Sustaining future environmental educators: building critical interdisciplinary teaching capacity among graduate students

Abstract

Scholars of environmental studies and sciences must work across disciplinary boundaries, especially in politically charged contexts with clear race and class-based inequities. Sustainability-focused programs are confronted with the task of creating opportunities for interdisciplinary, experiential learning to incorporate such complexities into undergraduate teaching. Yet, despite being the next generation of environmental science and sustainability faculty, graduate students have limited opportunities to learn how to develop interdisciplinary curriculum that incorporates real-world learning in courses for undergraduate students. This paper examines the development of an interdisciplinary undergraduate course at Portland State University that provided space for graduate students to build their interdisciplinary teaching and pedagogical capacities, while introducing undergraduate students to environmental planning and environmental justice concepts crucial to understanding large-scale urban river restoration projects. Using the methods of translational and action research, the authors developed a pedagogical praxis in a co-facilitated course, via reflection on their own training in an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The paper presents a model for graduate student teacher training that equips graduate students—and the undergraduates they will teach throughout the course of their careers—to address today’s most pressing socio-ecological challenges.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Alberti M, Marzluff JM, Shulenberger E, Bradley G, Ryan C, Zumbrunnen C (2003) Integrating humans into ecology: opportunities and challenges for studying urban ecosystems. BioScience 53(12):1169–1179

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aldrich, J.H. ed. (2014), Interdisciplinarity: its role in a discipline-based academy. Oxford University Press

  3. Arnstein S (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. J Am Inst Plann 35(4):216–224

    Google Scholar 

  4. Austin AE (2002) Preparing the next generation of faculty: graduate school as socialization to the academic career. J High Educ 73:94–122

    Google Scholar 

  5. Beard, C., & Wilson, J. P. (2002), The power of experiential learning: a handbook for trainers and educators. Stylus Publishing, PO Box 605, Herndon, VA 20172-0605

  6. Berdanier, C.G., Zephirin, T., Cox, M.F. and Black, S.M., (2016), Teaching MSE students to teach: a design-based research model for introducing professional skills into the technical curriculum. In Professional Development and Workplace Learning: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp. 444-470). IGI Global

  7. Berlinerblau J (2017) Campus confidential: how college works, or doesn’t, for professors, parents, and students. Melville House Publishing, New York

    Google Scholar 

  8. Borrego M, Boden D, Newswander LK (2014) Sustained change: institutionalizing interdisciplinary graduate education. J High Educ 85(6):858–885

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bosque-Pérez NA, Klos PZ, Force JE, Waits LP, Cleary K, Rhoades P, Galbraith SM, Brymer ALB, O’rourke M, Eigenbrode SD, Finegan B (2016) A pedagogical model for team-based, problem-focused interdisciplinary doctoral education. BioScience 66(6):477–488

    Google Scholar 

  10. Boström M, Lidskog R, Uggla Y (2017) A reflexive look at reflexivity in environmental sociology. Environmental Sociology 3(1):6–16

    Google Scholar 

  11. Branstetter SA, Handelsman MM (2000) Graduate teaching assistants: ethical training, beliefs, and practices. Ethics Behav 10(1):27–50

    Google Scholar 

  12. Braun V, Clarke V (2012) Thematic analysis. In: Cooper HM, Camic PM, Long DL, Panter AT, Rindskopf D (eds) APA handbook of research methods in psychology. APA, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  13. Brown VA, Harris JA, Russell JY (eds) (2010) Tackling wicked problems through the transdisciplinary imagination. Earthscan, London

    Google Scholar 

  14. Brundiers K, Wiek A, Redman CL (2010) Real-world learning opportunities in sustainability: from classroom into the real world. Int J Sustain High Educ 11(4):308–324

    Google Scholar 

  15. Brundtland GH, Khalid M, Agnelli S, Al-Athel S (1987) Our common future: the world commission on environment and development. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  16. Carr W, Kemmis S (1986). Becoming critical: education. Knowledge and Action Research. London: Falmer. – This is the “Plan Act Observe Reflect” Model… foundational to action research

