and the relationship of science and complexity, and sustainability. Knowledge built in the seminar series is applied to conceptualize a Regional University of the Future (RUF) for a specific ecological and cultural region. The content of the seminars and application changes each year due to the emergent nature of complexity science and the on-going and escalating change occurring in the complex adaptive system that includes Earth and Mind.

The issues explored in the activity can be approached at different levels for other audiences. Each would require the design of a significantly different activity with different format, engagement strategies, content, and application approach.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity begins with a series of small group seminars that focus on the relationship of complex adaptive system, complexity science and sustainable development,. It builds student knowledge of how to promote a sustainable future; and to apply that knowledge to conceptualize a new type of university that would prepare people who could lead society to a sustainable future. In the activity, readings inform small group seminar discussions that identify sustainable development issues.. Knowledge about these issues is enhanced through lecture, videos, and increasingly through TED Talks directed to each issue. The knowledge gained enriches subsequent small group seminars and the knowledge that students them apply in conceptualizing their University of the Future.

Science, Complexity and Sustainability in the University of the Future (Microsoft Word 97kB Jul20 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Assessment takes place in three ways. The first assesses student understanding of readings, lectures, videos, TED Talks and other course experiences as communicated through the quality of student participation in small-group seminars. The second assesses the student's ability to apply the knowledge gained in the course as represented through their performance on projects and assignments. The third assesses student ability to facilitate innovation through leadership of small-group seminars including seminars targeted to recommended enhancement of the activity in further years.

References and Resources

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