Category Archives: education

Earth Day & March for Science

I’m heading to the lovely Santa Cruz March for Scienceonlinesquare and Earth Day celebration, and wanted to share a song to celebrate that:

(You can also see the lyrics to IFLS hereHank Green has lots of other nerdy science songs, plus SciShow and Crash Course, and I guess I’m a fangirl.)

Happy Earth Day!

The Education and Sustainability book is in press

In case you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard much from me lately, for the last few months I’ve been busy preparing the manuscript that just went to the publisher.  I can now officially say the following are “in press” (and not just “in preparation”):

Merrill, M.Y., Burkhardt-Holm, P., Chang, C.H.., Islam, M.S., Chang, Y. (editors), Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia.  (edited volume at Routledge, Singapore, due out mid-2017)

Merrill, M. Y. Introduction: Education for Sustainability in Asian Contexts, (Chapter 1). In M. Y. Merrill, P. Burkhardt-Holm, C.-H. Chang, M. S. Islam, & Y. Chang (editors), Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia (pp. tbd). Singapore: Routledge.
Chang, Y., Dang, T.Q.T., Merrill, M.Y.  Economics Approaches to Sustainability: Methods and Applications, (Chapter 3) in M. Y. Merrill, P. Burkhardt-Holm, C.-H. Chang, M. S. Islam, & Y. Chang (editors), Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia.  (pp. tbd). Singapore: Routledge.
Merrill, M. Y., Chang, C.-H., & Burkhardt-Holm, P. Conclusion: The Current State of Higher Education for Sustainability in Monsoon Asia, (Chapter 17).  In M. Y. Merrill, P. Burkhardt-Holm, C.-H. Chang, M. S. Islam, & Y. Chang (editors), Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia (pp. tbd). Singapore: Routledge.

The book emerged from the conferences and community of practice I helped to organize around themes of Education for Sustainability in Asia. We had chapters that were submitted by authors in Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Korea, Thailand, China (mainland, Hong Kong and Macau), Indonesia and the Philippines.

More than half the world's population lives within 4100km of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, Southwest China.

There are more people living inside this circle than outside of it.
You may remember that putting this book together was a process I started a couple of years ago, not long after I started my job in Singapore:

For the Introduction to the book, I updated and reconsidered these comparisons (for the countries that are actually included in the book).  The conclusion then looks at how those contexts relate to the differences described in the preceding chapters. It also makes some comparisons between those efforts toward Education for Sustainability (or Education for Sustainable Development) in these countries of monsoon Asia, and some examples from Europe (the Master’s in Sustainable Development program Patricia Holm chairs at University of Basel) and North America (the Sustainable Cultures class I designed and taught at Cabrillo College).

It’s so good to have this stage of the project done! Now, back to that job search




from : Introducing … The Nearly Carbon-Free Academic Conference: The World in 2050 by John Foran

Scholars from University of Calfornia, Santa Barbara, wanted to see if they could reap most of the benefits of an academic conference without the huge carbon footprint associated with air travel. They have launched an interdisciplinary, online conference about climate futures:

…a conference where anyone could give a talk, no one had to fly to, and which anyone could attend and even participate in wide open discussions about the talks.

They thought that asking people to think about what the world would be like in 2050 would get a conversation going, and so they called the conference “The World in 2050:  Imagining and Creating Just Climate Futures,” and they invited the whole world to attend for three weeks starting on Monday, October 24 by going to a website at

to see what was going on.

Then they stayed home and waited to see what would happen.


The Scale of Change Over Time

(or “The difference between rust and fire”)

Randall Munroe has given us a great way to look at climate change over a somewhat-deep-time perspective.  (Remember, I’m an anthropologist, so 20,000 years is trifling – it’s next to nothing in geologic time, and only about one-tenth of the time since the first Homo sapiens evolved in Africa.) Today’s XKCD walks the viewer through a very nice scale model of the 20 millennia since the last glacial maximum, with some key events from the geological, archaeological and even linguistic record.  I’ll admit I haven’t taken the time to fact-check his placement of these events, but the ones I’m familiar with seem to be in about the right place (tragic extinctions of saber-toothed cats and Pokemon, I’m less certain about).  Scrolling through 500-year chunks of time, and reading the events therein, leaves one with a clear sense of just how out-of-the-ordinary the change over the last 500 years – and especially the last 100 years – has actually been.


