Learning Outcomes Clarification (STARS)

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Joined: Nov 17 2009

This post is related to STARS, AASHE's Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

I'm working on assessing an institution's Education and Research credits and would like some help clarifying ER Credit 9: Sustainability Learning Outcomes. The criteria say that students should "graduate from programs that include sustainability as a required learning outcome." The credit defines "learning outcomes" as those which "specify the knowledge and abilities that students will be able to demonstrate as a result of their education."

Does this mean that as long as a sustainability-focused or -related course is required to complete a major, minor or certificate then all of the students graduating with that degree/minor/certificate would count in the scoring? Does the program have to specify in its description/requirements that sustainability is a learning outcome?

Any help clarifying this would be much appreciated. Thank you!

 
Laura Matson's picture
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Hi Allie,
Learning Outcomes articulate what students learn and/or are able to do as a result of their education. ER Credit 9: Sustainability Learning Outcomes is trying to more closely measure what students are learning, which relates to course content, but is slightly different.

As a result, unless a course or a degree program has specified or articulated sustainability learning outcomes, they cannot be counted for this credit.

For this credit, learning outcomes may be specified at the course, degree program, or institution level (see, e.g., University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh).
 

Please let us know if you have any other questions.

Laura Matson
STARS Technical Developer
 

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I am also currently working on ER Credit 9 and I've come across a couple questions. Mainly, I'm a little unsure of what is included in "program degrees or courses of study". I assume this counts majors, minors, and concentrations but does it also include certificates or distinguishments that students could recieve on their diploma? For example, if a student was recognized on their diploma as a "Public Service Scholar" whereas the Public Service program specified sustainability as a learning outcome (hypothetically speaking) - would this count for this credit?

Thanks!

Laura Matson's picture
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Hi Holly,

Thanks for raising this question -- I apologize that it isn't clearer in the Technical Manual.

The intention of the credit is to recognize student exposure to sustainability learning outcomes through academic programs.  As you indicated, this includes majors, minors, and concentrations, as well as certificates or other academic distinguishments. Programs that include co-curricular aspects (such as community service) may count as long as there is a academic component of the program (e.g., taking a formal course).  Transcript practices vary across institutions, but having something included on a student's transcript might serve as evidence that the program includes academic content.

Please let us know if you have any other questions.

All the best,
Laura

--
Laura Matson
STARS Technical Developer
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education
laura@aashe.org | 859-940-1752 | www.aashe.org

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Laura,

I have another question regarding this same credit.  Very few academic programs at our institution specify "learning outcomes."  We have major requirements, in the form of required courses, and each department has descriptions of their programs and the field on their website, but since we do not specify "learning outcomes" are we ineligible to pursue this credit?

 

Thank you,

Jessica Levy

 

Jessica Levy
Office of Sustainability Initiatives
Emory University
Email: Jalevy@emory.edu
Office: 404-727-9443

 

Laura Matson's picture
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Hi Jessica,

Thanks for the question.  The credit applies to all institutions, so your institution can still pursue it.  The institution doesn't have to use the term "Learning Outcomes" in order to qualify for the credit.  Anything that specifies what students will have learned or be able to do as a result of the course or program of study can count.  This may take the form of course or program objectives or standards. 

Please let us know if you have any other questions. 

All the best,

Laura

--
Laura Matson
STARS Technical Developer
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education
laura@aashe.org | 859-258-2551 ext. 111 | www.aashe.org

dfernandez's picture
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Hello-

AT CSUMB we are in the process of establishing new outcomes for our GE.  While I have pushed putting more "sustainability concepts" into some of our GE areas, there is resistance to using the word "sustainability" since it is seen as having different meanings to different people and in different fields.  However many of our GE outcomes seem to address aspects of sustainability without explicit use of the word "sustainability".  For instance, one that we are considering in the sciences is worded as:

 "Students will demonstrate scientific content knowledge within the physical sciences, its relevance to their own lives, and its societal relevance"

Does the final phrase emphasizing its societal relevance  as well as relevance to their own lives make it an outcome associated with sustainability?

Similarly, in our social sciences, we are looking a a new outcome that reads as follows:  " Students examine cultural works within their global and/or local social contexts, understanding the way in which questions of power impact a society’s cultural expressions. "

Given the social aspects of sustainability, would this qualify?

Additionally, within our GE area of health and well being,would the following qualify?

" Relate concepts and theories to socially responsible and culturally sensitive practices to promote health and well being"

Finally (and I could go on for quite a while because we have many possibiltiies), CSUMB has a service learning requirement for all students.  That in and of itself will give us credit in STARS, but does the following outcome that all students address, also associate with STARS credits in ER Credit 9?

"Examine a community issue(s) in the context of systemic inequity, discrimination and social injustice. "

If any one of the above addresses STARS ER Credit 9 then do all of our non-transfer (native) students experience sustainability through GE?  If more than one of our general ed. outcomes is a sustainability learning outcome that all students experience, are there additional credits?

Thank you!

dfernandez's picture
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Hello-

AT CSUMB we are in the process of establishing new outcomes for our GE.  While I have pushed putting more "sustainability concepts" into some of our GE areas, there is resistance to using the word "sustainability" since it is seen as having different meanings to different people and in different fields.  However many of our GE outcomes seem to address aspects of sustainability without explicit use of the word "sustainability".  For instance, one that we are considering in the sciences is worded as:

 "Students will demonstrate scientific content knowledge within the physical sciences, its relevance to their own lives, and its societal relevance"

Does the final phrase emphasizing its societal relevance  as well as relevance to their own lives make it an outcome associated with sustainability?

Similarly, in our social sciences, we are looking a a new outcome that reads as follows:  " Students examine cultural works within their global and/or local social contexts, understanding the way in which questions of power impact a society’s cultural expressions. "

Given the social aspects of sustainability, would this qualify?

