ASUlogo School of Sustainable Engineering & the Built Environment, School of Sustainability
CEE598/CEE494/SOS598 Sustainability Ethics – Fall 2013


1. Instructor Information

Thomas P. Seager (ASU

Office hours: Wrigley room 322, Wednesdays 8A-9A

Twitter: Follow @seagertp, or look for #actionethics

2. Schedule

This class employs a blended (on-line and in-person) learning model and classes will regularly be conducted on-line.  As a general rule, we’ll be in class every Wednesday 9A-12N, in Wrigley 201.  On-line lectures will be posted at Please “Follow” the blog by entering your email address in the window at the right.

Sustainability Ethics is not a traditional course where class time revolves around lectures that are followed-up by homework exercises that, in turn, prepare students for even more lectures.  We’ve designed a flipped classroom where meetings will center on interactive activities, including game play, group centered writing assignments, and debates. This means you will be expected to do homework outside of class that takes the place of lecturing, e.g., reading blog posts and articles, watching videos.  Additional materials will be made available thru and websites such as and

Box is a cloud-based document sharing site.  You will receive an email from an instructor with a link to the Box folder we’ll be using for the course.  Follow the link and create a Box account.  If you prefer an email address that is different from the one at which you received the link, we may need to create a new invitation.

3. Description

This course has been designed around distinctive content and a unique blended learning (on-line and in-person) format. Students will explore the ethical dimensions of sustainability by being immersed in emotionally resonant, cognitively challenging educational games developed through a National Science Foundation grant, “An Experimental Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics”.

The games require collective action to solve and nudge students to reckon with two guiding questions: i) What are my obligations to others? and ii) What am I willing to risk to meet these obligations? Depending on the choices made, the games will allow students to collaborate or compete while exploring the following paradigmatic issues: 1) the dilemma of externalities, 2) the Tragedy of the Commons, 3) conflicts between “weak” and “strong” conceptions of sustainability, and 4) tensions between inter- and intra- generational justice.

The course emphasizes the four phases of the Kolb learning cycle: (1) abstract conceptualization; (2) active experimentation; (3) concrete experience; and (4) reflective observation. Consequently, students will complete assigned reading and discussion (verbal and written) tasks that provide a theoretical foundation from which to understand the nuances that typify the problems exemplified in the games. Then, they will attempt to implement solutions during game play, while demonstrating skill in: ethical analysis, ethical hypothesis formation, ethical justification, and collective deliberation. Students also will reflect upon their game-based experiences (often in conjunction with assigned readings), and explore the limitations or insights gained from the experience of game play.

4. Learning Objectives.  The overall goal of the course is to cultivate in students a sustainability awareness.  A state of awareness is essential for making good decisions in dynamic, dangerous, and complex environments.  Ordinarily, awareness is a set of skills that can only be acquired only thru training and experience.  Students building sustainability awareness will improve their ability to recognize sustainability problems and their moral or ethical dimensions, make projections about the potential consequences of different decisions relevant to the problem and make conscious choices when faced with difficult tradeoffs.

Additionally, Sustainability Ethics embraces several learning outcomes specific to engineering accreditation, including:

D.   Ability to work in, and provide leadership for, diverse, multi-disciplinary teams.

E.   Ability to identify, formulate, and solve civil engineering problems.

  1. Understanding of professional, sustainability, and ethical issues.
  2. Ability to communicate effectively at a personal level and professional level, in writing and speaking.
  3. Understanding of issues and impact of engineering solutions in a broad cultural and geographical scale that extends to metropolitan, regional, national and global levels.
  4. Ability to take into consideration contemporary issues and environmental impacts in civil engineering practice.


5. Grading Procedures and Policies

Grading Philosophy:  Qualitatively, grades can be understood as follows:  ‘A’ grades are earned by adding new knowledge to assignments – i.e., ‘A’ students exceed expectations and instructions in such a way that they are teaching the Instructor (and other classmates) and creating new knowledge useful to the world.  By contrast, ‘B’ students are demonstrably learning from the Instructor by following instructions.  ‘C’ students are typically putting forth consistent effort, but do not show clear evidence of learning relative to instructions.  A+, B+ and C+ grades may be used, at the discretion of the Instructor.  A-, B-, and C- grades will not be used, except in rare circumstances.

Grading System:  Grades are based upon assignments (including writing projects, a group project, several team and ethics exercises, and in-class exercises and on-line assignments totaling 900 points) and accumulation of experience points (XP).  The final grade will be computed as follows:

Grade average = (total assignment points earned + total XP earned) / (900 + total XP earned).

Because experience points are added to both the numerator and denominator in the grade average, accumulation of experience points can only improve the grades earned on assignments alone.  In the extreme, the limit of the student grade average approaches 100% as homework points approach infinity.

