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Environmental Education: An Interdisciplinary Symposium

Environmental education is a pressing need in our modern world. We at ACM schools are well positioned to address this need in an efficient and effective manner if we bring together our varied skill sets and approach the issue from multiple angles.

Unfortunately, the “siloing” tendency of academia often impedes communication across disciplinary lines. Our team proposes to help remedy this divide by holding a one-day symposium at which faculty members from a variety of fields at campuses across the ACM will share knowledge, ideas, and pedagogical methods for courses that address environmental issues.

When these courses are taught by faculty who are interested in the transdisciplinary connections among different approaches to the environment and have the resources to develop this interest, they are perfectly illustrative of the best aspects of a liberal arts education.

By encouraging students to evaluate the material from multiple angles and to appreciate the interconnectedness of environmental issues in the past and present, we can help them to develop the creative approaches that will be necessary to tackle complex environmental problems in the world.


Our goal is not only to foster networks across disciplines and ACM campuses for scholars pursuing research and teaching in Environment Studies, but also to develop an accessible framework for environmental education.

Attendees of the symposium will have the opportunity to expand their knowledge in Environmental Studies by contributing to research and pedagogical sessions that highlight issues in their various fields. It is also hoped that by collaborating with colleagues across disciplines, participants will establish lasting relationships with peers at other campuses so that those who work on environmental issues have a network on which to draw for feedback and support.

Another aim of this symposium is to share multi-disciplinary pedagogical approaches to Environment Studies that participants will be able to bring back to their home institutions and implement in their own courses. On the day itself, participants will have the opportunity to develop new (or improve existing) syllabi as well as share additional teaching resources, all of which will be made accessible online after the symposium. Publishing material from the symposium online extends the goals of this event beyond one day by promoting a holistic approach to teaching environmental studies that is accessible to educators at all stages.

Finally, we hope that this symposium will provide a model for regular activities of a similar kind in the future, perhaps a biennial event to be hosted at a different ACM campus each time. The symposium organizers would provide support for other faculty who wish to organize such an event.


To advertise the symposium we will release an open call in early September 2019 to all ACM faculty.  We plan to use Macademia and other ACM tools to send targeted invitations to faculty at each school based on individual research and teaching specialties.

Abstracts for those wishing to present and simple applications for those wishing to participate (along with requests for travel funding) will be due by late October. We will send notification of acceptance within a few weeks of the due date and will produce a schedule of speakers by the end of December.

The symposium will be held on a Saturday in late spring 2020 at Monmouth College. The format we have in mind is as follows:

  1. Morning Session: Sharing Course Content Across Interdisciplinary Lines
    1. A series of about four 20-minute presentations in which scholars from different fields share research topics that are likely to be useful to people in other fields. Each presentation will be followed by a 5-minute response from a faculty member in a different field who will discuss how the research presented could relate to their own teaching. For example, a presentation by a philosopher could be followed by a response from an anthropologist.
    2. Interdisciplinary break-out sessions in which faculty members discuss their own research with faculty members in other fields.
  2. Lunch
  3. Afternoon Session: Pedagogy and Syllabus Workshop
    1. A series of about four 20-minute presentations in which faculty members share a variety of pedagogical methods and approaches, such as how to incorporate experiential learning and how to address issues of race, ethnicity, and cultural difference.
    2. Break-out sessions organized along disciplinary lines (i.e., groups of those who teach in the same field) in which participants will workshop existing syllabi or create new ones.

We will work to make the symposium welcoming and rewarding for all participants regardless of their field, career stage, or level of experience teaching these courses.

Syllabi, bibliography submissions, and other materials will be gathered, organized, and shared as a set of Google docs within 8 weeks after the symposium.

Dissemination Strategies

After the symposium we will create a simple website or set of Google docs to disseminate the following materials among any faculty member who wishes to access them:

  • At least one syllabus from each field that is represented at the symposium
  • Additional teaching resources from those who are willing to share them
  • A bibliography of resources that participants have found especially useful in their research and/or teaching
  • Contact information for everyone involved and others who want to be added, resulting in a directory of faculty members whom others in ACM can contact for collaboration.

We will also encourage participants to pursue conversations with others in their disciplines sharing what they learned at the symposium, including organizing panels at their respective national and regional organizations.

Both among ACM campuses and in the broader higher education community, these presentations will encourage further collaboration of this kind in the future, leading to the increased energy and innovation that result from transdisciplinary collaboration.

Additionally, one or more participants will submit a proposal for the 2021 meeting of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) to share findings from the symposium either as a presentation or a workshop.

Outcomes and Significance

Some larger universities are able to devote abundant resources to programs that encourage interdisciplinary approaches to environmental studies. One example is the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment. At smaller institutions, however, courses related to the environment are more likely to be taught by faculty in a variety of different departments who may not have many opportunities to collaborate with each other or with faculty at other institutions.

At Monmouth College and Knox College, for example, recent or upcoming course offerings include Nature and the Environment in Antiquity, Environmental Anthropology, Environmental Racism, Environmental Ethics, and Early Modern Ecologies, taught by faculty in Classics, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Philosophy, and English, respectively.

Many students who enroll in these courses are not Environmental Studies majors, and may only take one course that focuses on environmental issues during their undergraduate studies. Conversely, Environmental Studies majors tend to be heavily skewed towards the sciences, and would benefit from taking more courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the subject.

Courses with an interdisciplinary approach bring together both types of students and encourage them to contribute their own skill sets and knowledge to class, resulting in more meaningful connections to environmental issues. Our symposium will provide those of us who teach these courses (or plan to in the future) the chance to better serve our students by facilitating much needed collaboration and communication across disciplines with our peers at other ACM campuses.

Collaboration and innovation among faculty

We aim to bring together both faculty who want to teach a course with an environmental focus but haven’t had the chance as well as those who already teach such a course but want to develop it further or make it more interdisciplinary.

The value of coming together face-to-face across disciplinary lines has already yielded benefits to people involved in this project even at the early planning stages: during a brainstorming meeting, we discovered that Roya Biggie (English at Knox) and Adrienne Hagen (Classics at Monmouth) have both considered the connections between colonization and botany in the literature they study, but in two different time periods and cultures. We look forward to additional conversations about this topic.

Collaboration between those of us who look at various historical periods and those who examine contemporary issues will help us all grapple with the long view of environmental problems in human history and work towards solutions to these problems.

Reducing institutional costs, demonstrating value of high-quality liberal arts education

By taking part in the symposium and subsequent sharing processes, participants will demonstrate that faculty at liberal arts colleges are teacher-scholars who continually seek to make our courses richer in content and more pedagogically effective.

The new syllabi that we design during this process will make us more flexible in terms of the courses we offer, and our departments will be more efficient in our use of faculty resources as a result. Students are curious about environmental issues, and our symposium will help our campuses respond to this demand for environmental courses using existing faculty members in a variety of departments instead of opening new hiring lines.

Our interdisciplinary approach will help our students develop critical thinking skills that will enable them to engage with the world in more meaningful and impactful ways, and will ultimately yield more socially-minded and environmentally aware citizens.

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