  17. Clark WC, Dickson NM (2003) Sustainability science: the emerging research program. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100(14):8059–8061

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Clarke V, Braun V (2013), Teaching thematic analysis: overcoming challenges and developing strategies for effective learning. The psychologist, 26(2)

  19. Corburn J (2005) Street science: local knowledge in environmental health policy. MIT Press, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  20. Cousin G (2005) Case study research. J Geogr High Educ 29(3):421–427

    Google Scholar 

  21. Cranton P (2006), Understanding and promoting transformative learning (2nd ed.), Jossey-Bass, San Francisco

  22. Cronon, W. (2011), “The riddle of sustainability: a surprisingly short history of the future.” Wrigley Lecture Series, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University

  23. Dewey J (1899) The school and society: being three lectures. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  24. Domask JJ (2007) Achieving goals in higher education: an experiential approach to sustainability studies. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 8(1):53–68

    Google Scholar 

  25. Dougherty D, Conway PH (2008) The “3T’s” road map to transform US health care: the “how” of high-quality care. Journal of American Medical Association 299(19):2319–2321

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Duckworth OW, Andrews MY, Cubeta MA, Grunden AM, Ojiambo PS (2017) Revisiting graduate student training to address agricultural and environmental societal challenges. Agricultural & Environmental Letters 2(1):1–5

    Google Scholar 

  27. Fahnert B (2015) Teaching matters - academic professional development in the early 21st century. FEMS Microbiol Lett 362(20):1–6

    Google Scholar 

  28. Fischer EV, Mackey KR, Cusack DF, DeSantis LR, Hartzell-Nichols L, Lutz JA, Melbourne-Thomas J, Meyer R, Riveros-Iregui DA, Sorte CJ, Taylor JR (2012) Is pretenure interdisciplinary research a career risk? Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 93(32):311–312

    Google Scholar 

  29. Geiser K, Waneck G (1983) PCBs and warren county. Science for the People 15(4):13–17

    Google Scholar 

  30. Goodling E, Green J, McClintock N (2015) Uneven development of the sustainable city: shifting capital in Portland, Oregon. Urban Geogr 36(4):504–527

    Google Scholar 

  31. Graybill JK, Dooling S, Shandas V, Withey J, Greve A, Simon GL (2006) A rough guide to interdisciplinarity: graduate student perspectives. BioScience 56(9):757–763

    Google Scholar 

  32. Harding, S. (1987), Feminism and methodology: social science issues. Indiana University Press

  33. Hein CJ, Ten Hoeve JE, Gopalakrishnan S, Livneh B, Adams HD, Marino EK, Susan Weiler C (2018) Overcoming early career barriers to interdisciplinary climate change research. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 9(5):1–18

    Google Scholar 

  34. Heynen N, Kaika M and Swyngedouw E (Eds.) (2006), In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism, Routledge, New York, NY

  35. Hoare A, Cornell S, Bertram C, Gallagher K, Heslop S, Lieven N, MacLeod C, Morgan J, Pickering A, Wells S, Willmore C (2008) Teaching against the grain: multi-disciplinary teamwork effectively delivers a successful undergraduate unit in sustainable development. Environ Educ Res 14(4):469–481

    Google Scholar 

  36. Horton M, Freire P (1990) We make the road by walking: conversations on education and social change. Temple University Press, Philadelphia

    Google Scholar 

  37. Howlett C, Ferreira JA, Blomfield J (2016) Teaching sustainable development in higher education. Int J Sustain High Educ 17(3):305–321

    Google Scholar 

  38. Innes JE, Booher DE (2004) Reframing public participation: strategies for the 21st century. Plan Theory Pract 5(4):419–436

    Google Scholar 

  39. Jang S (2006) Research on the effects of team teaching upon two secondary school teachers. Educ Res 48(2):177–194

    Google Scholar 

  40. Jickling B, Wals A (2008) Globalization and environmental education: looking beyond sustainable development. J Curric Stud 40(1):1–21

