The Development of High Leverage Practices in Environmental Sustainability-Focused Service Learning.

Byung-Yeol Park
Postdoctoral Research Associate
University of Connecticut

A focus on ‘High Leverage Practices’ (HLPs), or ‘core practices’, has been central to the field of teacher education as a set of fundamental planning and instructional strategies, routines, and moves. HLPs are grounded in important learning goals, literature about how people learn, and evidence from teacher reflections of their impact on student learning. However, limited research has explored the potential role of HLPs in the field of applied sustainability education. And, at the time of this research, no research could be identified that examined the sociocultural processes of negotiation during which faculty and stakeholders work together to articulate and develop HLPs. This research is part of our larger IUSE funded project that seeks to further refine and expand the offering of environmental sustainability-focused service learning science courses known as the Environment Corps (E-Corps), currently consisting of the Brownfield Corps, Climate Corps, and Stormwater Corps. The main purpose of this research was to understand how the epistemic community members viewed HLPs and collaboratively worked together to co-create and refine HLPs. The research sought to answer the following research questions: 1) How did members of the epistemic community view HLPs and engage in the shared purpose of the creation of HLPs?; 2) How did the epistemic community members’ collaborative work support the development and refinement of the HLPs?; and, 3) How are the important features of the refined HLPs characterized? For this, we focused on the nature of stakeholders’ collaborative work in developing HLPs as the anchor within a particular epistemic community (i.e. the people designing and teaching these courses). Data collected included interviews with seven instructors and seven students, and four observations of the project’s instructional and integration team meetings across the 2019-2020 academic year. Thematic analysis was used to better understand how the epistemic community members negotiated and iteratively created the HLPs while maintaining shared teaching and learning goals. Our analysis revealed that the epistemic community considered the process of creating the HLPs as the way to improve the quality of their instruction. Additionally, connecting experience and feedback with educational research, identifying the purpose of instructional strategies, sharing practices for instruction, and creating a model for course expansion were central activities of this collaborative work. The three HLPs that were developed included: 1) eliciting students’ initial ideas; 2) informing approaches to problems; and, 3) developing informed solutions to address community environmental challenges. The iterative development of the E-Corps HLPs was seen as a key lever for illuminating a common set of theories, codes, and tools capable of supporting the expansion of E-Corps programming to additional STEM disciplines and universities, multiplying students’ learning opportunity in STEM service learning with a real-world environmental problem and community focus. Furthermore, this research also informs theories about how epistemic communities come together to design an innovative STEM service learning model within the context of a collection of undergraduate environmental and sustainability courses, while also offering insights into strategies to support the development of HLPs in new settings.


Byung-Yeol Park, University of Connecticut, Connecticut; Rebecca Campbell-Montalvo, University of Connecticut, Connecticut; Todd Campbell, University of Connecticut, Connecticut; Hannah Cooke, University of Connecticut, Connecticut; Chester Arnold, University of Connecticut, Connecticut; John C. Volin, University of Maine, Maine; Maria Chrysochoou, University of Connecticut, Connecticut; Peter Diplock, University of Connecticut, Connecticut