Scaffold Learning: A Blueprint for Building Sustainable Managers

Students learn about sustainability when exposed to topics incrementally, throughout their degree. University of Colorado staff describe the approach.
Chelsea Hicks-Webster September 6, 2017
What’s the key to training managers to approach problems in a holistic, sustainable way?

“Remind them, remind them, remind them.” This is the counsel of Donna Sockell, Executive Director of the Center for Education on Social Responsibility (CESR) at Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder.

To teach sustainability, which it defines as values, ethics and social responsibility, CESR uses an approach called “scaffolding.” This means dividing topics into smaller pieces, delivered to students continuously throughout their degree. Pieces are integrated in required courses, so students learn to consider sustainability in all their decisions. Each piece of curricula seeks to build on, and reinforce, the last.

For undergraduate students at Leeds, required courses and projects build progressively more advanced skills for responsible decision making. The curriculum tiers are:
To support faculty who wish to incorporate more sustainability in these classes, CESR offers advice, guest lectures, case development support and modules. For example, CESR prepared materials and offered workshops to help faculty teach functional area aspects of the WorldCom case. Faculty prepared students for a visit from Cynthia Cooper, the WorldCom whistleblower.

Leeds’ sustainability education is effective, early findings suggest.

The centre’s work in curriculum development is paying off. A recent study found that after completing the 3rd year course, students have a lower tolerance for unethical behaviour. Students report increased awareness of workplace moral dilemmas and how to deal with them. (In contrast, most American young adults have little familiarity with moral dilemmas.) External acclaim has come as well: BusinessWeek recently ranked Leeds Business School 6th for undergraduate sustainability education in the United States.

Scaffolding sustainability education is difficult. But it’s possible. Donna Sockell offers advice:

More Information

Visit the Center for Education on Social Responsibility or contact cesr@colorado.edu for more information.