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An Experiential Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Ethical Issues I: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.161.1 - 25.161.12



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Paper Authors


Susan Spierre Arizona State University

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Susan Spierre is a Ph.D. student in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. I have a M.S. in climate science from the University of New Hampshire and a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from University at Albany. Her current research involves climate change policy and its effects on human development, particularly in underdeveloped countries. her advisers include Tom Seager (ASU) and Evan Selinger (RIT).

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Elizabeth A. Martin Arizona State University

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Jathan Sadowski


Andrew Berardy Arizona State University

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Andrew Berardy is a Ph.D. student studying sustainability, interactional expertise, and life cycle assessment at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability. He holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in international studies, with an area of focus in East Asia.

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Scott McClintock Arizona State University

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Scott McClintock is a Ph.D. student, School of Sustainability.

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Shirley-Ann Augustin Arizona State University

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Nicholas Hohman

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Jay George Banna Jr.

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An Experiential Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics An Experiential Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics is a NSF funded project that is developing andtesting a new approach to teaching ethics, geared towards engineering and science students thatleverage their interest in experiment and experience. Unlike a traditional liberal arts pedagogy involvingreading about ethics, discussing the readings, and writing new analyses, this novel pedagogy uses gamesto position students in a series of potentially adversarial relationships that force them to confront someof the salient problems of sustainability, including environmental externalities, the Tragedy of theCommons, weak vs. strong sustainability and intra-generational equity. In each game, students must askthemselves the question, "What are my obligations to my fellow students? And what am I willing to riskin my own sense of well-being to meet these obligations?" We hypothesize that this approach willresult in students that are actively engaged in the classroom exercises, and result in an improved abilityto identify ethical problems, pose potential solutions, and participate in group deliberations with regardto moral problems. The games we’ve developed are based on non-cooperative game-theory and allowstudents to test economic as well as ecological theories (e.g., Coase Theorem, Tragedy of the Commons,and sustainable common pool resource management). Students are primed through introductoryreadings on game-theory, ethics, and sustainability issues and encouraged to collaborate with studentsfrom other Universities via online communication platforms about game strategy. Students alsoparticipate in a variety of reflective exercises and assignments after game-play. Each game module hasan underlying structure that creates tension between individual and collective incentives. If students failto cooperate, most grades will collapse, but if students are able to resist the tendency to advance theirown grades at the expense of their classmates, the entire class will succeed in earning a good grade. Tobe successful, students must deliberate about fairness, equity, and justice in the context of each game.There are no rules to prevent students from lying, cheating, or breaking agreements and students arefree to experiment with different approaches to achieve their aims. The games have been tested atUniversity of New Hampshire, Northeastern, New England College, Rochester Institute of Technology(RIT), Purdue University, Cornell, Mesa Community College as well as Arizona State University (ASU).More recently, the games have been used in a semester long course, taught simultaneously at RIT andASU, enabling coordinated online co-play and collaboration between students and instructors at bothinstitutions. Classroom experiences and online communications are consistently characterized bysurprising, emergent behavior and high quality discussions. Issues concerning leadership, transparency,risk and trust dominate discussion. This project is engaging students in realistic ethical dilemmas thatwill be transferred to personal and professional decision making outside the classroom.

Spierre, S., & Martin, E. A., & Sadowski, J., & Berardy, A., & McClintock, S., & Augustin, S., & Hohman, N., & Banna, J. G. (2012, June), An Experiential Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20921

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