It’s good to see that the associated explainxkcd has not yet descended into a flame war (as of 11am PDT on 12 September 02016).  Clear, popular and provocative explorations often attract the attention of professional climate-denier trolls – this even happened to me once, gentle readers, despite the fact that I have “dozens of loyal fans… baker’s dozens… they come in 13s.” Remember, when there is over 97% scientific consensus on something, it is about as close to proven as science can reasonably get.

As Randall Munroe had pointed out previously, the difference between the effects of regular corrosion and a car fire is simply a question of how fast the oxidization is happening.


When it comes to climate change, extinctions and far too many other phenomena, the difference between Anthropocene changes and natural background rates of change are roughly on that scale of difference.  It’s time to be in emergency response mode if we are to have any hope of saving what’s left.


Mind-mapping a career path

I’m deep in job search mode, meaning I’m spending a lot of time just looking for something that might fit, and sending out applications.  But there are deeper questions I should be answering: What am I actually supposed to be doing?  What do I want out of my next job?

Complex questions are not always amenable to mere lists.  Mind-maps are  often a better tool for dealing with them.  I started with a couple pencil-and-paper mind-maps, but rapidly ran out of room on my small notepad, and got frustrated with trying to erase and reorganize.  So I decided to try the high-tech approach.  I wanted to compare some of the better rated free mind-mapping tools out there.

MindMup: my qualifications

I organized my qualifications in MindMup, a (sort of) free online tool. It has a nice, intuitive interface, and I like that it allows users to make links between things on different branches (red dashed lines, below).  It did have some glitches when I tried to move large branches and sub-trees on the graph.  Frustratingly, the free version only lets you save and publish very small files directly. It does include an option to save working files to Google Drive, but it appears to only save the latest version and overwrite it, even if you try to change the name and do a “save as”.  When I attempted to edit it down, I nearly lost most of my work, and there’s no “undo”  😦  Below is a screen-shot of the pretty version, before I started trying to trim it down. Even edited way, way down with no pictures, I couldn’t get the file under 100Kb so that I could print or save and publish within the free version. (MindMup did control fairly nicely for creating the map, and the “Gold” version isn’t terribly expensive at US$2.99/mo, so if you’re willing to pay a little it might be a good choice.)


Coggle: my qualifications redux & qualities of my next job

I used the free online tool Coggle to generate a mind map of what I think that next job should look like.  I found that Coggle behaved much better than MindMup on many things, and it allowed me to save a fairly complex mind-map for free.  I re-created and expanded the mind map of my qualifications, and did one on the things I want in my next job.


XMind: how to search for my next job

XMind is open-source software with a free download for Windows, MacOS or Linux.  It offers different layouts and styles.  It also keeps many of its features in reserve for those who shell out for the ‘Pro’ version. I used it to do a map about ways to look my next job.  I like the many options for map style and the ability to show relationships.  The interface isn’t quite as slick as the others, but it’s still pretty intuitive.  The free version didn’t let me add pictures. What I was able to create I could save easily locally, and I was able to get a link for a share-able version, but it doesn’t seem to load well.


List: dream jobs

I did also try the list approach, just for comparison’s sake.  Here’s a list of my “dream jobs” (in no particular order) and some of the reasons I believe I would like them:

  1. Sustainability Pedagogy Specialist for United Nations or a big NGO
  2. Sustainability specialist within Teaching, Learning and Pedagogy program at large university
    • provide faculty professional development training
    • conduct research on EfS, especially within home university and with EfS Asia collaborators
    • some travel to conferences to present research
    • possible gigs at other universities do do faculty development workshops
  3. Faculty in Sustainability Studies Program
    • teach a variety of courses on sustainability themes
    • lots of time in the classroom and working with students
    • may include support for research, publications and/or conference travel
  4. Sustainability Coordinator for Higher Education Institution
    • conduct faculty, administrator, and staff professional development workshops
    • help organize student events, projects and clubs
    • do local community outreach
    • holistic view of institution and its sustainability activities (facilities, operations, purchasing, student life/co-curricular activities, research and instruction)
    • represent institution and present achievements at sustainability conferences like IGEE, AASHE or CHESC
  5. Interdisciplinary Introduction to Sustainability course developer
    • start with re-design of course at NTU, then branch out
    • hop from university to university, working with local faculty to set up core courses and help design programs in interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies
  6. Consultant in Sustainability and Biomimicry
    • reconnect with Janine Benyus, Dana Baumeister, Toby Herzlich and other biomimicry experts
    • direct application of my background in evolutionary and organismal biology
    • work on a variety of interesting design challenges
    • perhaps apply pedagogy expertise to redesign and further development of educational materials

Listing is less satisfying, but it does help to surface and articulate some ideas.  It could have been done in a mind-map, but perhaps that would be more about formatting than actually developing content.

