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Shipwreck Avoidance Protocols - The Sulitest TASK Navigational Charts: What They Are and How to Use Them for Curricular Reform


By Scott G. Blair, PhD, Content Development Editor, Sulitest Impact

After the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012, higher education institutions (HEI) slowly began boarding the ship of sustainability, ostensibly heading towards a more equitable and climate-friendly world.

Given the important role education plays in shaping modern societies, and in forging the knowledge, skills, and mindsets of tomorrow’s workforce and leaders, it’s no surprise that the teaching faculty at HEIs—perhaps much to their surprise—find themselves at the helm of the ecological transition at their respective institutions. And like any ship captain sailing through unfamiliar and potentially hazardous waters, the teaching faculty of any university or business school needs accurate charts and maps to guide them forward.

This is because much of the Academy’s curriculum today is anchored to inequitable principles, outdated theories, extractive models, and business-as-usual practices. It’s no wonder that students emerge from our universities and management schools without the Earth-friendly knowledge and learning outcomes they need and deserve.

How indeed can we expect students to tackle head-on the Earth crisis their elders made and ignored if their very own professors and mentors keep delivering a 20th century curriculum via 19th century pedagogy? What’s needed is a professorial corps both committed to, and capable of, steering clear of the rocks, charting a new course, and navigating towards safer waters—towards a new world, a sustainable future. This is what Sulitest’s unique collection of TASK™ Navigational Charts is designed to achieve.

Ahoy, mateys! What be these navigational charts of which you parley?

As easy-to-read synoptic overviews of each of the 28 subjects included in the TASK™ matrix, Sulitest’s Navigational Charts (NavCharts) help faculty members identify new topics and learning outcomes to integrate into their teaching and learning processes. Accessible to all TASK™ users, each NavChart provides, for each subject:

• Definitions of key concepts

• Status regarding planetary boundaries or social foundations

• Key international regulatory initiatives in place

• Core subject content disaggregated into “bite-size” themes and bullet-points

• Ready-to-adapt learning objectives around the four types of knowledge assessed by TASK™ (i.e., descriptive, contextualized, causal, and integrated)

• Key resources and bibliographical support

With such easy-to-use charts, everything you need for smooth sailing is within your grasp!

Maritime Principles

All TASK™ NavCharts are designed with the needs of faculty in mind. They inform the ongoing process of reviewing and revising course learning objectives and corresponding curricular content in line with the TASK™ framework of sustainability knowledge. And of course, they are aligned to the TASK™ psychometric assessment tool institutions now have at their disposal to assess these learning outcomes, as well as the general impact of the larger educational programs they deliver.

It is important to note, however, that faculty members should view the NavCharts as flexible and adaptable. As such, instructors should determine individually—and on an ongoing basis—what TASK™ content appropriately relates to their specific course.

In practice, instructors from the same subject area or program should meet together, review the NavCharts in unison, and determine where there are gaps and/or overlap in teaching vis-à-vis TASK™ content. In this same spirit, instructors from different departments should also engage in a process of identifying teaching gaps and/or overlap in what must become a transdisciplinary approach. The larger goal is to ensure that during their years of study all students receive basic instruction across the entirety of the TASK™ knowledge matrix.

Swab the Deck, Matey! — Using Sulitest NavCharts lightens the work of syllabus revision

While space is limited for a deep dive, there are simple things instructors can do with the NavCharts to help them think about revising their courses in ways that lead to improved learning outcomes. And while it’s true that instructors are not always free to spontaneously change their course (indeed, many must uphold national curricular guidelines and institutional procedures), the following general recommendations are applicable to most curricular review processes today, whatever the discipline.

What’s important to recognize is that, like a hoisted flag, curricular revision signals that instructors and program directors are aware of the gravity of the Earth crisis and are committed to achieving a new set of student learning outcomes more aligned to the interests, well-being, and employability of students.

Revising the syllabus is hard work but it’s hugely important. If we replace the learning outcomes that got us into the Earth crisis with a set of ecoliterate outcomes designed to get us out of the crisis, perhaps we can avoid the shipwreck ahead. In this spirit, consider raising up the pole any of the following six flags to see who salutes them.

