30 SES 07 A, Conceptual Work and Case Studies on ESE/ESD Learning in Higher Education (Courses)
Children today face significant challenges in response to living in a globalised world, and the impact of living in uncertain times given the predicted environmental threats to the planet. As such, there is increasing need for primary schools to have a global rather than merely local perspective and to cultivate in students a critical sense of environmental responsibility (Grace and Sharp, 2000; Pe’er, Goldman and Yavetz, 2007; O’Gorman and Davis, 2013). However, the 2015 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals highlight that there is much still to do to achieve this (UN, 2015).
Implementing environmental and sustainability education (ESE) within primary school contexts can be a complex, unpredictable and time-consuming process; perhaps as a result of this, and alongside increasing competing demands on curriculum time in initial teacher education (ITE) and a lack of government incentive (within the UK at least), it is often ignored in primary teacher education curricula (Powers, 2004). Some Higher Education (HE) institutions do provide ESE within undergraduate or postgraduate ITE, but even then it is often placed within other disciplinary areas, such as biology, rather than been seen as the discrete, interdisciplinary subject that it is (Petegem et al., 2005). Perhaps a reason for this is the relative lack of pedagogical agreement of both how to teach about and for ESE either in school or HE contexts (e.g. Cotton et al., 2007; Cotton and Winter, 2010; Walshe, 2016).
In response to this, this project aims to explore pedagogies for ESE within ITE, particularly within the primary education context. Initially, the project put together a full-day conference on embedding ESE into teacher education; it was underpinned by a pluralistic and participatory approach to ESE, as supported by authors such as Scott and Gough (2003), Borg et al. (2012) and Rudsberg and Öhman (2015). The conference comprised a number of keynote lectures alongside fully interactive workshops run by academics, practising teachers and children and educational charities. Its purpose was to deepen primarily undergraduate students’ knowledge and understanding of the nature and value of ESE and its pedagogy, to develop their engagement with academic research and their understanding of how this can inform good practice in schools, and to facilitate opportunities for students to network with others from within and outside this university context on ESE.
Alongside the conference, we undertook research to explore its impact on students’ understandings and perceptions of the nature and value of ESE. This will enable us to further explore the pedagogies for supporting students with developing their understanding of the nature and pedagogies of ESE, as suggested by authors such as Ashman and Franzen (2017).
The research was situated within a constructivist epistemological framework as an interpretive multiple methods case study. The research questions informing the project design are as follows:
- How and by what process did students’ understandings of the value and nature of ESE develop across the conference?
- What pedagogies are most effective in supporting students with developing their understandings of the value and nature of ESE? How might these be embedded into teacher education courses?
The research was undertaken with the aim of identifying effective pedagogies for supporting aspiring primary teachers with developing a more nuanced understanding of ESE; it was designed to explore the impact of the conference approach to learning and teaching, as well as the more specific individual workshops within it, on student understandings and perceptions of ESE. Methods All 100 conference delegates were asked to complete online pre- and post- conference questionnaires, with a self-selected sample of ten students (volunteers) additionally taking part in post-conference focus groups. These ten students were also given voice equipment to provide informal spoken reflection and commentary on their experiences across the day (after Keats, 2009); this is a methodologically novel approach to exploring student experience which further develops the originality of this study. Additional data collected throughout the day comprises video recordings of keynote lectures and workshops, and illustrations capturing the day drawn by two Art Students. Data Analysis The focus group and audio recorded student reflections were transcribed; transcriptions and open-ended questionnaire responses were submitted to thematic analysis using NVIVO and a process of naturalistic coding to back up our impressions from the interviews (inductive content analysis). To support the internal validity of the research and increase the reliability of our conclusions, data analysis was undertaken independently by two researchers. In undertaking the research we followed the BERA Ethical Guidelines (BERA, 2011) and obtained ethical approval from Anglia Ruskin University prior to the commencement of the project.
