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Is it working? Research Says “Yes!”

Is it working? Research Says “Yes!”

July 1, 2014

Since 2009, Director of Sustainability Integration Jack Byrne and Professor of Environmental and Biosphere Studies Stephen Trombulak led annual faculty workshops on integrating sustainability into the curriculum. But how effective were they? To get a clear understanding, Psychology Professor Michelle McCauley, who attended a past workshop, administered a survey to participants asking their sense of how the workshops impacted their teaching.

Over the years, workshop participants have included more than 30 Middlebury faculty members and several Monterey Institute of International Studies faculty members, from more than 18 academic disciplines. Middlebury also partnered with Furman University and Skidmore College to offer faculty and staff sustainability workshops for those institutions. And in 2010, Byrne led a two-day workshop with the Middlebury School in Chile for 24 faculty members and managers from government agencies on how they could integrate sustainability into their teaching and work.

The goals for the workshops were to encourage faculty to develop new courses with a sustainability focus or to integrate sustainability into existing ones. The workshops were structured to create opportunities for participants to converse with their peers and discover how the concept of sustainability is relevant to their own discipline. Participants discussed the definition of sustainability and its core concepts, took a campus sustainability tour, and worked in small groups on possible curriculum changes.

McCauley’s report assessed how the Middlebury workshops affected participants’ views of sustainability and how it influenced their teaching. About 70% of participants reported that their conceptualization of sustainability became broader over the course of the workshop. Nearly all participants (86%) enjoyed having the chance to discuss the topics with their colleagues. Participants reported that the workshops shifted their perceptions of how their discipline connected to others, while strengthening a sense of community among participants from various backgrounds.

Many of the participants said the workshop successfully increased their knowledge of sustainability. They also continued to seek out information about sustainability following the workshop and felt that the experience changed their teaching.

Middlebury’s workshops resulted in new courses, as well as new assignments, projects, and readings. In addition, many of the participants mentioned incorporating more time in nature in their courses. Finally, 44% of participants stated they have shifted their scholarship towards sustainability since completing the workshop.

“Sustainability is a big idea,” said Byrne. “Doing a multi-disciplinary deep dive into what it means and its implications for teaching across disciplines has given participants the opportunity to do some intellectual stretching and re-tooling of their teaching and research. They are also better equipped to address the interests of their students about this topic.”