Ohio State, Maryland collaborate on Sustainability Knowledge Assessment

Researchers at The Ohio State University and the University of Maryland (UMD) have developed an assessment to measure sustainability knowledge across its three domains: environmental, economic, and social. The Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge 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, little is known about 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 Ohio State and UMD each started developing their own sustainability knowledge assessments in 2009, then joined forces in 2012 to merge the best of each of their questions into one assessment. In spring 2013, more than 3,000 Ohio State and UMD undergraduate students completed the combined assessment. Researchers then analyzed how each question performed using Item Response Theory to create a valid question set for testing sustainability knowledge. They recently published that question set in the Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge (ASK).

The Ohio State and UMD 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, the University of Mississippi, Clark University (Massachusetts), Clarkson University (New York), and the University of Idaho Sustainability Center either have used or intend to use the ASK on their campuses.

Each research team also published articles explaining their processes of developing questions and conducting assessments to help others who are struggling to measure student knowledge on their own campuses. These papers are available, or will soon be available, online:

For more information, contact Adam Zwickle, doctoral candidate, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, zwickle.1@buckeyemail.osu.edu; or Mark Stewart, senior project manager, Office of Sustainability, University of Maryland, stewartm@umd.edu.

Tangled up in green

hydrilla for GBAn invasive species called hydrilla, pictured, is choking parts of the Ohio River, is also in five small water bodies in the Cleveland area, and poses a threat should it reach Lake Erie, says a CFAES expert. But boaters can help fight it. So can anglers, people who keep aquariums and water gardens, and dogs that like swimming. Here’s the story.

The Convention on Biological Diversity calls invasive species the second biggest threat to the world’s biodiversity after habitat loss.

(Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org.)

A college where you can get a degree in renewable energy or sustainable agriculture

wind turbines in corn field for GBThe latest issue of Cleveland Business Connects looks at the Agricultural Technical Institute’s new associate-degree programs in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. “Thousands of colleges are offering a course in solar, a course in wind, etc.,” ATI’s Russ Yoder says. “But very few even in 2013 are offering degreed programs in renewable energy. If you are from San Francisco or Seattle and interested in all things environmental, you need to come to Wooster to get this degree.” ATI, which is in Wooster about an hour south of Cleveland, is CFAES’s associate-degree-granting unit. Get details on the programs here and here.

‘The intelligent sprayer can reduce spray volume by 47 to 73 percent’

Erdal Ozkan sprayer techCFAES scientist Erdal Ozkan has developed a prototype for an “intelligent” pesticide sprayer for orchards and plant nurseries. The air-, laser-, and computer-assisted device is said to be the first of its kind in the U.S. The new tech, according to a report by the SEEDS competitive grants program (pdf; p. 32) of CFAES’s research arm, OARDC, “will help growers prevent excessive pesticide use and thus reduce production costs, worker exposure to pesticide risks, and adverse environmental contamination.” More testing awaits.

Good for water quality, good for the economy?

CFAES’s Richard Moore will present “Water Quality Trading: An Analysis and Comparison of Programs in Ohio” from 4:10 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29, on Ohio State’s Columbus campus, with a video link to the Wooster campus of CFAES’s research arm, OARDC. It’s free. All are welcome. Included will be details on the Alpine Water Quality Trading Plan, which Moore helped develop. The plan has enabled a northeast Ohio cheese factory to cut its phosphorus discharge, boost its use of local milk, and create 12 new jobs. Bottom line, the plan has increased the sustainability of the company and of local farms while improving the area’s water quality. More on the plan.

Drilling for answers

2013_EnergyShale484_5Ohio State scientists, including from CFAES, talk about their research on shale energy — what they’re doing, what they’re planning, what they’d like to do down the road — in a recent press release. “The shale energy industry is moving very quickly,” Zuzana Bohrerova, coordinator of Ohio State’s Shale Environmental Management Research Cluster, says in the release, “and there’s not really much science behind what’s happening and what impact it can have, good or bad.”

Tornado? Nature still bats last

aerial tornadoA tornado hit the Wooster campus of CFAES’s research arm, OARDC, in 2010 (video; 7:27). OARDC’s Secrest Arboretum was right in the storm’s path (pdf). Three years later to the day, CFAES forestry scientist Charles Goebel will talk about and show how nature is helping the arboretum bounce back. It’s next in the “Secrest AfterHours” series. The free public series features casual, informative programs on plants and free food and social time after.