The Introduction to Sustainability course at the University of Iowa seeks to educate the aware, informed and action-oriented sustainable citizen. A phenomenographic analysis and retrospective pretest were utilized to determine how students formed conceptions of sustainability as a result of completing the course. The study indicated that student conceptions of sustainability can be characterized by the “aware, informed and action-oriented” spectrum. In written reflections following service-learning experiences, students provided ample examples of “awareness moments” where they expressed a first encounter with a wicked problem. In these same reflections, students provided examples of being able to move beyond awareness toward an action-orientation. Many students that were called to action through a service-learning experience expressed hesitation regarding their level of knowledge regarding certain issues. But, many students with this hesitation decided their next action step would be to become more informed. Therefore, even when confronted by a sustainability issue or dilemma that students felt were beyond their knowledge level, they many times expressed an action pathway to become more informed. By challenging student thought processes and exposing the immediate need for global change, the Introduction to Sustainability course empowered students to become aware, informed, and action-oriented sustainable citizens.
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