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Sustainability across the curriculum

June 8, 2012

Twelve faculty members from across the university came together on May 14-15 for a sustainability-across-the-curriculum workshop. The workshop was aimed at building a trans-disciplinary community of scholars committed to addressing issues of sustainability in their courses.  The workshop format borrowed from national models, such as the Piedmont Project (Emory University) and Ponderosa Project (Northern Arizona University), and followed up on the successful national conference hosted at Wake Forest in 2010, Taking It to the Next Level: Strategies for Adaptation across the Sustainability Curriculum.

The goals for the workshop were twofold. First, the workshop laid the groundwork for creating a faculty learning community where dialogue, idea exchange, and reflection shape course design. The second, longer-term, aim is to empower faculty to consider themselves the experts at infusing sustainability into their courses through the broad spectrum of critical issues facing humanity.
Activities included Wake Forest faculty and staff resource experts speaking on 1) local history and the role of place in teaching, 2) the biological setting of the Piedmont region, 3) the social dimensions of sustainability – especially food insecurity, and 4) engaged learning opportunities for students on campus.  Participants discussed relevant literature, considered and developed student learning outcomes, and shared resources with their colleagues. As one participant commented, “[I liked] the sense of variety of approaches to sustainability and cross-campus engagement. [The structure] allowed for contemplative engagement and meaningful discussion.”

Following the workshop, faculty were asked to take a course they currently teach (or design a new one) and infuse what they learned about sustainability into that course, regardless of content area or discipline.  Over the summer months, they will produce an annotated syllabus explaining the changes to their thinking and the course’s design.  Finally, faculty will report back to the group at the end of the summer regarding the process of revision, and turn in their revised syllabi. Revised syllabi will be posted online and serve as examples for future cohorts.

Ideally, this will lead to an annual workshop that will gradually build a learning community of educators who are committed to teaching sustainability in every curricular area, resulting in a broad number of courses infused with sustainability that reach students in a variety of ways.

This workshop model aligns with the teaching and engagement goals of the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES), as it is designed to cultivate a broad community of scholars addressing sustainability issues. It also reinforces the strategic efforts of the Office of Sustainability to support faculty in assuming leadership for sustainability across the curriculum.

In reflecting upon the experience, another participant noted, “I was glad to have a dedicated time to hear other peoples’ experiences and ideas about sustainability – a good foundation for future collaboration.” As a university-wide curricular initiative, this workshop has laid the foundation for a broader set of conversations about sustainability and the curriculum in the years ahead.

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