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Enhancing sustainability curricula through faculty learning communities

Lisa W. Natkin (Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Office of Sustainability, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA)
Tammy Kolbe (Department of Educational Leadership and Developmental Sciences, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 4 July 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

Although the number of higher education institutions adopting sustainability-focused faculty learning communities (FLCs) has grown, very few of these programs have published evaluation research. This paper aims to report findings from an evaluation of the University of Vermont’s (UVM’s) sustainability faculty fellows (SFF) program. It discusses how utilization-focused program evaluation is an important tool for developing and improving sustainability-focused FLCs. The SFF program aims to enhance sustainability education by bringing faculty members together to expand their knowledge of sustainability concepts and offer pedagogical support for integrating those concepts in higher education curricula.

Design/methodology/approach

A utilization-focused evaluation framework guided the evaluation’s design and implementation. Multiple methods were used to collect evaluation data, including in-person interviews and an online survey with SFF program participants.

Findings

The evaluation’s findings suggest that UVM’s SFF program expanded faculty understanding of sustainability concepts, encouraged curricular and instructional reform and made progress toward developing a community of faculty interested in sustainability education. The evaluation’s utilization focus was instrumental in providing useful information for improving the SFF program.

Originality/value

Evaluation findings expand what we know about the potential effectiveness of sustainability-focused FLCs, as well as challenges institutions might encounter when adopting such an approach to faculty development. Findings also point to ways in which utilization-focused evaluations can inform program development and improvement efforts.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors thank the Sustainability Faculty Fellows coordinating committee (Stephanie Kaza, Wendy Verrei-Berenback, Jen Cirillo, Walt Poleman and Gioia Thompson) for their hard work, cooperation and leadership. The authors thank the program alumni who participated in the study for their effort in completing our survey or interview. They also thank Michaela Zint (special issue editor) for her valuable feedback and guidance during the publication process.

Citation

Natkin, L.W. and Kolbe, T. (2016), "Enhancing sustainability curricula through faculty learning communities", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 540-558. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2015-0024

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited