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Integrating problem- and project-based learning into sustainability programs: A case study on the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University

Arnim Wiek (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)
Angela Xiong (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)
Katja Brundiers (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)
Sander van der Leeuw (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 26 August 2014

7712

Abstract

Purpose

The article aims to describe the problem- and project-based learning (PPBL) program and the institutional context at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability (SOS), with the goal of offering experience-based guidance for similar initiatives in sustainability programs around the world.

Design/methodology/approach

This case study presents the diverse PPBL activities that SOS offers on the undergraduate and the graduate levels and examines the institutional structures in place that support these activities. Data were collected through literature and document reviews, observations, interviews, student evaluations and faculty surveys.

Findings

The review of the PPBL program at SOS illustrates a case of successfully inaugurating a PPBL program in sustainability at a major university in the USA. Yet, a key challenge for this program and similar programs around the world is how to maintain the institutional momentum and make advances after the initial takeoff. SOS is attempting to address this issue by developing greater program cohesion and coordination, synthesizing past products and learning, monitoring and evaluating impacts, and developing PPBL training programs for faculty and graduate students.

Practical implications

The experiences and findings presented can help other programs to articulate the benefits of a PPBL initiative, anticipate implementation challenges and successfully support their own PPBL initiatives through adequate institutional structures. The review points to the fact that the major impact on both student learning and outcomes for partner organizations is achieved through a concerted effort by the organization as a whole. Successful PPBL programs require both top-down commitments from the administration and bottom-up drive from interested faculty and students.

Originality/value

This case study discusses the PPBL program at SOS. The findings can inform and support the ongoing transformation in sustainability education with the ultimate objective to build students’ capacities to address and solve wicked sustainability problems in the real world, competently collaborating with partners from government, business and civil society.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the School of Sustainability’s Founding Director, Charles Redman, for initiating the development of the school’s problem- and project-based learning program; SOS faculty Sonya Remington-Doucette, Hallie Eakin, Aaron Golub and Rimjhim Aggarwal for joining and carrying forward the program; and SOS’ students Braden Kay, Lauren Withycombe Keeler, Rider Foley and Dorothy Trippel for their enthusiasm and support of the program. The authors would also like to acknowledge the participants in the first International Workshop on “Problem- and Project-based Learning in Sustainability Programs” and the international collaborators in problem- and project-based learning efforts at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, the University of Tokyo, Maastricht University, Lund University, Stellenbosch University, the Technical University of Catalonia (Barcelona) and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

Citation

Wiek, A., Xiong, A., Brundiers, K. and van der Leeuw, S. (2014), "Integrating problem- and project-based learning into sustainability programs: A case study on the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 431-449. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2013-0013

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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