RCE Greater Atlanta - 2019

A Transdisciplinary Learning Case Study: The Linked Courses Program at Georgia Tech
Basic Information
Title of project : 
A Transdisciplinary Learning Case Study: The Linked Courses Program at Georgia Tech
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Greater Atlanta
Contributing organization(s) : 
The Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, Georgia Tech; The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, Georgia Tech
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Ruth Yow
Organizational Affiliation: 
Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, Georgia Tech
David Eady
Organizational Affiliation: 
Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business
Jennifer Hirsch
Organizational Affiliation: 
Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain
Format of project: 
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Friday, May 24, 2019
Additional resources: 
Each Linked Courses theme has or will have an accompanying set of teaching tools, which are also hosted on our Center's website. For example, the teaching tools that support the Community Health theme are found at https://serve-learn-sustain.gatech.edu/readings-videos-and-resources-about-community-health; while the tools that support the Equitable and Sustainable Development theme are found at https://serve-learn-sustain.gatech.edu/readings-videos-and-resources-about-equitable-and-sustainable-development. The intention of these tools is to provide a shared intellectual framework tool, collaboratively developed by faculty teaching in the theme, as well as case studies that offer students accessible and compelling real-world examples through which they can engage their understanding of key concepts offered in the framework tool.
Geographical & Education Information
United States
Atlanta, Georgia
Address of focal point institution for project: 
Clough Commons, Suite 205A

266 Fourth St NW

Atlanta, GA 30332
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
In 2018, Brookings Institution named the City of Atlanta the most unequal in the country; by indexes of both wealth and income, Atlanta is deeply striated. It is also called “the City in a Forest” due to its lush tree canopy, and has a major river snaking through its center. It is a jobs hub—due to the presence of companies such as Delta, Home Depot, and Coca-Cola—and it is a higher education hub as well, boasting the nation’s biggest and most prestigious cluster of historically black colleges and universities.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
Atlanta has long been driven by the interests of corporate developers, and its vulnerable populations, and their health, has never been a consistent priority of city leadership. As Atlanta is poised to grow dramatically over the next 15 years, the city faces a proverbial fork in the road regarding whether equity and sustainability will be priorities in the current development boom.
January, 2018 to December, 2019
It is by now widely accepted that today’s critical global challenges, including sustainability, are wicked problems requiring solutions that transcend individual disciplines. "Transdisciplinary" teaching and learning is that which does not observe disciplinary boundaries, and this kind of teaching and learning is characteristic of effective ESD, as outlined in UNESCO’s 2017 publication, “Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Outcomes.” Within the research on transdisciplinarity, there is general agreement that it entails both connecting theory across academic disciplines and connecting theory to practice, and is best carried out by focusing on a real-world issue that does not respect disciplinary boundaries. At Georgia Tech, students -–particularly STEM students-- are too often not exposed to approaches from outside their majors; the Linked Courses program provides students and faculty with a unique opportunity to work with peers from other GT schools and colleges via courses linked under a common theme, such as Community Health, on a shared project with a community partner.
The program’s objectives are three fold, reflecting constituencies of students, faculty, and partners: 1) A transdisciplinary, real-world-projects approach is intended to result in students’ development of critical perspectives on their own positionality and approach to knowledge; 2) the collaboration of participating faculty across disciplines is intended to support faculty in undertaking teaching and research that, in the words of the National Academy of Engineering, “generate fundamentally new conceptual frameworks, hypotheses, theories, models, and methodological applications that transcend their disciplinary origins”; and 3) the engagement with Linked Courses by a partner organization on a partner-identified project is intended to draw on and leverage multiple forms of expertise, in and outside the university, in order to effectively advance sustainable development in the region.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
Linked Courses revolve around one of three sustainable communities themes - Green Infrastructure, Community Health, and Equitable and Sustainable Development - and engage off-campus community partners and real-world projects. Using a shared intellectual framework - developed jointly with faculty from multiple departments - faculty and students from two to four courses engage in a series of joint workshops and activities to explore problems and solutions from different academic and practitioner perspectives. Within their individual classes--such as industrial design, sociology, city planning, and communication, in the example of the Community Health theme-- they delve more deeply into the theme using the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain’s teaching tools; through guest lecturing in each other’s courses; and, during the Fall and Spring, by working together on a common partner project. Serve-Learn-Sustain’s collaborator in the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business helps to cultivate industry partnerships that leverage resources for community-partner-identified projects, but also offer opportunities for co-learning and community engagement.
Size of academic audience: 
The program’s size varies according to the enrollment of the participating courses; in Spring 2019, the Community Health theme had approximately 115 students.
We have not yet had the resources to formally assess student learning outcomes in these courses. However, based on our experiences to date, as well as an initial informal assessment of the program that we conducted in Fall 2018 - focused especially on the Summer 2018 Equitable and Sustainable Development Program - we have concluded that we should continue offering the program, as faculty who have participated agree overall that it is more beneficial to students than a conventional course. Faculty who taught in the Summer 2018 program found the program effective in teaching the five key concepts of the common thematic framework, with all of their ratings on a survey falling between 3 and 5, where 1=Very Poor and 5=Exceptional. Student testimonials also demonstrated enthusiasm about the program’s two mandatory workshops and its real-world partner engagement. Additionally, a number of instructors commented that students regularly referenced what they were learning in other courses. One faculty member said, “There was something larger going on behind the scenes...a little different than other semesters.”
Lessons learned: 
To date, we have offered Linked Courses four times, covering all three themes, during both the academic year and the summer - and we continue to learn from these experiences and hone our models. We are still experimenting with and constantly tweaking program structure and content, figuring out the smoothest and most effective ways to engage both faculty and students, both logistically and in terms of content, so that they will feel energized rather than burdened and so that we will help faculty advance their transdisciplinary teaching capabilities and students achieve transdisciplinary learning outcomes.
Key messages: 
Today’s critical global challenges, including sustainability, are wicked problems requiring solutions that transcend individual disciplines. The Linked Courses Program supports new ways of teaching and learning that connect students and faculty from different disciplines to each other, and to a partner in the community, in Education for Sustainable Development. The Linked Courses Program aims to engage multiple forms of expertise in and outside higher education to face the complex problems that define Atlanta’s social, economic, and environmental landscapes.
Relationship to other RCE activities: 
Several participating faculty are involved with the RCE Greater Atlanta, and we intend to support deeper engagement of partner organizations with the RCE via a certificate program in university-community partnerships that several collaborators from different institutions in RCE Greater Atlanta plan to initiate in 2020.
Not Applicable.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon BeltLine Tour LC ESD 2018.jpg (4.2 MB) Students tour the Old Fourth Ward Park, designed for recreation and sophisticated stormwater management, during a trip on Atlanta’s multi-purpose rail-to-trail project, the BeltLine. K. Lanza
Image icon Proctor Creek LC ESD 2018.jpg (2.88 MB) Students discuss watershed health and sustainable development with environmental justice scholar Na’Taki Osborne Jelks. K. Lanza
Image icon Workshop LC Community Health 2018.jpg (4.12 MB) Students from courses linked under the theme of Community Health enjoy their opening workshop and introduction to the theme. M. Das
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
SDG 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all 
Curriculum Development 
Global Action Programme (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development – Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 3 - Building capacities of educators and trainers