1. Rechristen your boat — A new course title

While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you can choose a title that makes students want to open it.

Indeed, there are many examples of instructors increasing course enrollments simply by changing the title of their course. Just as A History of Belief in the Middle Ages sounds less exciting than Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Torture in Medieval Life, so too might a course called Human Rights in World Politics sound more appealing and pertinent to students once changed to Human Rights, Ethical Responsibilities, and the Global Environmental Crisis. Similarly, a traditional course in Organization Behavior might be reconceived and more appropriately named Organizational Behavior and Misbehavior.

What’s important is that the title sends a message that the course addresses key concepts and issues in building a sustainable future. And because they appear on the student transcript, such “greened” course titles also convey to external stakeholders (e.g.,  employers) that the curriculum is designed to cultivate sustainability knowledge, skills, and attitudes—i.e., key 21st century competencies.

As such, the NavCharts provide a rich vocabulary instructors can use to change the course title and reframe the traditional content of a course so that it more intentionally responds to the sustainability crisis we face. In short, if it isn’t used to hide curricular greenwashing (and this happens too), a new title goes a long way in helping instructors announce—from the crow’s nest—"we're sailing to a new port of call.”

2. Treasure Island — The course learning objectives

It’s in the detailed work of writing well-conceived, well-articulated, behaviorally specific, and intentional learning outcomes that instructors can question and rethink the fundamental purpose of what they teach, and consequently, what students learn and come to value.

It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to get this part of the syllabus right. It’s for this reason that we provide instructors with a suggested bank of “ready-to-adapt” learning objectives for each subject of the TASK™ matrix and for each of the four types of knowledge assessed by TASK™.

Plus, we made sure these learning objectives are S.M.A.R.T; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. They use specific action verbs that instructors can witness in class and measure across a student’s work and overall performance.

Of course, once again, instructors are encouraged to take ownership of the learning objectives—selecting or rejecting specific objectives as appropriate and adapting the language to the content and context of the course in question. As such, the 28 lists of learning objectives should not be seen so much as a “code” to follow—they’re more like a set of guidelines.

In short, if the pirate map were your course syllabus guiding you in infusing sustainability literacy into your course syllabus, then the “X-marks-the-spot” is the location of the metaphorical buried treasure of your learning objectives! Pieces-of-eight for everyone!

3. The valuable cargo in the hold — Core course content

NavCharts can also be used to import new content directly into course lectures and exercises. As mentioned, each chart breaks down the larger subject into key ideas or topics, which are in turn broken down into more manageable bullet-point sub-topics.  

Let’s look at a few examples. Here is the content from a few sections of selected NavCharts.

  • Basic Income and Decent Work (NavChart 2.2.1)
    • Work and employment
      • Unemployment and underemployment
      • Precarious and non-remunerated work
      • The informal economy
      • Trade unionism, collective bargaining, and minimum wage laws
      • Workplace safety regulations

Presented in this fashion, the aim is to provide educators preparing a course on Human Resources or Supply Chain Management, for example, with a set of topics that—beyond the typical business-as-usual textbook basics—relate more currently to social welfare challenges highlighted in the SDGs, in this case around work and employment.

Or take another example like Ocean Acidification, a topic not normally integrated into a business education. How does the NavChart help instructors unfamiliar with this environmental phenomenon address such a challenge within a course, say, on Business Strategy? The bullet-point sub-topics largely speak for themselves.

  • Ocean Acidification (NavChart 1.2.3)
    • Socio-economic impact
      • Food security (fisheries and aquaculture)
      • Human health effects and toxicity
      • Marine dependent businesses (tourism, seafood)

Plus, the NavCharts help instructors identify reading material that covers these topics so that students in different programs are exposed to the phenomenon of ocean acidification and, in turn, can begin integrating it into their analysis of what constitutes sound business strategy. Engineering students might explore its impact on coastal infrastructure. Economics and business students might study the costs to coastal tourism or impacts on local employment. Finance students might investigate effects on financial asset management or remedies around “green” investment strategies. Gaining insight in this way from each of the 28 NavCharts, instructors will quickly see for themselves which topics have important implications for the specific courses they teach.

