Example Workshop for Cross-campus Environmental and Sustainability Programs

Environmental and sustainability programs vary considerably in structure from cross-campus programs, with very few if any core faculty, to degree-granting departments. They vary in emphasis including natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and environmental management. They share a common goal of using interdisciplinary approaches to prepare students to be problem-solvers focused on sustainability. Because of the diversity of these academic programs, the workshop menu includes a variety of options with some sessions being more focused on students and curriculum while others are more focused on program structure and relationships. Just as there is no "one-size fits all" approach for interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability programs, there is no "one size fits all" approach for these workshops. It is important that the workshop host work with the facilitators to explore the tool kit of tested workshop elements to determine an optimal agenda.

2-Day Workshop Program

This workshop uses the "Understanding by Design" approach advocated by Wiggins and McTighe (2005). "Backward design" allows faculty to begin to define the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that contribute to students' professional development as they prepare for the workforce or graduate school.

The agenda is divided into 4 sessions. These sessions do not need to be of equal length. Facilitators and hosts should determine which of the activities to do, ensuring sufficient time for action planning.


Preparation for workshop participants

  • Review your program's core and founding documents, policies, and procedures. These documents will provide high level guidance about priorities, expectations and values for your program. In addition, consider:
    • the cultural and geographic setting of your institution;
    • professional strengths and interests of the existing faculty and staff (and plans for future growth of the program personnel);
    • program and institutional facilities and equipment;
    • opportunities for collaboration across campus, with government agencies, and with the community;
    • the need to optimize resources available - faculty assignments, reduce redundancies, and realize economies of scale;
    • service to stakeholders

Options for homework activities, depending on the emphasis of the workshop

  • Complete the "ideal student" exercise.
  • Write a 1-2 page vision statement for your department or program: Given the many inputs into your program ecosystem, where would you like to see your program in 10 years given opportunities and constraints of staffing, location, institutional resources, etc.?
  • Create a list of people who value your program. Make a list of all the people, groups, associations, etc. with whom the program works or might work with and who would value the program. Who needs what you do? These can include students, departments, other programs, stakeholders, administrators, among many others. List anyone who you think values or ought to value the program. Create a map of the relationships between these people and with your program.
  • Read the essay on future of students and your program
  • Review reports on interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability curriculum and administrative structure from the National Council for Science and the Environment.

Additional meetings for facilitators

  • Facilitators meet with the Dean/Provost (this is best done before the workshop - either the afternoon before or first thing in the morning on day 1 of the workshop).
  • Facilitators meet with students in the program (no faculty present to enable an open discussion) - this is best done over lunch on the first day.

Session I: Envisioning Your Program

How does your program fit into the world and work your students will experience? This activity will help foresee the kinds of knowledge and skills future graduates will need and how your program will contribute to filling this need. This core session will produce a set of touchstone ideas that will guide later sessions.

Session Goals

  • Build a program team
  • Develop a coherent articulated program where success depends on everyone's engagement
  • Think beyond the problems at hand

Introductions (15 min)

  • Overview purpose of the workshop
  • Participant and Facilitator Introductions
  • Rules of engagement
Discussion of ideal student (1 hour)
  • Activity: Know Your Students, Identifying Skills, Experiences, Content, and Values: What do you want your students to know and be able to do? Participants will develop a list of goals for their students, first individually and then collectively. The session will produce a set of measurable and assessable program-level learning outcomes.

Visions for your Environmental or Sustainability Program (1 hour)
  • Activity: Present your vision for the program to another faculty member (working in groups of two). Do this as a role play where one person takes the role of a faculty member and the other plays a prospective student, parent, or administrator. Switch roles. After both people have presented their visions, identify common ideas and well as differences. Discuss what the thought exercise implies about strategic foci for your program in the next 10 years. Record your most important/key ideas for presentation to the group. As a group discuss the various visions and determine the degree to which a common vision exists among the faculty members.
Value Mapping: Who Values Your Program (Modified from Democracy for America, Campaign Academy Grassroots Campaign Training Manual, 2009.) (1 hour)
  • Activity: Based on the pre-workshop discussion of value the program developed in the pre-workshop survey. Make a list of all the people, groups, associations, etc. with whom the program works or might work with and who would value the program. Who needs what you do? These can include students, departments, other programs, stakeholders, administrators, among many others. List anyone who you think values or ought to value the program.
Power Mapping (30 min)
  • Activity: Map the formal process of decision making about your program within your institution (Dean, Vice-Presidents, Provost, President etc). Now map the informal process of influences and individuals that demonstrate how decisions are actually made. Using the value map, choose one individual that the program wants to influence. Using the formal and informal maps, discuss how to use formal and informal relationships and consider strategies for influencing that individual.

