Interdisciplinary environmental education: elements of field identity and curriculum design

Article

Abstract

Interdisciplinary environmental degree programs (environmental studies/science(s) and similar programs) in higher education in the U.S.A. are both diverse and dynamic in their curriculum designs. Though these characteristics afford flexibility and adaptability, they are also seen as weaknesses that can undermine programs’ perceived legitimacy both within and beyond their host institutions. The lack of a clear identity, definition of core competencies, and prescriptions for interdisciplinary pedagogy can create confusion among program stakeholders and skepticism among institutional administrators. To learn more about how interdisciplinary environmental curricula vary across the U.S.A., a national survey was conducted of program administrators to investigate their programs and identify their views of what an ideal curriculum would entail. The study demonstrates that consensus exists on field identity: an applied, interdisciplinary focus on the interface of coupled human-natural systems with a normative commitment to sustainability. The study also reveals that three ideal curricular models are espoused by these administrators: Systems Science, Policy and Governance, and Adaptive Management. Program attributes related to these models are also reported. We conclude the article with a brief description of how the three models are related to developing an interdisciplinary environmental workforce, describe the potential next steps for extending the study, and express our optimism that a consensus can be forged on core competencies guidelines and model-specific recommendations for curricular content related to three broad knowledge areas and two skill sets.

Keywords

Interdisciplinary environmental education Sustainability education Environmental studies and science core competencies Environmental studies and science field identity Environmental studies and science curricula 

References

  1. Balsiger PW (2004) Supradisciplinary research practices: history, objectives and rationale. Futures 36(4):407–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barry A, Born G, Wezkalnys G (2008) Logics of interdisciplinarity. Econ Soc 37(1):20–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bezdek RH, Wendling RM, DiPerna P (2008) Environmental protection, the economy, and jobs: national and regional analyses. J Environ Manage 86:63–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bosch OJH, King CA, Herbohn JL, Russell IW, Smith CS (2007) Getting the big picture in natural resource management—systems thinking as ‘method’ for scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders. Syst Res Behav Sci 24(2):217–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brand R, Karvonen A (2007) The ecosystem of expertise: complementary knowledges for sustainable development. Sustain Sci Pract Policy 3(1):21–31Google Scholar
  6. Clark TW (2002) The policy process: a practical guide for natural resource professionals. Yale University Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Fiksel J (2006) Sustainability and resilience: toward a systems approach. Sustain Sci Pract Policy 2(2):14–21Google Scholar
  8. Frodeman R, Thompson Klein J, Mitcham C (2009) The oxford handbook of interdisciplinarity. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. Godemann J (2008) Knowledge integration: a key challenge for transdisciplinary cooperation. Environ Educ Res 14(6):625–641CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hansmann R (2009) Linking the components of a university program to the qualification profile of graduates: the case of a sustainability-oriented environmental science curriculum. J Res Sci Teach 46(5):537–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hirsch Hadorn G, Hoffmann-Reim H, Biber-Kleem S, Grossenbacher-Mansuy W, Joye J, Pohl C, Wiesmann U, Kemp E (2008) Handbook of transdisciplinary research. Springer, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Holmes J, Clark R (2008) Enhancing the use of science in environmental policymaking and regulation. Environ Sci Policy 11(8):702–711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice (2008) Report from the international commission on education for sustainable development practice. The Earth Institute at Columbia University. http://www.wfeo.org/documents/download/ICESDP%20Final%20Report%202008.pdf Accessed 1 September 2010
  14. Jacobs JA, Frickel S (2009) Interdisciplinarity: a critical assessment. Annu Rev Sociology 35(1):43–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jǿrgensen U, Lauridsen EH (2005) Environmental professional competences: the role of communities of practice and spaces for reflexive learning. Green Manag Int 49:57–67Google Scholar
  16. Kajikawa Y (2008) Research core and framework of sustainability science. Sustain Sci 3(2):215–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lengwiler M (2006) Between charisma and heuristics: four styles of interdisciplinarity. Sci Public Policy 33(6):423–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lubchenco J (1998) Entering the century of the environment: a new social contract for science. Science 279(5350):491–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Martin S, Brannigan J, Hall A (2005) Sustainability, systems thinking and professional practice. J Geogr High Educ 29(1):79–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McIntosh, M, Cacciola K, Clermont S, Keniry J (2009) State of the campus environment: a national report card on environmental performance and sustainability in higher education. National Wildlife Federation, Reston VA http://www.nwf.org/Global-Warming/Campus-Solutions/Resources/Reports/State-of-the-Campus-Environment-Report/Read-the-State-of-the-Campus-Environment-Report.aspx Accessed 1 September 2010
  21. National Science Foundation AC-ERE (2005) Complex environmental system: pathways to the future. National Science Foundation, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  22. National Science Foundation AC-ERE (2009) Transitions and tipping points in complex environmental systems. National Science Foundation, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  23. Newman P (2005) Can the magic of sustainability revive environmental professionalism? Green Manag Int 49:11–23Google Scholar
  24. Pfirman SL, the AC-ERE (2003) Complex environmental systems: synthesis for earth, life, and society in the 21st century: a report summarizing a ten-year outlook in environmental research and education for the national science foundation. National Science Foundation, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  25. Pohl C (2008) From science to policy through transdisciplinary research. Environ Sci Policy 11(1):46–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Polk M, Knutsson P (2008) Participation, value rationality and mutual learning in transdisciplinary knowledge production for sustainable development. Environ Educ Res 14(6):643–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Runhaar H, Driessen P, Vermeulen W (2005) Policy competences of environmental sustainability professionals. Green Manag Int 49:25–41Google Scholar
  28. Runhaar H, Dieperink C, Driessen P (2006) Policy analysis for sustainable development: the toolbox for the environmental social scientist. Int J Sustain High Educ 7(1):34–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. United States Department of Labor (2010) Occupational outlook handbook, 2010–11 Edition. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ Accessed 1 September 2010
  30. United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Administration and Resource Management (1999) Workforce assessment project: executive summary and tasks 1–4 Final Reports. http://www.epa.gov/epahrist/workforce/wap.pdf Accessed 1 September 2010
  31. United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development (2007) Sustainability research strategy. http://www.epa.gov/Sustainability/pdfs/EPA-12057_SRS_R4-1.pdf Accessed 1 September 2010
  32. van Kerkhoff L (2005) Integrated research: concepts of connection in environmental science and policy. Environ Sci Policy 8(5):452–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vincent S (2010a) Interdisciplinary environmental education on the nation's campuses: elements of field identity and curriculum design. National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  34. Vincent S (2010b) A search for identity: exploring core competencies for interdisciplinary environmental programs, Dissertation, Oklahoma State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  35. Vincent S, Focht W (2009) U.S. higher education environmental program managers' perspectives on curriculum design and core competencies: implications for sustainability as a guiding framework. Int J Sustain High Educ 10(2):164–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vincent S, Focht W (2010) In search of common ground: exploring identity and the possibility of core competencies for interdisciplinary environmental programs. Environ Pract 12(1):76–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wiek A, Walter AI (2009) A transdisciplinary approach for formalized integrated planning and decision-making in complex systems. Eur J Oper Res 197(1):360–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© AESS 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Council for Science and the EnvironmentWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Oklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

Personalised recommendations