Description of the edited volume

"Learner-Centered Teaching Activities for Environmental and Sustainability Studies"



About the Book

          The central purpose of the multi-author, edited volume, entitled “Learner-Centered Teaching Activities for Environmental and Sustainability Studies,” is to provide instructors with a diverse collection of innovative, concisely-described, easy-to-implement but conceptually compelling and rigorous active-learning techniques that engage students in unique ways. It is hoped that a rich volume of resources will encourage instructors to shift their teaching philosophy and practice to be more learner-centered (see description below and more here) with positive outcomes for student engagement and learning.

           In turn, the broader goal of this volume is to help advance environmental education practices that help increase students’ environmental literacy—defined as having the knowledge, skills and disposition (including values, attitudes and motivation) to engage in actions that enhance positive environmental, sustainability and human well-being outcomes. Having a diverse collection of learner-centered teaching activities is especially useful for helping students develop their environmental literacy because such approaches can help them connect more personally with the material (enhancing awareness, knowledge, and metacognitive reflection), thus increasing the chances for altering the affective and behavioral dimensions of their environmental literacy.

          In particular, this volume will differentiate itself from others by explicitly recognizing the need for classroom activities that help students develop and reflect on their personal connections to environmental issues and including them in the volume. This is an understudied and underappreciated dimension of environmental literacy even though research is increasingly indicating that it is an essential consideration in education and fostering sustainable behaviors. (A brief literature review and overview of this issue will be included in the book’s introduction to provide helpful context for the readers.)

About the Content and Structure

         To achieve its purpose and goal, the volume will contain learning activities that span the wide range of topics and disciplines included in environmental and sustainability studies (see here). For convenience and practicality, it will be organized into thematic sections loosely based on traditional disciplines, but the volume will emphasize interconnectedness across the disciplines and topics through a “connections” section in each chapter (see examples here and here). Within each section, each chapter will briefly (two to three published pages) describe a teaching/learning activity that an instructor (or group of instructors) has developed and used in a classroom; the instructors will prepare their contributions. The contributions will be sent out for peer-review and the editor will ensure high-quality finished text and edit for stylistic and other consistency within the volume.

            By virtue of its design, this volume will have several unique qualities that separate it from other resources: practicality, brevity, breadth, and diversity.

            The practicality of this volume arises from its emphasis on the daily practice of teaching. It will take a “reader-centered” view and present learning activities in ways that will allow easy adoption by the reader. Activities will be included that require minimal instructor preparation; are inexpensive; do not require elaborate set-ups or materials; and can be used in many course contexts (e.g., small and large). This does not preclude the possibility of including activities that don’t meet this expectation (e.g., ones that require “clickers” for obtaining student feedback); however, the main theme for the book with be on disseminating “off-the-shelf” materials for learner-centered teaching practice.

           To foster the practicality of the book, brevity of the contributions will be required. The chapters (with one learning activity per chapter) will be one to three pages each. To facilitate this, each chapter will follow a standardized outline (see template here), and contributors will be discouraged from providing extended introduction, methods or discussions. The editor will work with contributors to ensure brevity while maintaining clarity and sufficient information to allow instructors to readily adopt the activity. As needed, supplemental information for each contribution will be provided in the online resources webpage for the book (e.g., extended background info, implementation materials such as worksheets or PowerPoint slides, data sets or assignment prompts).

            Environmental and sustainability studies are inter/transdisciplinary fields that require knowledge and methods from many disciplines. As such, many courses in these subjects, especially introductory ones, include content from across the disciplinary spectrum. This volume will capture this breadth by integrating teaching activities from across the natural and social sciences, the humanities and arts, and  professional fields like architecture and engineering. This topical richness will make it stand out from other teaching resources that focus more narrowly on one discipline or cluster of closely aligned disciplines.

             Diversity of the volume refers to several dimensions. It is the topical and disciplinary diversity as described above. It also pertains to the diversity of types of teaching activities that is expected to be included such as: brief writing assignments, innovative hands-on demonstrations, provocative debate questions and scenarios, brief problem sets, etc. The opportunities to develop unique learning activities are endless and certainly a wide diversity of them are already being used by educators around the world. As an edited volume, a diversity of contributors—from different geographical contexts and disciplinary fields, with different worldviews and skills sets—is expected to provide their tested and reliable teaching activities. Having all of these in one volume, with a rich diversity of topics and methods, will surely be attractive to educators as a one-stop reference for providing ready-to-go teaching activities and as inspiration for generating diverse, new ideas for how to engage students.

About Learner-Centered Teaching (also see here)

              Learner-centered teaching is a pedagogical approach that emphasizes the roles of students as participants in and drivers of their own learning. Learner-centered teaching activities go beyond traditional lecturing (that fosters passive learning) by helping students construct their own understanding of information, develop skills via hands-on engagement, and reflect on their own understanding and learning through metacognitive tasks. In addition, learner-centered classroom approaches may challenge students’ preconceived notions and expand their thinking by confronting them with thought-provoking (i.e., novel, unexpected and/or alternate) statements, tasks or scenarios that cause them to “wake-up,” pay closer attention and cognitively “see” a topic from new perspectives. Many types of pedagogy fall under the umbrella of learner-centered teaching including laboratory work, group discussions, service and project-based learning, and student-led research, among others. Unfortunately, it is often not possible to use some of these valuable methods in all course situations (especially in the traditional, lecture-style classroom) given constraints of money, space, instructor expertise, class-meeting and instructor preparation time, and the availability of prepared lesson plans and material. Thus, a major challenge for many instructors is how to integrate learner-centered activities widely into their courses, especially during, e.g., one hour class periods. Those who wish to do so would benefit from having a collection of relatively simple-and-quick-to-implement, short-duration, inexpensive (or free!) yet conceptually rigorous and powerful activities (e.g., demonstrations, brief writing exercises, prompts for group discussions, small problem sets) that help create more dynamic, engaging, and effective learning experiences for students, especially in traditional classroom settings.

            Learner-centered pedagogy lends itself particularly well to environmental and sustainability studies; indeed, it may be that these fields demand learner-centered approaches. They require students to process complex and challenging information from many disciplines; synthesize and apply knowledge to solve problems; grapple with diverse human perspectives, cultures, and scenarios; and reflect on, and possibly alter, their own personal ethics, attitudes and actions pertaining to human-environment relationships. To do those well requires that students be engaged, thoughtful participants in their own learning. Instructors of environmental and sustainability studies courses can promote higher levels of environmental literacy in their students by using a wide-range of traditional and unique learner-centered activities, that range from simple and quick to complex and extensive. This volume will fill a gap in currently available teaching resources for high school and college instructors by providing a set of simple, short and effective teaching activities that can be easily adopted into a wide-range of course contexts. Further description of the types of appropriate activities for this volume is here.