Additionally, within our GE area of health and well being,would the following qualify?

" Relate concepts and theories to socially responsible and culturally sensitive practices to promote health and well being"

Finally (and I could go on for quite a while because we have many possibiltiies), CSUMB has a service learning requirement for all students.  That in and of itself will give us credit in STARS, but does the following outcome that all students address, also associate with STARS credits in ER Credit 9?

"Examine a community issue(s) in the context of systemic inequity, discrimination and social injustice. "

If any one of the above addresses STARS ER Credit 9 then do all of our non-transfer (native) students experience sustainability through GE?  If more than one of our general ed. outcomes is a sustainability learning outcome that all students experience, are there additional credits?

Thank you!

peter_1's picture
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 I think the outcomes you list are all part of sustainability -- but if they don't consider the impact on the future and future generations, I have a hard time considering them more than a small part of a 'sustainability concept'.

 

Peter Crownfield
Campus Sustainability Initiative
Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley
Bethlehem, PA  

 

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Great discussion. On the subject of GE, how about starting at the beginning, by reformulating the mission of education as "helping to form a responsible citizen of her/his society by educating her/him in the context of the realities that climate change represents for our planet"? Compliance with STARS and any other credits can thereafter be appropriately formulated. In the words of David Orr (Hope Is an Imperative, Island Press, 2011, p. xvi) “the subject comes down to the one big question of how we fairly, durably, and quickly remake the human presence on Earth to fit the limits of the biosphere while preserving hard-won gains in the arts, sciences, law, the open society, and governance, which is to say civilization."

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Hi I'm working to complete the STARS survey at Washington University in St. Louis.

My main question related to this credit is how it applies between different schools inside of the the university. If our architecture school requires a sustainability-focused or sustainability-related course in order to graduate (thus, to my knowledge, fulfilling the credit), but our arts and sciences program does not have this requirement, do we earn this credit or not?

Thanks
Will

margot.hutchins@aashe.org's picture
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Hi Will.

Thanks for posting your question. The short answer is: you would earn partial credit if students graduating from the architecture school are required to complete a sustainability-focused or -related course, but the students in the arts and sciences program are not. (assuming the sustainability-focused or -related course has a sustainability learning outcome)

The longer answer is: your institution would earn 10 points for ER credit 9: Sustainability Learning Outcomes, if all of your students graduate from programs that have adopted at least one sustainability learning outcome. If half of your students graduate from a program with a sustainability learning outcome, your institution would earn 5 points (half of the possible points). One way to approach data collection is to consider the students that graduated from your institution in the past year and identify the number that graduated from academic programs that have a sustainability learning outcome.

I hope this is helpful! Please feel free to post additional questions here, in the forums, or contact the STARS Team at stars@aashe.org.

Best,
Margot

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Joined: Nov 24 2009

STARS is clearly aimed at raising the overall competence of graduating students in the realm of sustainability. I quote Laura Matson at the start of this thread:

"The criteria say that students should "graduate from programs that include sustainability as a required learning outcome." The credit defines "learning outcomes" as those which "specify the knowledge and abilities that students will be able to demonstrate as a result of their education."

But if we think of climate change as having changed all the rules of the game, we might do well to consider climate change mitigation as the primary responsibility of all citizens, because it affects all now as well as all their descendents (children, grandchildren, and so on ...).

It is not sufficient for an institution to offer some courses in sustainability. What is needed is a complete rethinking of what should be the outcome for each graduating student in their chosen field, but within the overarching individual as well as collective responsibility to be involved at all times with climate change mitigation. To accomplish that, entirely new curricula need to be developed (e.g. John Gerber's). The mindset as well as the tools, skills and methods for are needed by our entire society, a society of the citizens we are teaching (or not!) throughout our educational institutions.

For those of you diligent laborers in the field of education who see the merits of thinking outside the box, please consider signing the following two petitions to convince NAAB to

set as the Condition for Accreditation that every US architecture school’s curriculum provide all graduates with the theoretical and practical competence to consistently design zero net energy built environments which balance ecological, economic and social sustainability with inspiration and beauty.

Such a condition would be a true alternative to the current method of incrementally adjusting the prescribed student abilities, and instead focus on the outcome for each and every student graduating.

If you agree, please sign the following petition as an individual:

http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?NAABPet&1

Furthermore, if you are part of a group or organization which has authorized you to sign on their behalf, please sign the institutional/group petition:

http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?NAABPet2&1

The properly-equipped and -prepared future professionals will thank you.

Peter Papesch, AIA
Chair, BSA Sustainability Education Committee
Former (founding) chair and current member, USGBC Massachusetts Education Committee
Co-chair, Back Bay Green Initiative
Member, BSA COTE
617 267-6598

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I have a question similar to the one Daniel raised nearly two years ago, that I don't see an answer to here. Do the learning outcomes have to use the word sustainability in order to count for this credit? Or if the learning outcomes clearly encompass sustainability concepts, is that enough to count? We have programs with learning outcomes that cover the social, environmental, economic aspects of sustainability, but they do not use the word sustainability...

Please advise.

Thanks!

peltonc's picture
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Hi Roxane,

Under STARS 1.2, it is not specified whether or not a learning outcome must specifically refer to "sustainability" to count:

Institution’s students graduate from programs that include sustainability as a required learning
outcome or include multiple sustainability learning outcomes.

However, the intent of the credit is to recognize institutions whose students are developing "specific sustainability knowledge and skills". Therefore, learning outcomes that encompass the social, environmental, economic aspects of sustainability would certainly count, regardless of whether the term itself is used or not.

I'm glad you brought this up - it is an area that we hope to clarify in STARS 2.0.