Let’s recall that the purpose of our seabound voyage is to educate students in such ways that they become more aware of the majesty, beauty, and fragility of Nature; more open to embracing values and behaviors that steward us towards balance and harmony; and more committed to finding urgent solutions to our most wicked of environmental problems.  In short, the “land-ho!” destination we seek is simple yet elusive: it is called sustainability literacy, and the NavCharts are your guides and maps towards this “New World” destination.

4. Sextant, compass, and ship’s clock — Learning assessment

To gauge our progress and measure our success in this endeavor, we will need a few robust and precision-crafted assessment instruments. These, of course, are TASK™ and the 28 NavCharts. The NavCharts indicate clearly what students encounter when taking TASK™, and the TASK™ score indicates how well a student is mastering such subjects.

For instructors and students alike—both possibly daunted by the considerable content of the NavCharts and tempted to think that “none of this really applies to me and my course”—the prospect of being assessed by TASK™ may constitute a “Shiver-me-timbers” moment. But by progressively integrating the content of the NavCharts into the course syllabus, by demystifying the Earth crisis though step-by-step efforts, by exposing students to unfamiliar concepts on the NavCharts little-by-little, and by recalling that for Change Leader institutions TASK™ can be taken multiple times, instructors will find that the NavCharts and TASK™ are your fellow crew members and friends.

And precisely because TASK™ is designed to be taken multiple times, the data it provides can be compared over time so as to measure the impact that curricular review is having on both teaching effectiveness and student achievement. If you use TASK™ and the NavCharts as your sextant, compass, and ship’s clock, you’ll never be lost or adrift at sea.

5. Captain’s Log — Required and recommended course readings

In addition, it’s likely that after reviewing the Sulitest NavCharts, faculty members will also see the wisdom in rethinking what they require students to read in their courses. For example, and on a personal note, I used a classic textbook on Human Rights for years until my own ecological awakening compelled me to choose a book more in line with global realities and the emerging Earth crisis.

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein wrote a book following her own awakening and entitled it: This Changes Everything. This simple but compelling statement appropriately expresses, I think, how much aging cognitive cargo we need to throw overboard as we struggle to build a sustainable world. In this same spirit, what we teach must change too, and we can start with the course textbook we ask students to read because the Earth crisis changes everything.

6. Walk the talk or walk the plank! — Pedagogy and instructional format

The varied content on each NavChart should also inspire instructors to rethink the way they deliver the course content pedagogically. Active learning, experiential education, undergraduate research, gamification, role-playing, field studies, service learning, ecopedagogy!—these are just some of the teaching techniques and pedagogies that have a track record of high-impact learning.

Indeed, when thinking about Earth systems, human welfare, and sustainable solutions, the Sulitest NavCharts help make more visible the countless connections and interrelationships that exist and which creative pedagogy can highlight and make salient. Whether on campus or in the local community, lots of innovative teaching and learning opportunities are there to seize once instructors become more “unconventional”, “unorthodox”, and “nature-based” in their delivery methods.

In short, how you teach can be just as important as what you teach. So, when it comes to imagining more impactful teaching methods and strengthening the real-life connection with one’s local environment and community—the captain’s orders are clear: Anchors away!

Swashbuckling towards sustainability? — Aye-Aye, Captain!

I read in an online dictionary that a swashbuckler—technically—is a person who engages in daring and romantic adventures with bravado or flamboyance. I cannot think of a better way to characterize the brave instructors and program directors setting out to review and revise the entire curriculum of an institution of Higher Education today. There are so many diverse stakeholders, conflicting interests, arcane regulations, skeptical parties, personal habits, technical difficulties, and “corporate” resistant traditions—not to mention limited resources, lack of time, attention shortages, little sense of urgency, and insufficient esprit de corps.

There is no avoiding saying it—these are uncharted waters, and no one wants a shipwreck! We hope the Sulitest NavCharts make your sailing smoother and help you steer your way forward. They are designed and hand-crafted for you.

Lastly, rest assured that we will continue this conversation with you and the wider Sulitest community through further blogs, webinars, and outreach campaigns. Feel free to share ideas with us too!

All aboard!

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