Initial Publication Date: July 10, 2012

Teaching sustainability through project based learning

James Stone, Civil and Environmental Engineering, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

My approach to teaching sustainability revolves around an interdisciplinary sustainable design senior/graduate level course I developed. This course is open to all students on my campus, which primarily consists of engineering majors. As a result, students have wide ranging backgrounds and interests, and many of the students are interested in integrating sustainability principles into their graduate research and within their engineering profession after graduation.

This class consists of three focus areas each spanning ~ 1/3 of the semester, including: water conservation and a campus rain water harvesting project; renewable energy; and life cycle assessment (LCA). Each focus area is covered using project based-learning, where group projects are completed via interdisciplinary teams. The goals of the projects are to further their understanding of sustainability and to encourage the students to effectively communicate their findings to a variety of audiences, whether to the public, policy makers, or campus colleagues.

While I initially created this course, it has since been handed off to a new faculty with a sustainability background. We will now be co-teaching this course where I will lead a 1/3 semester LCA module. Students will learn about LCA basics followed by a hand-on project where they will determine the LCA impacts of an item or process of interest. Previously my students have presented LCA projects such as iPod manufacturing and use, and a comparison between a wool and fleece sweater of similar thermal properties.

I am looking forward to learning more about sustainability pedagogical techniques and sharing my classroom LCA knowledge.

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