This study provides an overview of the types of course changes implemented for 18 syllabi collected from 4 US colleges and universities. Kociolek finds that the three most common course changes are: 1) modifying an existing assignment or creating a new assignment to incorporate sustainability; 2) adding “media” with sustainability content; and 3) incorporating overarching objectives or guiding questions that are referenced throughout the course. No one type of course change appears to dominate any of the disciplines. Surprisingly, Kociolek did not find that faculty members changed the delivery of their courses and only one course dedicated a unit to sustainability. Most of the syllabi focused on environmental sustainability, but a surprising number incorporated social sustainability into the course content. In terms of faculty motivation, Kociolek found that the two primary reasons for participating in the workshop were: 1) a personal interest in sustainability and 2) a desire to educate the next generation of students about the linkages between sustainability and their discipline. These findings should not be considered preliminary and non-generalizable due to my small sample size and the fact that my sources are coming from limited number of schools in the US.
Kociolek has identified a number of limitations of this study that influence its authenticity. First, Kociolek analyzed an extremely small and selective slice of all syllabi that have been changed as a result of the workshop: Kociolek only looks at 18 syllabi out of a pool of hundreds of syllabi that are posted online from a select number of schools (which is in turn a small fraction of all syllabi that have been modified as a result of faculty workshops). Second, because the syllabi Kociolek is analyzing are publicly available and not anonymous, they may be more likely to include or exclude certain challenges or course changes. Third, the syllabi come from colleges and universities that are holding workshops based on the Ponderosa and Piedmont Project models. Kociolek may have failed to include programs at institutions that seek to encourage the incorporation of sustainability into courses but that do not adhere to this model; this could impact the results of my analysis. Fourth, Kociolek used faculty reflections to inform my understanding of what changes were made to syllabi but also had to make inferences from information provided in the reflections and syllabi about 1) the type of course changes that were made and 2) the elements of sustainability that were incorporated into the revised course. Her interpretation is influenced by my experiences and biases; these interpretations and determinations may be different from how other researchers would code these sources and may be very different from how the faculty members teaching these courses would conceptualize or characterize the changes they made as a result of the workshop. Fifth, the faculty reflections varied in terms of length and content, so her ability to rely on them as a source of information about course changes was, at times, limited. Finally, Kociolek is relying on syllabi that were likely posted online before they were finalized; as a result, some syllabi Kociolek analyzed were sparse in terms of specific information about the content of the changes. This variability may have contributed to my coding of the data and the results of the study.
I hope that the study results are helpful and informative for the Duke Trillium Project as well as for students, staff, and faculty working on sustainability and curriculum issues. If Duke solicits materials from faculty participants in the workshop, I would recommend asking faculty to submit:
- The original syllabus (in the case of an existing course revision)
- The modified/revised syllabus as well as descriptions of key assignments or projects
- A faculty reflection
I think it would be helpful to provide faculty with a list of questions to guide faculty discussion and reflection about their experience in the workshop and with making course changes, such as: 1) what was challenging about the workshop / course modifications? 2) what was the best or most useful part of the workshop? 3) what did you modify about the course to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum?
To measure the effectiveness of the Trillium Project, I would recommend following up with faculty and students in courses that have been modified in a systematic and organized way. This is certainly beyond the scope of my project and likely a few years off from happening at Duke, but I think it’s important to consider evaluation as the Trillium project moves forward and hopefully engages greater numbers of faculty. The syllabi only indicate what course changes were made, but what I and others at Duke are interested in is its effectiveness at engaging and educating students.