    Google Scholar 

  41. Judson T, Leingang M (2016), The Development of Pedagogical Content Knowledge in First-Year Graduate Teaching Assistants, Journal of STEM Education, Vol. 17 No. 1

  42. Kates RW, Clark WC, Corell R, Hall JM, Jaeger CC, Lowe I et al (2001) Sustainability science. Science 292(5517):641–642

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Kelley LC, Clifford KR, Reisman E., Lea D, Matsler M, Liebman A. and Malone M. (2018) Charting a critical physical geography path in graduate school: sites of student agency. In The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Physical Geography (pp. 537–557). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  44. Kolb, D. A. (2014), Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. FT press

  45. Kreber C (2001) Learning experientially through case studies? A conceptual analysis. Teach High Educ 6(2):217–228

    Google Scholar 

  46. Krueger R, Gibbs D (2007) The sustainable development paradox: urban political economy in the United States and Europe. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  47. Krumholtz N (1982) A retrospective view of equity planning Cleveland 1969-1979. J Am Plan Assoc 48(2):163–174

    Google Scholar 

  48. Lattuca LR, Voigt LJ, Fath KQ (2004) Does interdisciplinarity promote learning? Theoretical support and researchable questions. The review of higher education 28(1):23–48

    Google Scholar 

  49. Leder G (1993) Constructivism: theory for practice? The case of mathematics. High Educ Res Dev 12(1):5–20

    Google Scholar 

  50. McAteer, M. (2013), Action research in education. Sage

  51. McAteer M, Dewhurst J (2010) ‘Just thinking about stuff’: reflective learning: Jane’s story. Reflective Pract 11(1):33–43

    Google Scholar 

  52. McKinney, K., Saxe, D., & Cobb, L. (1998), Are we really doing all we can for our undergraduates? Professional socialization via out-of-class experiences. Teach Sociol, 1-13

  53. Mitchell P (2016) From concept to classroom: what is translational research? Australian Council for Educational Research, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  54. Morse WC, Nielsen-Pincus M, Force J, Wulfhorst J (2007) Bridges and barriers to developing and conducting interdisciplinary graduate-student team research. Ecology and Society 12(2):8

    Google Scholar 

  55. Moslemi J, Capps K, Johnson M, Maul J, McIntyre P, Melvin A, Vadas T, Vallano D, Watkins J, Weiss M (2009) Training tomorrow's environmental problem solvers: an integrative approach to graduate education. BioScience 59(6):514–521. https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2009.59.6.10

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Nicolson CR, Starfield AM, Kofinas GP, Kruse JA (2002) Ten heuristics for interdisciplinary modeling projects. Ecosystems 5(4):376–384

    Google Scholar 

  57. Parker MA, Ashe D, Boersma J, Hicks R, Bennett V (2015) Good teaching starts here: applied learning at the graduate teaching assistant institute. Can J High Educ 45(3):84–110

    Google Scholar 

  58. Pfund C, Miller S, Brenner K, Bruns P, Chang A, Ebert-May D, Fagen AP, Gentile J, Gossessns S, Khan IM, Labov JB, Maidl Pribbenow C, Susman M, Tong L, Wright R, Yuan RT, Wood WB, Handelsman J (2009) Summer institute to improve university science teaching. Science 324:470–471

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  59. Putney LG, Green JL (2010) The roots and routes of teacher-based action research and curriculum inquiry: an historical perspective. International encyclopedia of education, 355. :: Cite this article to show it has a long history

  60. Read L, Garcia M (2015) Water diplomacy: perspectives from a group of interdisciplinary graduate students. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 155(1):11–18

    Google Scholar 

  61. Rosicka C (2016) From concept to classroom: translating STEM education research into practice. Australian Council for Educational Research, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  62. Rowe D (2007) Education for a sustainable future. Science 317(5836):323–324. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1143552

