This is where my teaching and research overlap: what, how and why ‘water people’ – students, policy makers, trades people – learn the way they do.

1. The Affective Load of Sustainability Education: the implications of emotion on students’ engagement and knowledge retention. (new)

Global climate challenges are intensifying yet environmental/sustainability education has not lived up to its potential to generate societal-level pro-environmental behaviours. Our goal is to better understand how to engage students as the next generation of environmentally-minded researchers, policy makers and citizens to ensure more robust, pro-environmental outcomes.

Our collaborative, cross-national program will use three case studies and five integrated projects on student populations in interdisciplinary environmental studies and science (IESSc). In this research program, we will answer four questions: 1) What is the affective load—the implicit and explicit emotional components and characteristics—of sustainability education in an era of rapid climate change and deep uncertainty about the future? 2) What are the implications of this affective load for students’ willingness to undertake environmental/sustainability post-secondary education? 3) Given this affective load, how do different learning spaces—for example, classroom, lab, field, and/or online—influence students’ knowledge retention? 4) How might environmental/sustainability education be adapted to account for the affective load at the secondary and post-secondary levels to encourage student-citizens’ ongoing engagement?

Our comparative research will span three post-secondary institutions—the University of Waterloo, the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University—and include two interdisciplinary case studies focused on ecology and water governance. As an interdisciplinary team of faculty and emerging researchers, we will complete five projects to assess environmental studies’ and sciences’ affective loads and to generate insights and recommendations for pedagogical approaches across Canada (subsequent research will include: USA, Europe, Australia, UK).

Our work concerns issues at the intersection of social psychology (specifically the study of individual and group affect), climate change, modes of IESSc education, and changes in personal and social behavior. The COVID-19 pandemic and the almost global shift to online teaching makes even more urgent our societies’ need for better knowledge about how emotions interact with education content and delivery. Our team helps address this need by drawing on a framework built from social psychology and the field of pedagogic affect to conduct a self-reflective and unprecedented critical assessment of the assumptions that underpin different ways of teaching, motivating, and delivering IESSc education.

Our findings will be of great use to environmental educators, since they will offer new scholarly insights and applied innovations regarding IESSc curricula and practices. Although they will be specific to Ontario and British Columbia, they will have broad relevance for institutions and educators across North America, the UK, and Australia

2. Thinking about Water: What, why and how we teach to engage the next generation of interdisciplinary water leaders. (completed)

Decision-making processes around water resources are becoming ever more complex as populations grow and as the climate changes. Collaborative, integrated decision-making processes are essential to viable water resource management. Given the integrated, cross-disciplinary nature of these decisions – including hydrology, engineering, political science, economics, sociology and ecology – students need content knowledge and a range of diverse skills to work in this field.  My argument has been that students learn best through ‘solutions-based education’ using “high impact educational practices”[1] including collaborative relationships, global learning and exposure to diverse perspectives.

The Water Institute grant allowed me to conduct pedagogical research – with assistance from the Centre for Teaching Excellence – and then facilitate a 2-day workshop with specific tasks and measurable outcomes. A small and targeted group will be invited to participate based on pedagogical, applied and thematic expertise. For example, the participant list includes university pedagogy and interdisciplinary education experts, disciplinary experts in the fields of science, engineering, math/computing, health, arts and environment; representatives from industry and government, as well as international speakers who offered ‘lessons learned’ about interdisciplinary water education and programming.

The intent was to explore the way in which research and teaching can be used to be mutually reinforcing and offer opportunities for collaborative learning in both research and teaching.  The focus and discussion was on 1) reviewing the front edge of water research across WI expertise areas, 2) assessing current pedagogical research related to interdisciplinary water education, 3) identifying priority thematic content across disciplines, students’ skill requirements and best practices in graduate level teaching and evaluation.

[1] Kuh, George D. (2008) High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. AAC&U

3. Evaluating the Green Plumbers training program and its implications for Canadian water policies (completed)

Professional plumbers play an essential role in the implementation of water efficiency. If North America is to achieve high water efficiency standards and more ambitious plumbing codes, plumbers will need to be actively included in the water efficiency discussion. Repositioning the industry will required a cultural shift because the plumbing community has been mostly ignored in discussions of the larger environmental agenda and priorities. This repositioning will require substantial rethinking and retraining. New knowledge will need to be transmitted about emerging water efficient technologies, public policies and practices, as well as the rationale for use in residential and Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) sectors.

The Green Plumbers Program (GPP) initiated this knowledge transfer process. Originating in Australia and expanded to the United States, the GPP is a national training and accreditation program for professional plumbers. Their focus has been on upgrading skills and awareness of water efficiency, conservation, and the professional plumbers’ roles in the contemporary environmental context. In this paper we report on the efficacy of the GPP’s curriculum and the process of transferring explicit water efficiency knowledge. Semi-structured interviews and a survey were used to gather the data. We considered how the program participants incorporated the GPP curriculum into their ‘day-to-day’ practices and operations post-certification. We also investigated participants’ motivating factors and cross-referenced these findings to their overall assessment of the program. Recommendations focus on how the GPP can best influence and contribute to a more comprehensive water efficiency agenda.