Initial Publication Date: January 28, 2013

Workshop Synthesis

The final session of the workshop asked participants to summarize their closing thoughts about the workshop topics and experiences. The list below represents a synthesis of some of the common themes about interdisciplinary approaches to teaching sustainability.

See workshop outcomes that build from the ideas expressed in this synthesis.

  • Sustainability can provide a purpose or organizing principle for education. It can be viewed as the ultimate liberal art requiring synthesis and contributions from all disciplines.
  • Sustainability is about behavior and values are important. Values are being addressed by faculty from many disciplines in this group.
  • Interdisciplinary courses can be done! We have a wide variety of models for overcoming barriers including:
    • learning communities and linked classes,
    • formally structured, institution-wide curricula or thematic models,
    • single faculty infusing ideas from other disciplines.
  • Interdisciplinary/team teaching approaches have value for retention, student engagement and transfer. They appear to be a feasible approach for many participants.
  • Sustainability themes could be pervasively integrated into higher education. We see opportunities at all levels and across the curriculum. There are challenges related to finding expertise and making tradeoffs on how to spend time. Integration of social science and humanities can make physical science more accessible.
  • Collaborations between natural/physical scientists, social scientists, humanists, engineers, and others are exciting and intellectually and productive for teaching. Geoscience is a valuable partner in these collaborations. This can be challenging to initiate. Making intellectual friends on campus is key in establishing these collaborations.
  • There are lots of resources available to help us teach about aspects of sustainability.
  • Local examples are a productive bridge to global issues. We need to do more to raise the value placed on local work and resources. Community-based opportunities give us a chance to bring stakeholders outside of academia into the classroom and students out into community discussions in the real world. Examples of potential community partners include business leaders, cultural and religious leaders, practitioners of sustainability activities, builders, or film makers.
  • Systems thinking is an integral theme and one which we don't yet know how to to teach or assess very well.
  • Communities like this one are important to support faculty who are isolated in this work and for promoting our collective work. An interdisciplinary meeting would be valued, such as the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences.