Using sustainability themes and multidisciplinary approaches to enhance STEM education

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report on the Multidisciplinary Sustainability Education Project (MSEP) as a framework using sustainability-themed education modules to introduce students to the need for multidisciplinary approaches to solving twenty-first-century problems while retaining traditional course strengths and content. Design/methodology/approach – The MSEP uses sustainability-themed education models and a multidisciplinary approach to link courses across disciplines. Modules are identified by an overarching question with activities designed to address the overarching question from course-specific perspectives, resulting in students writing short technical reports summarizing their results. Students then read and evaluate technical reports from other classes, and complete a summary activity designed to connect perspectives from different disciplines. Findings – The multi-method assessment identified no loss or gain in discipline-specific learning; increased understanding about the characteristics of twenty-first-century problems, in particular those related to sustainability; and increased students’ favorable perceptions of introductory calculus. Assessment of increased understanding of how different disciplines can work together to understand complex problems was difficult to measure due to limitations of a project-developed assessment instrument. Originality/value – This paper contributes to undergraduate sustainability education by describing a framework for connecting courses using sustainability-themed modules. By implementing an asynchronous manner where courses use materials from the project Web site and contribute materials to the Web site after implementing a module, it is easy to incorporate a module into existing courses, any educational institution’s existing structure and across institutions. The framework’s flexible design allows new courses from any discipline to connect to a module, allowing for multidisciplinary connections to grow over time.

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International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

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