Teaching Socio-Environmental Synthesis with Case Studies: July 2016

Apr 05, 2016


Preparing students to tackle urgent and complex environmental problems is a critical challenge. Problems such as global water resource management and sustainable development are dynamic, multi-faceted issues that require interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to solve.

Socio-environmental (S-E) synthesis is a problem-solving approach that considers the integrated nature of the environment and human society and combines insights, methods, and data from the natural and social sciences to produce knowledge and inform solutions. The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is dedicated to educating about this approach and its broad relevance, and to teaching the core concepts and competencies necessary to understand, research, and address S-E problems.

The Teaching Socio-Environmental Synthesis with Case Studies program aims to deepen our collective understanding of the teaching and learning of relevant concepts and competencies, define and adapt the case study approach for use in the S-E context, and create a collection of high quality teaching case studies (SESYNC case study collection). The main component of this program is a four day short course that brings together a diverse group of scholars and educators to develop a S-E synthesis teaching case study for undergraduate or graduate level students.

Call for Applications

SESYNC invites participants for the Teaching Socio-Environmental Synthesis with Case Studies short course to be held July 19–22, 2016, at SESYNC in Annapolis, Maryland. The goals of the short course are to:

  • Introduce participants to S-E synthesis as a problem-solving approach.
  • Engage participants in advancing the teaching of S-E synthesis and related concepts and competencies.
  • Enable participants to use a powerful and effective teaching approach, the case study method, to teach S-E synthesis.
  • Support participants in developing their own case study classroom activity that can be used in their classrooms and shared on the SESYNC website.

We seek a diverse group of participants, including faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from both the social and natural sciences. Participants should have a strong interest in learning about and teaching S-E synthesis and be willing to commit to writing a case study related to S-E synthesis. We welcome applications from individuals or small teams (four people max) that will collaborate on writing a case study. Teams are strongly encouraged, but not required.

This year, we especially encourage applications from participants who are interested in incorporating data synthesis activities into their cases, particularly ones that challenge students to work with real data sets. One of the sessions within the course will focus on the teaching of data synthesis skills.


Registration fees are $250 for faculty and $100 for graduate students and postdocs.

Flights and hotel costs for non-local participants will be pre-paid by SESYNC in accordance with our travel policies. All eligible travel expenses (e.g., meals and ground transportation) will be reimbursed by SESYNC upon receipt of a completed S-E synthesis case study that meets SESYNC requirements and can be shared online.

All participants are expected to create and submit a completed case study focused on teaching about S-E synthesis by December 1, 2016. Please note that writing a teaching case study is a time consuming process, and completion of the case will require additional time beyond the duration of the course.

To Apply

Applicants should submit an application online using the webform here. The application webform includes questions about your interests and expectations for the course, your background, and a resume or CV.

Deadline for applications has been extended to April 5, 2016, at 5 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Participants will be selected based on fit of their background, interests, expectations, and idea for a case study. Additional factors such as career stage, research field, etc. will also be considered to ensure diversity. Applicants will be notified in mid- to late April.

Additional Considerations

  • Applications from teams are encouraged but not required; we will also try to facilitate the formation of new teams before and during the course. However, participants are not required to work in a team to write their case; thus, individuals are also encouraged to apply.
  • Participants are expected to stay for the entire duration of the course.
  • All participants are expected to complete a case study focused on S-E synthesis, either individually or as a team (no more than four members) by December 1, 2016. The case must meet the guidelines for a S-E synthesis case. (This will be explained during the course, but for a sense of what this entails, please visit the SESYNC case study collection.) All qualified cases will be posted on the SESYNC website (cases may be revised by authors at a later date, and we will replace the post with the revised version). Completion of case studies will require time outside of the course. In our experience, individually written cases take longer to produce than team cases, but much depends on the level of familiarity of the author(s) with the case details.
  • We ask all case study authors to include a Creative Commons license on their case studies. Participants will retain copyright for their cases and are free to submit their cases to other collections as long as the case can remain in the SESYNC collection. We require acknowledgement of SESYNC and NSF support, and permission to share the case on our website.
  • In preparation for the course, participants will be asked to develop topic ideas for their case studies in advance. Readings about S-E synthesis, the case study method, and other relevant topics will also be provided prior to the course.
  • Following the course, participants will be asked to complete follow up surveys about their experiences with writing and teaching their case studies. We strongly encourage all participants to seek opportunities to test their cases in a classroom.


Please contact Dr. Cynthia Wei, SESYNC's Assistant Director of Education and Outreach, at: cwei@sesync.org

Overview of Tentative Course Agenda

  • S-E synthesis and SESYNC
  • Teaching S-E synthesis
    • Defining S-E synthesis learning goals
    • Why the case study approach?
  • Designing a teaching case study
  • Assessing S-E synthesis learning goals
  • The Case Study Approach: methods and considerations
  • S-E synthesis case studies
    • Examples and lessons learned
    • What makes for a “good” S-E synthesis case?
  • Writing case studies: Stories, teaching notes, and student handouts
  • Special topic: incorporating data synthesis into your cases (past courses have included special topic sessions on using S-E frameworks and systems modeling)
  • Challenges and strategies for developing S-E synthesis cases

The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer
Minorities and Women Are Encouraged to Apply

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