The University of Kansas has launched The Oread Project, a new program to help faculty from across campus redesign an existing course – or create a new course – to incorporate sustainability content. Fourteen faculty representing 4 different Schools participated in the project’s inaugural 2-day workshop in May. The workshop was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, and led by Stacey White, Chair of the Urban Planning Department and Director of Academic Programs for the Center for Sustainability.
The workshop allowed participants to explore sustainability concepts and pedagogical approaches through presentations, activities, and group discussions. Activities included: presentations from campus and community resources on using the Campus Sustainability Plan, Building Sustainable Traditions, as a starting point for course projects; connecting with community sustainability initiatives; and integrating “flipped learning,” a practice that involves putting lecture materials online to allow more time in the classroom for hand-on learning, problem solving and discussion. Participants also spent time exploring outdoor spaces on campus, including a walk to the Prairie Acre led by Professor and Kansas Biological Services Senior Scientist Kelly Kindscher.
Oread Project participants will use the summer to revise an existing syllabus or create a syllabus for a new course offering. Upon completion, they will receive a $1000 stipend that can be used for academic purposes, including conference travel, books, and other resources that support development of the course.
One such course will be taught this summer. Associate Professor Bonnie Johnson is applying her experience with the Oread Project to developing the Infrastructure Management course in Public Administration. The course will examine city infrastructure through the lens of sustainability. Students will tours examples of sustainable infrastructure on campus and in the community, and discuss possible improvements on campus.
Participating in the workshop helped Johnson expand her thinking about how to evaluate whether something was “sustainable,” and how different disciplines and professions view sustainability. “Anyone who has thought about teaching sustainability is pretty quickly confronted by the different meanings and interpretations of the topic,” Johnson said. “The Oread Project brought together professors from all over campus and I was able to hear them talk about and explain what ‘sustainability’ means in their disciplines, from petroleum engineering to anthropology to design to business to sociology.”
Johnson plans to build on that experience when discussing the range of professionals city managers work with, including engineers, public administrators, city planners, accountants, contract managers, architects, landscape architects, elected officials, and citizens. “I can use what I learned to help students think about sorting through how all these different experts and laymen might imagine sustainability differently and how we can bring those ideas together collaboratively – just like we did at the Oread Project workshop.”
Similarly, the Oread Project aims to create new opportunities for faculty to work collaboratively on sustainability-related courses and research. Paul Stock, Assistant Professor of Sociology, was excited by the opportunity to meet faculty engaged with sustainability in their teaching through the workshop. “I look forward to working with colleagues around campus in new ways,” he said. “I'm hopeful that the course on food I'm proposing can include assignments and contributions from people around campus excited about the same themes.”
In addition to encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration on campus, the Oread Project is designed to contribute to the goals of Bold Aspirations and the resulting strategic initiatives. Sustainability is a common thread running through the KU Strategic Initiative areas, which set priorities for research investment. The project also addresses Goal #6 of the new KU Core, which states that KU students will “Gain the ability to integrate knowledge and think creatively,” skills inherent to sustainability education. “No matter their major, graduates of the University of Kansas will pursue careers in which sustainability is a key element,” said White. The Oread Project is therefore a way to provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need for their future careers, and faculty with a way to develop new teaching approaches and possible research activity.
The Oread Project is modeled after the Ponderosa Project at Northern Arizona University and the Piedmont Project at Emory University. White attended a training workshop at Emory in January of this year to learn how to apply this model at KU.