The course is a component of the larger Terrascope program (of which I am a proud member of the first cohort) designed to teach leadership and teamwork skills to students as they work on unbearably large and complex problems related to global environmental management (usually) or a coupling between human and environmental systems more broadly. The class is expertly designed and run, played a major role in my own personal development, and would be the one class that I would unconditionally recommend to any incoming MIT freshman. Furthermore, if any faculty FE-reader is trying to build a program in "sustainable development" at the undergraduate level, I would strongly recommend that they try to develop a similar course.
The course is described by Kip Hodges (my first research supervisor, now at ASU) in a Science article this week (read it here for free):
Students are presented in the first class with a challenge that can be stated simply, but that is deceptively complex and has no straightforward answer. Over the course of the semester, it is their job collectively to “imagineer” a proposed solution, to articulate their solution, and to explain how they arrived at it.
(To be clear about how the class works, on the first day of my first semester at MIT, Kip walked into the room and put up on the board
"Develop a way to characterize and monitor the well-being of one of the last true frontiers on Earth – the Amazon Basin rainforest – and devise a set of practical strategies to ensure its preservation."
and said "go". I'm not kidding.)
The instructor’s role in this class is primarily to create an environment conducive to self-directed learning. There are no lectures, although the students are exposed in a casual way to a series of case studies that are germane to their problem....
In the early years of offering this subject, we passed on to the students a list of people who had been recruited by the instructional staff and had volunteered to participate in such discussions. However, we soon found that such recruiting efforts were unnecessary; many at all levels of the academic community are open to such informal interactions when they are precipitated by students asking questions that begin with a phrase like: “What is your take on ….” These casual conversations are especially valuable because they impart an appreciation for practical integration of acquired knowledge
The course is currently run by Sam Bowring and Ari Epstein and it's material is up on MIT's Open CourseWare. This year's cohort recently gave their final presentation (watch it here). My cohort's website is still up here (search long enough, and you can even find my freshman photo).