Power Map Resource: http://www.results.org/uploads/files/bonnner_powermapping.pdf

Session II: Building a Thriving and Valued Program (a.k.a. Thriving in the Swamp)

Thriving programs are valued by their institution, take charge of their own destiny, and manage change creatively and willingly. In this session the program will identify actions that can enhance the value of the program within the institution in the context of what is known about thriving programs. The group will practice and develop messaging for explaining the value of a cross-camps environmental program and will create an action plan that helps address challenges specific to such programs.

Learn more on this topic: Defining Strong Departments

Session Goals

  • The program will develops ideas/plans for enhancing its value within the institution.
  • Participants will practice articulating the value of the program to different audiences
  • Participants will discuss the challenges inherent to cross-campus environmental programs develop action plans to address the most important of these.
Characteristics of Strong Programs and Challenges of Interdisciplinary Programs (1 hour)
    • As a group identify and discuss unique characteristics and challenges of interdisciplinary programs (in general - not necessarily only your program) and strategies to thrive as an interdisciplinary program. Create a list and discuss.
    • After having generated your list, compare with the provided list of challenges
    • Discuss ideas from Becoming a Valued Member of Your Institution. Which of these are we already doing. How can these ideas apply to our cross-campus program? How can they be enhanced?
SWOT Analysis (1 hour)
  • Activity: The facilitators will lead the group through a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis in the context of current challenges and the future envisioned in the previous activity.
    • What are the SWOT for the ENST program? Each person should write out their own lists on sticky notes (1 issue per note) and place the notes on the appropriate piece of flip chart paper. The participants will then rearrange the notes to show clusters of ideas and then walk around the room (gallery walk) and discuss the SWOT. (This session should include identifying and discussing the "place-based" assets, opportunities and experiences available for the program, such as community partnerships, and other natural and social resources, etc.)
    • What are program-level areas of emphasis and goal-like objects (GLOs) that become apparent as a result of the SWOT?
    • Record results of SWOT analysis on the Session Work Page
Strategic Foci for Action Planning (1 hour)
A primary outcome of the workshop will be an action plan for the program developed by the group through the workshop activities. The first section of this plan presents the strategic foci for the plan.
  • Activity: Think about the opening workshop activities as well as the reasons for requesting this workshop, then convert the list of key ideas into a final list of strategic foci for departmental action and record in the first section of the Action Plan.

Session III: Program Design

Program faculty agree that graduates should leave having learned something. This learning might include content knowledge, specific skills like map making or environmental assessment, general skills like problem solving, teamwork or communication skills, and professional ethics and values. Articulating a consensus about what students will know and be able to do when they leave a program guides the program in developing its programming and evaluating its success. Program Level Learning Outcomes (PLLOs) are a powerful guide in designing what your graduates should know and be able to do.'

There are numerous resources that provide an intellectual foundation for designing programs that maximize student learning. These include foundational studies in how students learn (Research on Teaching and Learning), hierarchies of learning complexity (Bloom's Taxonomy (more info) ), recent research on how students learn within the context of disciplines (Discipline-Based Educational Research) and suggestions on implementing Program Level Learning Outcomes (Implementing PLLOs).

This session will guide you through a strategy for articulating a specific list of student learning outcomes. We will then use a matrix based approach to map how the goals are currently addressed and demonstrate how this map can be used to strengthen program design, design program evaluation, or test hypotheses about student experiences. This planning is conceived in the framework of helping all students thrive throughout your curriculum.

Session Goals

  • Introduce backwards design, matrix documentation and assessment as tools for designing programming
  • Establish alignment among program goals, programming and assessments
  • Introduce whole student model as framework for design of student experience
  • Establish program elements that can be tuned to goals as combination of courses, co-curricular activities, mentoring, and advising

Identifying Skills, Experiences, Content, and Values: What do you want your students to be able to do? Participants will develop a list of goals for their students, first individually and then collectively. The session will produce a set of measurable and assessable program-level learning outcomes. (1.5 hours)

  • Activity: Participants spend 5-10 minutes individually writing out goals for their students on individual post-it notes. What should they be able to do when they graduate? Then everyone puts their notes onto a board and the group organizes the whole set into clumps. Synthesizing what these clumps have in common point the way to "goal-like objects" (GLOs).
  • Activity: Discuss the suite of GLOs in the context of the Envisioning and SWOT activities from the opening session.
    • Do they reflect the program's context and strategic foci?
    • Do they collectively serve the range of students that you serve today and into the future?
    • Are you happy with these GLOs or is additional work or discussion needed?
  • Activity: Are administrative structures serving the needs of the program? Participants review extant models. Participants use provided resources to summarize attributes, advantages and disadvantages of these models. Present them in gallery walk.
  • Return to the Action Plan and record any future actions that are needed.

