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Helping Discover Students' Sustainability Knowledge

August 23, 2013
Contacts: 

Mark Stewart 301-405-4633

Researchers at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with researchers at the Ohio State University—a Big Ten university, have developed an assessment to measure sustainability knowledge across its three domains: environmental, economic, and social.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Researchers at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with researchers at the Ohio State University—a Big Ten university, have developed an assessment to measure sustainability knowledge across its three domains: environmental, economic, and social. The Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge (ASK) is already helping other colleges and universities discover what their students know, or don’t know, about sustainability.

Higher education institutions are scrambling to develop new sustainability academic programs to prepare students to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing humankind. From 2007 to 2012, the number of sustainability- focused academic programs grew from 27 to 588 according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). During the same period, 673 institutions signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and pledged to educate all students about sustainability.

Despite this growth, there is little information on what students know about sustainability when they enter college and what they learn while there. AASHE encourages all 254 institutions participating in the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) to test their students’ sustainability knowledge; however, few institutions have the time or resources to develop valid and reliable assessments.

Research teams at UMD and OSU each started developing their own sustainability knowledge assessments in 2009 and then joined forces in 2012 to merge the best of each of their questions into one assessment. In the spring of 2013, more than 3,000 UMD and OSU undergraduate students completed the combined assessment. Researchers then analyzed how each question performed to create a valid question set for testing sustainability knowledge. They recently published that question set in the Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge (ASK).

The UMD and OSU researchers invite colleges and universities to use some or all of the questions in the ASK to assess the level of sustainability knowledge among students at their own institutions. To date, Colorado State University, University of Mississippi, Clark University, Clarkson University, and the University of Idaho Sustainability Center either have used or intend to use the ASK on their campuses.