Approach and Challenges to a General Undergraduate Sustainability Science CourseLisa M.B. Harrington, Kansas State University, Geography
Challenges for the course have included how to teach, in a general sense but with sufficient detail as to make ideas somewhat more meaningful and potentially tools that students can use later in their careers, concepts like life cycle assessment (LCA), the use of scenarios (e.g., as in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [MA]), and indicators (e.g., as applied in the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]). I would particularly like to be able to incorporate more hands-on or service learning components in the course, but with the prospect of the class size growing to perhaps 100 in the next two-three years, I am not sure that this is practical.
Encouraging discussions, and basing some questions on what I know of students' majors, has helped to create learning with students as sources of information, and encourages student engagement and interdisciplinary learning. Use of three article review assignments, with an explicit requirement that students connect the articles' content to other course ideas and materials, is a way to address a need to create situations where students explore (and become more comfortable with exploring) relevant topics in the literature, integrate ideas and materials (potentially from different disciplinary perspectives), and apply critical thinking. Incorporating videos into the class helps to add variety and interest to what is basically a 'lecture' style course.
Much of the material covered, including several of the videos, seem disheartening or 'depressing' to students. I've tried to alleviate this by concluding the course with the more positive applications of new ideas and business models oriented toward greater sustainability via videos and exploration of examples (often using online sources).
Kates, R.W., W.C. Clark, R. Corell, J.M. Hall, C.C. Jaeger, I. Lowe, J.J. McCarthy, H.J. Schnellnuber, B. Bolin, N.M. Dickson, S. Faucheux, G.C. Gallopin, A. Gruebler, B. Huntley, J. Jager, N.S. Jodha, R.E. Kasperson, A. Mabogunje, P. Matson, H. Mooney, B. Moore III, T. O'Riordan, and U. Svedin. 2001. Sustainability Science. Science 292: 641-642.