Program Matrices: How do students meet the program goals? Building a program matrix can help the department visualize where students are or could be building their knowledge, skills, and values (1 hour).

  • Introduce an example: Matrix Approaches to Program and Curriculum Design
  • Activity: Starting with the Blank Matrix Template, the new list of GLOs, and the list of curricular and co-curricular activities generated as homework, participants construct the X and Y axes of their Program Matrix. Then they pick at least one of their GLOs and complete, at minimum, one row of the Matrix, isolating where and to what degree different program elements present students with the opportunity to gain mastery as well as where and how their progress is assessed. Upload file to the Session Work Page.
  • Discussion: Record notes on the Session Work Page
    • How does the program use both curricular and co-curricular opportunities to address the goal?
    • What type of things make sense on the x axis (e.g. electives?)
    • What is the right granularity and number of GLOs?
    • How do we use the Matrix approach to reach the goals that we've set for the program?

Using the Matrix: The program matrix is a powerful tool for asking questions about where students are getting the important experiences we want for them as well as for hypothesis testing when student outcomes are not what we anticipate. This process is analogous to what scientists do all the time - generate a hypothesis, test it, and then using that information to feed back into the next round of hypothesis generation. (1 hour)

  • Activity: Generating Hypotheses About Student Learning. In small groups, use the matrix that you have developed so far to consider for one GLO:
  • Report and Discussion: Return to the whole group and present 1 strategic recommendation per group. Discuss lessons learned through this process. Return to the action plan and record any needed actions that follow from this exercise.
  • Closing thoughts: Reflect on the program design session as a whole. What have you learned about the process? about your program? Are there additional ideas that need to be recorded? Actions for the action plan?

Assessment and Closing the Loop: Making the leap from a "goal-like-object" to an assessable program outcome (1 hour).

  • Discussion: Open a discussion of program assessment and the needs of the program – both internal needs for formative feedback and institutional needs for accreditation or reporting.
  • Activity:
    • Develop an example of a program level assessment that will help your department understand and improve its ability to address a strategic priority.
    • Use the matrix to identify the assessment points for that goal, using it to find mismatches between outcomes and that goal.
    • discuss appropriate assessment ideas and introduce resources on assessment
    • develop an appropriate assessment
    • discuss potential results from the assessment and what actions they would prompt
  • Reflect on discussion: What further action is needed regarding assessment, evaluation and closing the loop to meet your strategic priorities? Record action items in the action plan.

Optional Session: Preparing Students for Careers From Day One (1 hour)

How can you best help your students prepare for careers and/or graduate school in and beyond your curriculum? Participants will leave the session with a plan for integrating students' development as self-directed environmental/sustainability professionals into their program. Using a four-stage model (below), this session explores ways to obtain feedback about career preparation from employers and graduates that can be used to develop more effective curriculum and program activities to prepare students better for employment opportunities. In addition, we will identify sources outside your department that can be used in the workforce preparation process. Finally, participants will determine methods to assess any changes they plan to implement to help prepare students for the workforce.

Session IV: Action Planning and Program Management

Creating an action plan to guide the work of the program going forward is a primary outcome of each workshop. Each session will have contributed something to the action plan - strategic priorities for change, the context in which that change will occur, as well as actions that the program will take to address challenges the group has articulated. The action plan will also include guidelines for determining when your program has met your goals.

Session Goals

  • Complete, Review, and Revise the Action Plan that has been developed over the course of the workshop.
  • Complete a timeline for one or more specific proposed action(s).

Complete Action Plan: prioritize action items, assign a point person or team, and determine a schedule for completion (at least 3 hours)

Discuss management strategies: how to self monitor and motivate progress; role/modification of action plan as actions unfold (30 min)

  • Maintaining enthusiasm and momentum
  • Carving time for action priorities out of busy schedules
  • Case study
Reflect on process and its outcomes: What lessons have you learned for working as a departmental team? (30 minutes)
  • Individual reflection on process and its outcomes: What did you learn?
  • Voluntary sharing and discussion

Workshop Wrap-Up: (30 min)