assessing cognitive processes, instructor strategies, and the transdisciplinary nature of course offerings in post-secondary sustainability education programs

Wilson, Dennis
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The purpose of this case study was to describe, assess, and compare the cognitive level of instruction, course objectives, instructional strategies, assessments, and the transdisciplinary nature of two post-secondary degree programs in sustainability. Instructional strategies in these programs included such methods as class presentations, group activities, and interaction with students. The populations for the case studies consisted of instructors and administrators from two undergraduate courses at the Arizona State University School of Sustainability and two graduate courses at Portland State University Institute for Sustainable Solutions. The cognitive levels of instruction were derived from courses selected from the core curriculum at each university and measured using the Florida Taxonomy of Cognitive Behavior (FTCB) model based on Bloom's Taxonomy. The instructors' discourse, in-class activities, and interactions were evaluated in reference to their cognitive level of instruction. Student assessment methods and course objectives from the syllabi were also evaluated to assess the intended levels of cognitive instruction. The evaluation of instruction was conducted through direct observation of four courses at each university, with multiple observations during the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters. This research also examined the transdisciplinary nature of sustainability courses offered in each university program obtained from class syllabi, course catalogs, and university websites.

Findings from the research showed transdisciplinary studies were offered and required in the curriculum for both the ASU programs and the PSU programs that were examined. The core courses in sustainability were balanced in regard to required courses in the economics, environmental, and societal domains, however elective courses at both institutions trended toward environmental sciences more heavily.

Higher order cognitive instruction was evident in an average of 50% of the instructor discourse for the four classes studied. The average time spent at each level revealed application at 17%, analysis at 17%, synthesis at 12%, and evaluation at 4%. The weighted average cognitive levels ranged from a low of 25 to a high of 30 indicating discourse between the comprehension level and the application level. A comparison study showed no significant difference in instructor discourse between sustainability instructors and a 2005 study evaluating pre-service teachers.

bloom's taxonomy, interdisciplinary, pedagogy, sustainability education, university