So there you have it.  To sum up the review of the free tools:

  • I had the best experience with Coggle – easy to use and share results for free.  Not as full featured as the others, but I’m happiest with low levels of hassle.
  • MindMup was fun to play with, but the free version is not very useful for keeping and sharing files.
  • XMind required a download and install.  Features were good, but still awkward to share.
  • Mind-mapping with paper and pencils can be frustrating to make changes and can be awkward to share.
  • Listing, on paper or onscreen, still works for some things, but is less fun than mind-mapping.

Now, about that job…?


What would a sustainable Third Level Campus look like?

Another rehearsal video – this time for a short job talk on ways to address sustainability and sustainable development in third level (a.k.a. post-secondary, higher or further) education.

I advocate an integrated systems approach, where every aspect of the institution is informed by key sustainability competences, and viewed as an opportunity for students to develop these competences.  Communities of practice among faculty, staff and administrators, can help make this possible.

Works Cited and Recommended References

Abdul-Wahab, S. a., Abdulraheem, M. Y., & Hutchinson, M. 2003. “The need for inclusion of environmental education in undergraduate engineering curricula.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 4(2), 126–137. doi:10.1108/14676370310467140

Bacon, Christopher M, Dustin Mulvaney, Tamara B Ball, E Melanie DuPuis, Stephen R Gliessman, Ronnie D Lipschutz, and Ali Shakouri. 2011. “The creation of an integrated sustainability curriculum and student praxis projects.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 12 (2):193-208.

Barth, Matthias, Jasmin Godemann, Marco Rieckmann, and Ute Stoltenberg. 2007. “Developing key competencies for sustainable development in higher education.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 8 (4):416-430.

Cullingford, Cedric, and John Blewitt. 2004. The Sustainability Curriculum: The challenge for higher education: Routledge.

Jones, Paula, David Dr Selby, and Stephen R. Sterling, eds. 2010. Sustainability education: perspectives and practice across higher education: London ; Sterling, VA : Earthscan, 2010.

Lambrechts, Wim, Ingrid Mulà, Kim Ceulemans, Ingrid Molderez, and Veerle Gaeremynck. 2013. “The integration of competences for sustainable development in higher education: an analysis of bachelor programs in management.”  Journal of Cleaner Production 48 (0):65-73. doi:

Meadows, D. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Merrill, M.Y., Chang, Y., Islam, M.S., 2016. Communities of Practice in Education for Sustainability: A Case Study from Asian Higher Education, in: Sharma, V.K. (Ed.), International Symposium on a Sustainable Future-2016 (ISSF-2016). Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mumbai, India, pp. 127-143.

Merrill, M.Y., Chang, Y., Islam, M.S., Burkhardt-Holm, P., Chang, C.-H., in prep. Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia. Routledge, Singapore.

Mochizuki, Yoko, and Zinaida Fadeeva. 2010. “Competences for sustainable development and sustainability.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 11 (4):391-403. doi: doi:10.1108/14676371011077603.

Rieckmann, Marco. 2012. “Future-oriented higher education: Which key competencies should be fostered through university teaching and learning?”  Futures 44 (2):127-135.

Sandri, Orana Jade. 2013. “Threshold concepts, systems and learning for sustainability.”  Environmental Education Research 19 (6):810-822. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2012.753413.

Sterling, Steven. 2011. “Transformative learning and sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground.”  Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 5:17-33.

Wiek, Arnim, Lauren Withycombe, and Charles L Redman. 2011. “Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development.”  Sustainability Science 6 (2):203-218.


We’ve got goals: the 17 SDGs

Global Goals SDGs

The UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals took effect the first day of 2016.  I’ll be leading a discussion of these goals at the upcoming NTU Sustainability Salon.  As I see it, the most promising thing about this renewed effort is the intention to interlink these challenges, recognizing interconnections and building bridges between disciplinary silos.

Learn more: