New course is all about inspiring change

April 21, 2015

Faculty members Dave Buchanan and Margaret Milner are looking forward to teaching the first offering of Sustainability 201 this fall. 

Sustainability 201 offers every student a chance to make a difference

As Earth Day approaches, it seems like the perfect time to celebrate MacEwan University’s new Sustainability 201 course. Not only is the course breaking ground by focusing solely on sustainable action, it’s also the first interdisciplinary course that extends across faculties.

English faculty member Dave Buchanan was involved in developing Sustainability 201 before the course even had a name, so when it came time to solicit volunteers to teach, his hand instantly shot up.

“I’m passionate about sustainability and excited about this course,” says Dave, who has teamed up with nursing faculty member Margaret Milner. “We’re not sustainability experts, but we have complementary skills and areas of interest in sustainability that will help us have meaningful conversations with students about the perspectives on sustainability within different disciplines.”

And they hope those conversations won’t only be with students who already identify themselves as environmentalists.

“We’re hoping this course attracts a variety of people—including those who might be sitting on the fence or skeptical about where we’re headed as a society,” says Margaret. “We’d like to see this course ripple out to students in every faculty, attracting people who are curious about the world and the challenges we face—and who are keen to try to do something about it.”

Sharing and building stories of sustainability 

Both faculty members are quick to emphasize that this course isn’t just about the theory of sustainability. They want students to make a personal connection, so they will be using stories and engaging narratives to take a holistic look at local issues within the course’s three central themes: food, climate change and energy.

“We really want this to be a trajectory,” explains Dave. “A way to help students to understand how they can make personal changes, and how they can influence governments and industry partners.”

To that end, Dave and Margaret are reaching out to their fellow faculty members across the university, some of whom will be guest speakers in the course, and perhaps even end up teaching it in the future if this pilot project expands.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise to learn just how many faculty—in philosophy, chemistry, psychology, social work, business and other disciplines—use sustainability as a lens through which to look at their content. We’re finding pockets of sustainability everywhere and, in a way, we’ve identified a community,” says Dave.

Building that community both inside and outside the university is yet another way this course could have an impact far beyond the classroom in which it will be taught.

Creating community inside the classroom and beyond

The hybrid course, which will use a blend of face-to-face and online learning, will also feature four evening events throughout the semester where local people engaged in sustainability will share their knowledge and stories about the impact they’ve made locally.

“We really want to engage the entire university and the greater community in this course—I think it’s going to be really fun to watch it evolve,” says Dave. “We’re embarking on a journey to figure something out together and sometimes that’s the most exciting part about teaching.”

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