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Savage, M. P., & Sharpe, T. (1998), Demonstrating the need for formal graduate student training in effective teaching practices. The Physical Educator, Vol. 55 No. 3

  64. Segalas J, Ferrer-Balas D, Mulder KF (2010) What do engineering students learn in sustainability courses? The effect of the pedagogical approach. Journal of Cleaner Production 18:275–284

    Google Scholar 

  65. Shortlidge, E. E., & Eddy, S. L. (2018), The trade-off between graduate student research and teaching: a myth? PloS one, Vol. 13 No. 6

  66. Sipos Y, Battisti B, Grimm K (2008) Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart. Int J Sustain High Educ 9(1):68–86. https://doi.org/10.1108/14676370810842193

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Sprain L, Timpson W (2012) Pedagogy for sustainability science: case-based approaches for interdisciplinary instruction. Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 6(4):532–550

    Google Scholar 

  68. Steinemann A (2003) Implementing sustainable development through problem-based learning: pedagogy and practice. J Prof Issues Eng Educ Pract 129(4):216–224

    Google Scholar 

  69. Steiner G, Posch A (2006) Higher education for sustainability by means of transdisciplinary case studies: an innovative approach for solving complex, real-world problems. J Clean Prod 14(9–11):877–890

    Google Scholar 

  70. Stoecker R (2014) Research methods for community change: a project-based approach. SAGE, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  71. Stoecker, R., Tryon, E.A. and Hilgendorf, A. eds., (2009), The unheard voices: community organizations and service learning. Temple University Press

  72. Stowell SML, Churchill AC, Hund AK, Kelsey KC, Redmond MD, Seiter SA, Barger NN (2015) Transforming graduate training in STEM education. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 96(2):317–323

    Google Scholar 

  73. Stringer ET (2008) Action research in education. Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River

    Google Scholar 

  74. Taylor D (2000) The rise of the environmental justice paradigm: injustice framing and the social construction of environmental discourses. Am Behav Sci 43(4):508–580

    Google Scholar 

  75. Wals A (2010) Between knowing what is right and knowing that is it wrong to tell others what is right: on relativism, uncertainty and democracy in environmental and sustainability education. Environ Educ Res 16(1):143–151

    Google Scholar 

  76. Wals AE, Jickling B (2002) “Sustainability” in higher education. Int J Sustain High Educ 3(3):221–232

    Google Scholar 

  77. Warburton K (2003) Deep learning and education for sustainability. Int J Sustain High Educ 4(1):44–52

    Google Scholar 

  78. Wiek A, Ness B, Brand FS, Schweizer-Ries P, Farioli F (2012) From complex systems analysis to transformational change: a comparative appraisal of sustainability science projects. Sustain Science 7(1):5–24

    Google Scholar 

  79. Woolf S (2008) The meaning of translational research and why it matters. JAMA 299(2):211–213. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2007.26

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Zuber-Skerritt O. (1992) Action research in higher education: examples and reflections. Kogan Page Limited, 120 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JN England, United Kingdom

Download references

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Darrell Brown, director of the the NSF-IGERT at Portland State University, for his support for IGERT graduate students forging new pathways in interdisciplinary teaching. We also thank Maresi Nerad for her early insights in framing this research, Elise Granek for her support as Co-PI, and Kim Heavener for her assistance with all things administrative.

Funding

This material is based upon work supported by National Science Foundation IGERT Grant #0966376: “Sustaining Ecosystem Services to Support Rapidly Urbanizing Areas.”

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Diana Denham.

Appendix 1. Student final project: Bilingual river education flier

Appendix 1. Student final project: Bilingual river education flier

figurea
figureb

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Denham, D., Rozance, M.A., Malone, M. et al. Sustaining future environmental educators: building critical interdisciplinary teaching capacity among graduate students. J Environ Stud Sci 11, 101–114 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-020-00611-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Environmental education
  • Sustainability
  • Graduate student training
  • Interdisciplinary teaching