Steinberg Receives Gerner Award for Innovative Teaching

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Political science Professor Paul Steinberg has received the 2015 Deborah Gerner Innovative Teaching in International Studies Award for his work on The Social Rules Project, a set of multimedia educational tools about environmental sustainability. The award was presented at the annual conference of the International Studies Association (ISA), Feb. 19 in New Orleans and coincides with the release of his related book, Who Rules the Earth?, published by Oxford University Press.

The Gerner award, granted annually by ISA, recognizes an instructor who has developed effective new teaching approaches that engage students in the issues of war, peace, identity, sovereignty, security and sustainability. ISA typically awards professors whose teaching methods can be easily adapted and employed by other instructors for a broader impact.

“The real credit for this award goes to the students who made The Social Rules Project a reality,” Steinberg said. “Over 100 programmers, animators, web developers, policy researchers, character and portrait artists, and environmental analysis students gave it their all and created something remarkable.”

Steinberg, holder of the Malcolm Lewis Chair of Sustainability and Society and professor of political science and environmental policy, developed The Social Rules Project in collaboration with students from Harvey Mudd College and five other area colleges. The multimedia tools include an animated film, a video game, a social media website, interactive “institutional landscapes” and a Facebook discussion group all geared toward helping students and the general public better understand the institutions and rules that shape environmental policy and our daily behavior—and how to change those rules to move society onto a more sustainable path. The associated book, Who Rules the Earth?, rounds out the tools available to teachers and students.

The film, also titled Who Rules the Earth?, tells the story of a young woman who takes a journey to uncover the forces that are ruining the planet. She is confronted with the harsh reality that society’s rules shape every aspect of her existence, from the health of her community to building design and land ownership. Ultimately, she discovers that protecting the planet will take more than recycling or tree planting. Steinberg wrote and directed the film and worked with students from the California Institute of the Arts to animate it.

The video game, Law of the Jungle, was developed over a three-year period by a dozen undergraduates in computer science and the visual arts at The Claremont Colleges. The player returns to a home village in Central America and must discover, through dialogue and a series of game challenges, why local forests are being destroyed and how to rectify the situation through institutional design and community mobilization.

Steinberg also worked with students to develop the website, institutional landscapes and Facebook page, all focused on providing educational resources for teachers and students, as well as for members of the general public who are concerned about the environment and looking for ways to take action.

All materials are available for free online at and are accompanied by a teaching guide.

Steinberg has spent the past 20 years studying biodiversity conservation and the human dimensions of global environmental problems. Before joining the Harvey Mudd faculty in 2003, he was a visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. He also served as founding director of a policy program at RARE Conservation and as a research consultant to The World Bank and Conservation International.

He is the author of two other books: Comparative Environmental Politics (MIT Press) and Environmental Leadership in Developing Countries (MIT Press), the latter of which won the Harold and Margaret Sprout Award for the best book in international environmental affairs.