Education & Pedagogy


Environmental Education, Wicked Problems and Virtue

Ferkany, M., & Whyte, K. (2011). Environmental education, wicked problems and virtue. Philosophy of Education. Ed Robert Kunzman. 331-339.

In the face of wicked problems, participation processes that are well structured can fail if participants possess traits that impede deliberation. Previous lists of virtues for deliberations should be refined to include others that are critical to getting and keeping people merely involved in participation and enabling deliberative groups to harness the epistemic advantages inherent in participatory approaches. Consequently environmental educators should endeavor to cultivate these virtues when preparing students to participate as good citizens in public processes for environmental decision making and assessment.

2012 Ferkany-Whyte - Participatory Virtues

The Importance of Participatory Virtues in the Future of Environmental Education

Ferkany, M., & Whyte, K. P. (2012). The importance of participatory virtues in the future of environmental education. Journal of agricultural and environmental ethics, 25(3), 419-434.

Participatory approaches to environmental decision making and assessment continue to grow in academic and policy circles. Improving how we understand the structure of deliberative activities is especially important for addressing problems in natural resources, climate change, and food systems that have wicked dimensions, such as deep value disagreements, high degrees of uncertainty, catastrophic risks, and high costs associated with errors. Yet getting the structure right is not the only important task at hand. Indeed, participatory activities can break down and fail to achieve their specific goals when some of the deliberators lack what we will call participatory virtues. We will argue for the importance of future research on how environmental education can incorporate participatory virtues to equip future citizens with the virtues they will need to deliberate about wicked, environmental problems. What is the role of education for deliberative skills and virtues relative to other aspects of environmental education, such as facts and values education? How important is it relative to careful design of the deliberative process? What virtues really matter?

An Experiential, Game-Theoretic Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics

Sadowski, J., Seager, T. P., Selinger, E., Spierre, S. G., & Whyte, K. P. (2013). An experiential, game-theoretic pedagogy for sustainability ethics. Science and engineering ethics, 19(3), 1323-1339.

The wicked problems that constitute sustainability require students to learn a different set of ethical skills than is ordinarily required by professional ethics. The focus for sustainability ethics must be redirected towards: (1) reasoning rather than rules, and (2) groups rather than individuals. This need for a different skill set presents several pedagogical challenges to traditional programs of ethics education that emphasize abstraction and reflection at the expense of experimentation and experience. This paper describes a novel pedagogy of sustainability ethics that is based on noncooperative, game-theoretic problems that cause students to confront two salient questions: ‘‘What are my obligations to others?’’ and ‘‘What am I willing to risk in my own well-being to meet those obligations?’’ In comparison to traditional professional ethics education, the game-based pedagogy moves the learning experience from: passive to active, apathetic to emotionally invested, narratively closed to experimentally open, and from predictable to surprising. In the context of game play, where players must make decisions that can adversely impact classmates, students typically discover a significant gap between their moral aspirations and their moral actions. When the games are delivered sequentially as part of a full course in Sustainability Ethics, students may experience a moral identity crisis as they reflect upon the incongruity of their self-understanding and their behavior. Repeated play allows students to reconcile this discrepancy through group deliberation that coordinates individual decisions to achieve collective outcomes. It is our experience that students gradually progress through increased levels of group tacit knowledge as they encounter increasingly complex game situations.

Philosophy in the Field: Care Ethics, Participatory Virtues, and Sustainability

Goralnik, L., Ferkany, M., Thorp, L., & Whyte, K. P. (2014). Philosophy in the field: Care ethics, participatory virtues, and sustainability. Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, 1(3), 1-28.

Ethics is an important dimension of environmental humanities. Ethics education lies at the center of the curriculum design, food production, and market decision making at the Student Organic Farm (SOF) at Michigan State University. Students learn an ethic of care for and about animals, the farm ecosystem, and their food community. Recently we reflected on whether we should expand the ethics curriculum to also teach students skills for coping with situations in organic farming that involve multiple, often competing, values— situations many scholars refer to as wicked problems (Rittel and Webber 1973). We began to explore the possibilities of integrating the present ethic of care with a participatory ethics education designed to help students participate in deliberative processes and work effectively with others with different values under conditions that are physically, emotionally, and  intellectually grueling. This paper offers a humanities approach to experiential moral education aimed at preparing students to navigate values conflicts and challenging sustainability issues. At the heart of our approach is a blended care-based and character education pedagogy reflective of the kinds of character traits one might need to effectively engage these kinds of circumstances, what we refer to as participatory character (Ferkany and Whyte 2011).

The Need for Social Ethics in Interdisciplinary Environmental Science Graduate Programs: Results from a Nation-Wide Survey in the United States

Hall, T. E., Engebretson, J., O’Rourke, M., Piso, Z., Whyte, K., & Valles, S. (2017). The Need for Social Ethics in Interdisciplinary Environmental Science Graduate Programs: Results from a Nation-Wide Survey in the United States. Science and engineering ethics, 23(2), 565-588.

Professionals in environmental fields engage with complex problems that involve stakeholders with different values, different forms of knowledge, and contentious decisions. There is increasing recognition of the need to train graduate students in interdisciplinary environmental science programs (IESPs) in these issues, which we refer to as ‘‘social ethics.’’ A literature review revealed topics and skills that should be included in such training, as well as potential challenges and barriers. From this review, we developed an online survey, which we administered to faculty from 81 United States colleges and universities offering IESPs (480 surveys were completed). Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that IESPs should address values in applying science to policy and management decisions. They also agreed that programs should engage students with issues related to norms of scientific practice. Agreement was slightly less strong that IESPs should train students in skills related to managing value conflicts among different stakeholders. The primary challenges to incorporating social ethics into the curriculum were related to the lack of materials and expertise for delivery, though challenges such as ethics being marginalized in relation to environmental science content were also prominent. Challenges related to students’ interest in ethics were considered less problematic. Respondents believed that social ethics are most effectively delivered when incorporated into existing courses, and they preferred case studies or problem-based learning for delivery. Student competence is generally not assessed, and respondents recognized a need for both curricular materials and assessment tools.