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Nature/Society: Situating Student Learning Outcomes in a First-year Sustainability Studies Course

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session


Tagged Divisions

Multidisciplinary Engineering and Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.929.1 - 24.929.15



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Paper Authors


James E. Wilcox Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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James Wilcox is a doctoral student in science and technology studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where his dissertation project investigates the practices and politics of energy policy interventions. From 2011 to 2013 he was the program coordinator for Vasudha, an undergraduate living and learning community dedicated to sustainability at RPI. Prior to coming to RPI, he served as an education and outreach Fellow in the Office of Sustainability at the University of Vermont and studied media, design, and sustainability at The New School and Parsons The New School for Design, earning a master’s in media and urban studies.

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Atsushi Akera Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Atsushi Akera is an associate professor in the department of science and technology studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania and currently serves as the Chair-Elect of ASEE’s Liberal Education/Engineering and Society Division. He is an elected member of Society for the History of Technology’s executive council; as associate editor of the international journal Engineering Studies; and a member of the editorial board of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Publications include Calculating a Natural World: Scientists, Engineers and Computers during the Rise of U.S. Cold War Research (MIT Press, 2006).

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  Nature/Society: Situating student learning outcomes in a first-year Sustainability Studies courseNature/Society is a First Year Studies seminar at a polytechnic university designed to fostercritical thinking about human/environment interactions through humanistic and social scientificinquiry. The course also serves as the core seminar for a sustainability-oriented living andlearning community on campus, although it is also open to selected other students who expressedan interest in registering for the course. The course was designed by the Director of the FirstYear Studies Program, and incorporates various pedagogic strategies designed to enhancestudent engagement and learning experiences. This paper offers an initial learning outcomesassessment of this course based on several survey instruments administered during the fall 2012semester.Specifically, the paper draws on a) the results of a pre/post survey; b) instructor evaluation ofstudent work; c) a separate, blind review of student work evaluated according to a quantitativemetric and standardized evaluation rubric (based on a modified Bloom’s taxonomy). Thepre/post survey instrument was used to assess student interest, attitudes, knowledge, and skills,and was administered at the start and end of the semester. The standardized rubric involvedassessments of reading comprehension, critical understanding, and informed judgment. For theblind review, seven additional learning outcomes were assessed based on the Education forSustainability (EfS) outcomes criteria proposed in 2006 by the Higher Education AssociationsSustainability Consortium (HEASC), Association for the Advancement of Sustainability inHigher Education (AASHE), and American College Personnel Association (ACPA).We analyze our data sets to examine the relationship between student demographics, attitudes,achievement, learning trajectories, and engagement; compare instructor and independentevaluation of learning outcomes; and identify points of divergence between the Nature/Societyand EfS learning outcomes, with a qualitative discussion of the comparative strengths andweaknesses of each. Nature/Society also functions as a component within the university’s newlyestablished undergraduate major in Sustainability Studies. We examine the significance of ourfindings with regards to the future development of the Sustainability Studies program and as ageneral field of undergraduate study.

Wilcox , J. E., & Akera, A. (2014, June), Nature/Society: Situating Student Learning Outcomes in a First-year Sustainability Studies Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22862

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