The ACS Blended Learning Program has funded five proposals, each for $10,000, that were submitted from collaborating ACS institutions to advance phase one of a broad initiative to promote “Sustainability in the South and Beyond”. This initiative was borne out of discussions among ACS faculty, sustainability directors and chief institutional officers during a July 2013 ACS Sustainability and Blended Learning meeting in Sewanee. Although the particulars of “Sustainability in the South and Beyond” are yet to be determined, it is envisioned that students would be required to complete four phases of an ACS-faculty-designed sustainability education package. One of the unique qualities of this ACS designation is that the final phase would take place on an ACS campus or in the field, with one or more ACS faculty members, in the time-honored, face-to-face manner for which our liberal arts institutions are celebrated.
Sewanee’s Assistant Provost of Sustainability Jon Evans, Associate Provost for Information Technology Service Vicki Sells and University Provost John Swallow have been committed to this project since inception, as are more than 50 faculty and staff members from a majority of the ACS schools. Sewanee will continue to play a major leadership role in moving this initiative forward within the ACS. “Sustainability in the South and Beyond” is clearly a knowledge base that ACS faculty are uniquely qualified to teach, and thus, these units would also become a crowning feature of our growing digital library. While our own students will be major beneficiaries of these resources, we suggest making them freely available to non-ACS scholars as well. In doing so our educational units would begin to be similar to what in today's vernacular might be called a MOOC (massive online open course). However, in keeping with our liberal arts base, we have coined the term LAOOC (liberal arts open online course). Students will have opportunities to interact closely with faculty on different ACS campuses, whether it’s through “guest speakers” who teleconference into their classes from other campuses or through the way their own faculty integrate these resources into their classes, using colleague’s expertise as a bridge into new learning opportunities for students. Additionally the final phase requires a capstone summer course on an ACS campus. The distinction of “blended learning”—that is, moving some learning experiences online so we can use class time for problem-solving, group work, discussions, and other engaged learning activities- is very important, and is part of what makes LAOOC’s very different from MOOC’s.
The moment is ripe for the ACS to take a leadership position in sustainability education, doing so in ways that extend the reach of our teaching through online learning and digital scholarship; expand the impact of the place-based research performed by our students and faculty; and affirm the primary significance of close student-faculty interaction that is the hallmark of our institutions. It is also a rare opportunity to collaborate, truly, effectively, and productively, not in an artificial way, but instead in a long-term, sustainable fashion, allowing each institution to contribute what it wishes, and to benefit in ways it alone will determine. It is a chance for the ACS to build on the legacy of years of contact among institutions, and thereby realize more fully the potential of a consortium.
Jon Evans and David Ribble (Trinity University) will lead a team focusing on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Mary Finley-Brook (University of Richmond), supported by Marvin Pate (University of the South) will lead a team addressing climate change and energy. Carmel Price’s (Furman University) and Melissa Johnson’s (Southwestern University) team will addressenvironmental social justice. Barry Allen (Rollins) will address political economy, ecology, and consumption. Brett Werner (Centre), with the help of Josh Long (Southwestern University) and Daniel Kirchner (Centre College), will address topics around food.
These collaborative, inter-institutional teams will create, identify, develop, collect, curate and post online a wide variety of original and existing online resources over the next year during phase one. In phase two, ACS faculty will use the online resources housed in the digital library to create educational units or modules in each of the five topic areas of sustainability. In phase three, each interested ACS school could develop further educational units that focus specifically on sustainability issues in their immediate geographic area. In phase four, faculty would develop place-based research and teaching projects (both at home and internationally) that would be conducted in the summer at ACS institutions. These summer projects would likely attract a wide variety of people interested in pursuing knowledge of sustainability and would move from a totally electronic experience to the small group interactions at which our liberal arts institutions excel.