Interdisciplinary environmental education: elements of field identity and curriculum design

  • Shirley VincentEmail author
  • Will Focht


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.


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


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Copyright information

© AESS 2011

Authors and Affiliations

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

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