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New Curricula for Sustainability Studies: Making Places That Maintain Abundance and Alleviate Scarcity

Spring 2011
Instructors:  Carissa Schively Slotterback (Urban and Regional Planning Program, Humphrey Institute), Nicholas Jordan (Agronomy & Plant Genetics, CFANS), and Lance Neckar (Landscape Architecture, College of Design)
Schedule: Meets biweekly, Tuesdays 2:30-5 p.m.
Location: 235 Nolte Center
Composition: Faculty and graduate students

Participation Information

Course Description:

The seminar will examine essential meanings of ‘abundance’ and ‘scarcity’ in three dimensions: biophysical environment, society, and the individual. In a rapidly changing, dominantly urbanized, infrastructure-dependent, and culturally complex world, the pursuit of sustainability involves critical examination of trade-offs and synergies between individual livelihoods and broader socio-cultural processes and systems that provide abundance and alleviate scarcity.

Accordingly, education in many fields is exploring how practitioners of these fields can contribute responsibly to societal interactions crucial to sustainability—from learning to communications, planning, design, policy formation, and action, both individual and collective. New courses and programs are emerging, aiming to produce ‘civic’ professionals better able to contribute to a collective pursuit of sustainability of a socio-cultural ‘commons’— one based in common language and structured societal discourse about systemic and individual ways of addressing issues of abundance and scarcity. This seminar will serve as a curriculum design workshop for faculty who are participating in such innovation by developing pedagogical (and andragogical) materials for undergraduate, graduate and continuing education.

We will consider how curricula on sustainability could enable people to better develop four critical evaluative skills that underpin the transdisciplinary nature and temporal and organizational orders of magnitude of problems inherent in balancing abundance and scarcity. These are:

  • Deep reflection: the capacity for critical and constructive reflection on the actions, underlying mental models, and worldviews of themselves and others;
  • Rich observation: the ability to observe and construct useful models of complex situations;
  • Future scenario construction: the ability to apply design thinking to complex relationships embedded in solutions to future challenges;
  • Responsible participation:  skills in fostering meaningful civic engagement (e.g. language and media adaptation, listening and reformulation).

Practically, we will also assess how curricula could enable people to comprehend a place via many different ‘ways of knowing,’ mapping patterns and systems of abundance and scarcity, broadly understood, encompassing (e.g., food and agriculture/energy and carbon/water/waste and life cycle/population and environmental justice), We will also consider approaches that foster the co-creation and engagement in critique, design, planning and management of places understood jointly as commons and as the necessary province of individual stakeholders,  including deliberation on fundamental questions such as what abundance should be maintained, what scarcity should be alleviated, and by what processes, existing and new?  Finally, we will evaluate approaches to develop and enhance communicative competence through participation in educational activities as a self-aware learner and fully-engaged doer.

Participation Information

Faculty and graduate students who would like to participate in the seminar are invited to send an email to organizing faculty members Carissa Schively SlotterbackNicholas Jordan, and Lance Neckar with a brief statement of interest and a paragraph about the research or reading that they have done which is relevant to the topic. Please send this statement as soon as possible. Faculty must send this statement no later than September 17, 2010. Graduate students must send their statements by October 29, 2010. Please note that the seminar may fill before these deadlines. Those selected to participate in the seminar will be expected to make a firm commitment to attend all seminar meetings. Selection of faculty participants will be made by early Fall semester, and of graduate-student participants by early November so that participants can arrange their spring schedules accordingly.

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