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.
What’s the key to training managers to approach problems in a holistic, sustainable way?
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:
- Year 1: Introduction to Business: CESR designs and teaches this first year course. The material introduces each functional area, including marketing, finance, accounting and management, and describes how functions relate to one another and to society. Instructors challenge students to consider how they will treat their employees, customers, the environment and the community. The course is intended to plant the seed of responsibility. “By giving students the language of sustainability in their first year,” says Sockell, “they can carry it into upper years.”
- Year 2: Disciplinary Specialization: Introductory courses in finance, accounting, marketing and management are offered by home disciplines and are required for all students. These courses build deep knowledge in all areas of business, giving students the skills to address interdisciplinary problems. CESR has no jurisdiction in these courses, but Sockell has observed that “because we started building momentum in first year, students demand to discuss sustainability in upper years.” Some CESR faculty also teach introductory courses, where they incorporate sustainability topics.
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.
- Year 3: Business Applications of Social Responsibility: In this required course, run by CESR, students apply their learning from the specialized second year courses. The interactive course structure fosters debate on sustainability dilemmas across all functional areas. Students present cases involving controversial business conduct and their peers debate appropriate action. Issues considered include the challenges of free markets and the impact of globalization.
- Year 4: Capstone Courses: All graduating students must complete a capstone course in their major discipline. CESR works with home disciplines to ensure each capstone addresses sustainable business: e.g. by suggesting sustainability questions for course assignments or providing instructors with pedagogical advice or materials.