Game Play (100 points total).  Students will accumulate grade points based on their play in the sustainability ethics games.

Writing Assignments (500 points total).  Several different types of writing are expected, including tweets, comments (e.g., on Box), short essays, and two longer papers.  The papers will account for 200 points each, while the remaining assignments will account for 100 points (except for tweets, which count towards class participation as described below).

Design Project (200 points). Students will be assigned a final collaborative group project that revolves around designing a new sustainability ethics game. This exercise will enhance the active learning emphasis of the course and allow students to go from being game players to game designers. It will primarily assess moral reasoning skills and the capacity to apply knowledge obtained during the term—including knowledge of how to manage the “free rider” problem. The assignment is due at 12:30pm on November 15th (our assigned final)

In-class (100 points) & on-line participation (100 points).  Students will be expected to complete short essays in class, make postings on-line, complete assignments outside of class, and participate in class discussions.  The following guidelines may help students understand how participation in class is assessed:

100% – Extremely supportive of class and/or on-line discussion.  Initiates topics of discussion both in class and on-line (such as posting comments on the course blog).  Demonstrates leadership and aptitude for cooperative learning that benefits classmates.

95% – Exceeds minimum participation expectations in class or on-line.  Strong attendance record and consistent on-line participation.

90% – Meets minimum participation expectations.  Few absences.  Remains attentive.

85% – Absences and/or inattentiveness (e.g., falling asleep) have impaired contributions to class. Inconsistent on-line participation.

80% – Several absences and/or rarely attentive.  Lacking on-line presence.

Students are expected to show evidence of participation in the on-line lectures by using twitter.  Each on-line lecture will consist of a blog post.  In each blog post will be embedded several videos.  After watching each video, students are expected to create a tweet that makes a concise statement about the video, includes a link to the video, and the hashtag #actionethics.  (Do not tweet a title.  Include a verb in your tweet.  You might elect to summarize a salient point, share an observation or criticism, ask a question, or provide the answer to an example problem).

Experience Points

Contracts.  In research and design fields, grants and contracts are awarded on the basis of a Request for Proposals (RFP) describing the scope of the work needed and the terms under which the client is willing to award a contract (such as schedule).  Occasionally, there will be a need for independent or ad-hoc projects in Sustainability Ethics that go beyond the scheduled assignments.  At these times, the Instructor will issue an RFP to the class describing the opportunity and the estimated number of experience points the work is expected to be awarded for.  Students may then submit proposals to the Instructor that detail (at minimum) three pieces of information:

  1. The team members responding to the RFP and what their tasks will be for completing the assignment.
  2. The number of experience points each team member should be awarded upon completion of the contract.
  3. A schedule showing when tasks will be complete.

The Instructors may select one, several, or no proposals.  They reserve the right to award the contract to the lowest bidding team, the best team, or refuse any or all proposals.  If a proposal is accepted, the proposing team will be issued a Notice To Proceed.  Experience points will be awarded upon successful completion of the proposal.

Honors students may elect to complete contracts for honors credit.    

Blogs, wikis, and other social media.  Students are expected to participate in on-line class activities via the blog,,, or other media as part of the class participation assignment.  However, experience points may be awarded to the author in addition to assignment grade points based upon other’s ratings, “likes”, or the discretionary responses of other students.

Surveys and anonymous on-line quizzes.  To provide feedback to the Instructors, improve students’ reflections on their own learning experiences, and allow students to self-assess their own knowledge, on-line polls, quizzes, or surveys may be administered that award experience points to participants.


6. Classroom Behavior

  • It is better to show up late than not at all. Nevertheless, if time-sensitive exercises have begun—such as game play—lateness could entail disqualification from graded activities.
  • Smart phones and the Internet make us smarter. They give us access to facts and information that we no longer have to memorize.  Please bring your network-enabled devices to class and be prepared to use them to enhance our learning experience.  However, use of all electronic devices is prohibited during exams.
  • Class periods are discussion-based. Typically, some extroverts participate more readily than others, but it is often the case that one person who asks a question or makes a comment gives voice to something that many others in the class are also thinking. All students are expected to enhance the classroom experience.
  • The games can spark lots of emotions. Nevertheless, basic courtesy and professionalism are expected, even when having passionate discussions about the ethics involved with playing in various ways.

7. Online Behavior

  • Students are expected to display the same basic courtesy and professionalism online that is required in-class.
  • For students to help each other understand homework assignments, I recommend posting questions, observations, and comments over Twitter. You don’t need to follow each other, just end tweets with the special hashtag #actionethics. If you’re interested in reading supplemental material related to ethics, Dr. Seager can recommend several other accounts to follow on Twitter.

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