While data analysis is ongoing, preliminary reflections suggest that the conference developed students’ understanding of the nature and value of ESE. Throughout the conference, individual spoken reflections and focus group analysis suggest a form of cognitive dissonance occurred in which students felt challenged and in some ways uncomfortable with the highly interactive nature of the workshops, something they are not necessarily used to experiencing in their own seminars (particularly undergraduate courses). This suggests that a deep learning was occurring as students were encouraged to engage with novel ideas and approaches to teaching and learning in the context of sustainability, such as through art, drama and walking. Preliminary results further suggest that creating an environment in which students from different disciplinary and institutional backgrounds are brought together (in this case undergraduate Education students, cross-institution student volunteers and postgraduate students from a neighbouring university) enhances opportunities for interdisciplinary/inter-institutional learning, which is in itself an integral part of ESE; this provides an example of approaches that they might use when working with their own pupils to engage them in ESE. In this way, the conference encouraged students to think beyond the silo-based methods of teaching and learning that dominate ESE (particularly at secondary level), and encouraged them to reflect on the links between different subjects and a more holistic approach to ESE. In summary, students appeared to develop a more nuanced understanding of ESE across the conference, both in terms of what it is, but equally significant why it is important and what effective ESE pedagogies might be. Further, preliminary data analysis suggests that it gave students a better awareness of how ESE is embedded across their broader studies, seeing it as an integral part of their work, rather than as a discrete, stand-alone subject.
Ashman, S. and Franzen, R.L. (2017). In what ways are teacher candidates being prepared to teach about the environment? A case study from Wisconsin. Environmental Education Research, 23(3), 299-323.
BERA (British Educational Research Association) (2011). Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. London: BERA .
Borg, C., Gericke, N., Höglund, H.-O. and Bergman, E. (2012). The Barriers Encountered by Teachers Implementing Education for Sustainable Development: Discipline Bound Differences and Teaching Traditions. Research in Science and Technological Education, 30(2), 185–207.10.1080/02635143.2012.699891.
Cotton, D. R. E., Warren, M.F., Maiboroda, O., and Bailey, I. (2007). Sustainable development, higher education and pedagogy: a study of lecturers' beliefs and attitudes. Environmental Education Research, 13(50), 579-597.
Cotton, D., and Winter, J. (2010). ‘It’s Not Just Bits of Paper and Light Bulbs’: A Review of Sustainability Pedagogies and Their Potential for Use in Higher Education. In Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice across Higher Education, edited by P. Jones, D. Selby, and S. Sterling, 39–54. Oxford: Earthscan.
Grace, M. and Sharp, J. (2000). Exploring the Actual and Potential Rhetoric-reality Gaps in Environmental Education and their Implications for Pre-service Teacher Training. Environmental Education Research, 6(4), 331-345.
Keats, P.A. (2009). Multiple text analysis in narrative research: visual, written, and spoken stories of experience. Qualitative Research, 9(2), 181-195.
O’Gorman, L. and Davis, J. (2013). Ecological footprinting: its potential as a tool for change in preservice teacher education. Environmental Education Research, 19(6), 779-791.
Pe’er, S., Goldman, D. and Yavetz, B. (2007). Environmental literacy in teacher training: attitudes, knowledge, and environmental behaviour of beginning students. The Journal of Environmental Education, 39(1), 45-59.
Powers, A.L. (2004). Teacher preparation for environmental education: Faculty perspectives on the infusion of environmental education into preservice methods courses. The Journal of Environmental Education, 35(3), 3-11.
Rudsberg, K. and Öhman, J. (2015). The role of knowledge in participatory and pluralistic approaches to ESE. Environmental Education Research, 21(7), 955-974.
Scott, W., and Gough, S. (2003). Sustainable Development and Learning: Framing the Issues. London: RoutledgeFalmer.10.4324/9780203464625.
UN (2015). Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015. Retrieved from
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