Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Tammy G. Kolbe


Nationwide, higher education institutions are increasingly interested in infusing sustainability content into their curricula. The world is facing complex and interconnected problems creating a need for college graduates with an understanding of the ecological, economic, and social dimensions of sustainability. There is a shortage of research studying sustainability-related teaching practices, particularly in higher education contexts. The University of Vermont (UVM) recently established Sustainability Learning Outcomes (SLOs) as a general education requirement. As a result of this initiative, sustainability-designated courses are offered across the university that fulfill the requirement, creating a unique opportunity to explore related teaching practices. The purpose of this study was to explore how instructors structured and taught the SLOs, how students learned UVM's SLOs, and which teaching practices students found helpful to their learning, within courses designed to meet this general education requirement.

To systematically gather people's perceptions of and experiences with the new general education requirement, this study used the following methods: 1) instructor interviews; 2) course document reviews; 3) classroom observations; 4) student focus groups; and 5) an online student survey. Data were collected from eight sustainability-designated courses. The variety of data collection methods enabled identification and triangulation of strong themes. Instructors used class discussions, papers, readings, projects, guest speakers, case studies, and reflective activities to teach sustainability content and skills. Students reported the following teaching practices as particularly helpful: experiencing a real world application, discussing sustainability issues in class, exploring different perspectives, and hosting guest speakers. Moreover, certain instructional methods may be better received with students with prior exposure to sustainability content. Findings suggest that learning from case studies, guest speakers, and written papers may be more helpful to students with higher levels of prior exposure to sustainability courses. This study's findings add to what we know about how instructors teach sustainability content and students' experiences of their teaching practices. They also suggest a number of implications for policy and practice around supporting professional development opportunities in teaching practices and assessment strategies, creating a teaching culture of experimentation and reflection, and using a variety of methods to assess teaching and learning.



Number of Pages

200 p.