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Assessing sustainability knowledge of a student population: Developing a tool to measure knowledge in the environmental, economic and social domains

Adam Zwickle (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Tomas M. Koontz (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Kristina M. Slagle (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Jeremy T. Bruskotter (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 26 August 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this article is to present a tool for assessing the sustainability knowledge of an undergraduate population.

Design/methodology/approach

Multiple-choice questions were developed through soliciting expert input, focus groups, pilot testing, distribution via a large-scale online survey and analysis using item response theory.

Findings

The final assessment consists of 16 questions from the environmental, economic and social domains, covering foundational concepts within the topic of sustainability.

Research limitations/implications

This assessment represents an initial effort to quantify knowledge of the broad and abstract concept of sustainability. The authors plan to continue refining these questions to better differentiate between students with higher levels of knowledge and to replace those with answers that may change over time.

Practical implications

With knowledge of sustainability concepts becoming increasingly included in institution-wide learning objectives, there is a growing demand for a way to measure progress in this area. Our assessment tool can easily be used (via a campus-wide survey or distributed at the classroom level) by institutions to gauge current levels of knowledge and track changes over time, as well as assess the effectiveness of courses and curricula at meeting sustainability knowledge goals.

Originality/value

This assessment of sustainability knowledge is the first of its kind to include all three separate domains of sustainability, and we expect it to be useful across a variety of college and university contexts.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Aparna Dial and the Office of Energy Services and Sustainability at The Ohio State University for their funding, encouragement and support.

Citation

Zwickle, A., M. Koontz, T., M. Slagle, K. and T. Bruskotter, J. (2014), "Assessing sustainability knowledge of a student population: Developing a tool to measure knowledge in the environmental, economic and social domains", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 375-389. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-01-2013-0008

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited