22 SES 06 B, Transition of Students and Professional Identities
The purpose of this paper is to outline and discuss a project currently being undertaken by the author which investigates student and academic staff perspectives about sustainability in pedagogy and curricula, in relation to professional identity, and in the context of a single-discipline – sociology. The central research question is: ‘What variations exist in sociology academic staff and students in their accounts about and experiences of sustainability in pedagogy and curricula in relation to their own professional identities?’
Sustainability issues are becoming much more prevalent in European higher education, as demonstrated in various areas of policy, practice, and research. My own interest lies in sustainability in teaching and curricula, issues already explored by authors such as Moore (2005), Cotton et al. (2012), Baughan (2014) and many others. Increasingly, such research has explored views of sustainability in disciplinary and other local contexts (Barlett & Chase, 2013; Jones et al., 2010), often suggesting that there exist barriers to integration of sustainability within curricula (Reid & Petocz, 2006).
But what about sustainability in higher education curricula, in sociology? For whilst sustainability has been considered in relation to other disciplines, relatively little examines sustainability in relation to sociology. This is surprising because sustainability and sociology share an interest in culture, society and social change. Therefore, this project draws on the experiences of sociology staff and students, first, because we can provide richer data by exploring the issues in a single discipline; second, because a significant minority of sociology departments in European and American universities already include coverage of sustainability in their curricula; and third, as there is a gap in research about the relationship between sustainability and sociology. In addition, the project examines these staff and student conceptions of sustainability in relation to professional identity (Henkel, 2000; Quigley, 2011), seeking to establish whether staff and students view sustainability to form part of their professional roles and identities as sociologists. Consequently, the project raises subsidiary questions such as: What do sociology staff and students understand by sustainability? Should sustainability be included within sociology curricula? Does sustainability inform self-perceptions of professional identity amongst sociologists? The inclusion of a student perspective is also important, there being relatively few studies that draw attention to the ‘student voice’ in sustainability, although recent work by Drayson et al. (2013) suggests that most students would like to see it promoted at their institutions.
Although sustainability research is under-theorised compared with other areas of educational research (Fien, 2002), the design, implementation and analysis of this study are informed by ‘the theory of the second best’ (Lipsey & Lancaster, 1956-7), a classic theory of welfare economics which has been applied to educational research on sustainability before (Cotton et al. 2009), and which will be elucidated on during the presentation. The project is also embedded in a rich literature which spans sustainability, pedagogy, and academic identity. Finally, although the study is being implemented within a particular national context (three UK universities), its outcomes and conclusions have relevance to a European, and indeed, international audience, in view of the of the increased exposure and relevance of sustainability in higher education at these levels (for example, Barlett & Chase, 2013). Also, participants of my study are themselves made up of a variety of national and cultural backgrounds.
The project will not be presented in its entirety, but, after explaining the rationale, research question, and literature base, I will discuss key tenets relating to the research approach, the findings, and the implications of the findings, emphasising the European context. Time will be set aside for comments and questions.
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