Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 73.12
Liaison Jenny McNamara
Submission Date Feb. 21, 2014
Executive Letter Download

STARS v1.2

Portland State University
ER-5: Sustainability Course Identification

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 3.00 / 3.00 Beth Lloyd-Pool
Program Administrator
Institute for Sustainable Solutions
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Has the institution developed a definition of sustainability in the curriculum?:

A copy of the institution's definition of sustainability in the curriculum?:

Portland State University defines sustainability as an integrating concept that encompasses the interaction of humans both with each other and with the natural environment, guided by the objective of improving the long term health of social, economic and environmental systems.

Has the institution identified its sustainability-focused and sustainability-related course offerings?:

A brief description of the methodology the institution followed to complete the inventory:

Students are not going to achieve all of the PSU campus wide sustainability learning outcomes or gain a complete understanding of sustainability through one course. Therefore, the question for sustainability course identification becomes what is the most basic concept of sustainability that must be present in a single course’s content regardless of the topic area.

To answer this one can think about the inherent nature of sustainability. At its core, sustainability is about interconnectedness or interrelationships between economic, equity, and environmental systems, i.e. the three E’s of sustainability. Building from this, one can then identify a sustainability course by looking at its content to see if it identifies and describes the relationship between the course topic and at least 2 of the 3 E’s of sustainability. A minimum of 2 is required because it’s the articulation of the intersections that define sustainability and not the areas themselves. Therefore if a course identifies and describes the relationships between the course topic and 2 dimensions of sustainability it is sustainability-related. If the content identifies and describes the relationship with all 3 dimensions of sustainability it is sustainability-focused.

This corresponds with the AASHE definitions for sustainability related and focused courses while maintaining interdisciplinary aspects. It also helps deter the notion that a course about equity or the environment is about sustainability.

By focusing on course content only, it also avoids pedagogical questions and assumptions about how much lecture time or coursework is needed to educate students about sustainability concepts or what constitutes a “concentration” in sustainability. Depending on an instructor’s style and teaching methods, a course with one strong sustainability module or comprehensive assignment may be more focused on sustainability than a course that weaves sustainability principles throughout. Instead of trying to make this learning outcome distinction through related or focused classifications, we are working on creating sustainability course IDs or tags that correlate to identified sustainability competencies to help students make better choices and be able to select a series of courses can give them a complete and robust understanding of sustainability.

For 2012-2013, a sustainability course rubric and evaluation form (available online at sustainability course inventory website) was created using the criteria of “recognizes interrelationships” and the following levels:

Sustainability Focused - Course content identifies and describes the relationship between the course topic, equity, economy, and environmental dimensions

Sustainability Related - Course content identifies and describes the relationship between the course topic and 2 of the 3 dimensions of equity, economy, and environment

Not a Sustainability Course - Course content identifies and describes relationship between the course topic and 1 of the 3 dimensions of equity, economy, and environment or course topic is only about 1 or none of the 3 dimensions.

To keep the course listings up to date, previously identified courses not offered as of Fall 2011 were removed from the sample and not included in the online course listing.

Sustainability course identification is considered to be a work in progress, and the course evaluation form is a reflection of current best thinking. All identified sustainability courses are subject to review and reclassification as more progress is made and new methodologies are developed. The posted sustainability course inventory is not a complete list of all sustainability courses offered at PSU.

Does the institution make its sustainability course inventory publicly available online?:

The website URL where the sustainability course inventory is posted:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.