30 SES 05.5 PS, General Poster Session - NW 30
General Poster Session
Introduction and research questions
The United Nations (UNESCO, 2014) defined sustainable development (SD) as a process in which socio-cultural, environmental, and socio-economic perspectives mutually interact. Education for sustainable development (ESD) is commonly seen as a means to achieve a sustainable future for present and future generations. While action competence (AC; Breiting & Mogensen, 1999) is viewed as an approach to capture ESD learning outcomes, research into the effectiveness of ESD is still called for (UNESCO, 2017). Since the concept of SD in itself is highly complex and has led to different interpretations (Berglund, Gericke, & Rundgren, 2014), researchers who aim to answer to this call, studying AC in SD, are facing a challenging task. AC in itself is also a multidimensional concept, which can be defined as the ‘commitment, will, and ability to act’ (Jensen, 2000). Ability comprises knowledge of action possibilities and self-efficacy (Boeve-de Pauw, Gericke, Olsson, & Berglund, 2015; Jensen, 2000). The challenge becomes even bigger when research aims to develop instruments for assessing the AC in SD of children while embracing their specific perceptions of SD and AC. Accepting this challenge, we aim to develop such a measuring scale. However, in order to be able to include action possibilities that children themselves perceive as viable, we deemed a pre-study necessary. This should produce a number of action scenarios, that may inspire assessment of children’s knowledge of action possibilities as one of the subscales in a possible AC scale. Therefore, the objective of the current (pre)study, is to learn what children consider viable action possibilities for SD. We are interested in 10 to 14-year-old children because civic involvement is shaped in childhood, while social reference shifts from parents to peers in early adolescence (Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006). Research questions central to this study are:
- What are some sustainability issues that 10 to 14-year-old children want to see addressed in today’s society?
- What viable action possibilities do these children see that could address those issues?
- What scenarios do the children describe that would enable them to put these action possibilities into practice?
Jensen (2000) defines action competence (AC) as ‘commitment, will, and ability to act’. An action is a behaviour that is decided upon by the person who acts and is targeted at solving a controversial problem (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). Whereas willingness and commitment are not further conceptualised, ability is described as consisting of two components, (1) knowledge and (2) self-efficacy relating to the action. This knowledge can be directed towards the nature, scope, and origins of the issue, action possibilities and change strategies (Boeve-de Pauw, Gericke, Olsson, & Berglund, 2015; Jensen, 2000). Furthermore, Jensen (1997) describes visions of what the world could be like and how society could move closer to this ideal image. This component of AC is thought to develop pupils’ perceptions about what kinds of lifestyles or environment they want. The same study revealed that on top of developing a common vision, children’s engagement increased when they were given the opportunity to discuss and share their visions. To avoid a moralistic approach, AC should also focus on building competences in transforming power relations (Räthzel & Uzzel, 2009). Consequently, if ESD is to promote children’s AC through empowering strategies such as transformative and participatory teaching (Jickling & Wals, 2008) it stands to reason that research respects the same principles of inclusion and collaboration.
Since this exploratory (pre)study aims to answer questions about the children’s reality as they live it, we opt for qualitative research methods (Greene & Hogan, 2005). Consulting children has consequences for communication. Following principles of participatory research with children, participants will co-decide the (creative) means of expression they use with each other and the adult researcher (Veale, 2005) during group discussions and workshops. Sample and procedures For composing a sample that offers wide variation of perceptions and understanding, purposive sampling is guided by acknowledging contrasting cognitive styles as distinguished in Gardner’s (2006; 2011) Multiple Intelligences Theory (MI). MI describes seven intelligences that occur in various combinations of strength within an individual: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, inter-, and intra-personal. Approaching ideas and concepts from a variety of perspectives enhances understanding (Gardner, 2006). Consequently, next to covering diversity in gender, ethnic background, and age (ranging from 10 to 14), we will bear in mind to include a variety of intelligences when selecting participants. Participating children are respected as researchers who build knowledge in cooperation with the adult researcher. Thus, we aim for a realistic appreciation of children’s action abilities (Alderson, 2008). Allowing cooperative as well as individual activities, groups of two to four children are formed, but also individual work is appreciated. Groups offer a safe environment for children, in which the imbalance between adult and child is redressed (Hennessy & Heary, 2005). Participants are selected in grades five, six (primary education), and grade seven (secondary education). Therefore, cooperation is sought with a traditional primary school (grades five and six), one that focuses on education through investigation (grade five), and a secondary ballet school (grade seven). Starting with four workshops that each aim to cater for a different intelligences profile, more groups and workshops can be added until minimally ten different action scenarios for SD have emerged. First, children will be informed about the concept of SD in language they can understand. Group discussions should then promote a common (holistic) understanding of SD. Participants will further discuss what sustainability issues they find important and how they feel they can take action to address them. During the workshops, participants prepare a representation of the action possibilities, which they will show and describe at the final meeting. Discussions and final presentations will be audio recorded and filmed with consent of both the participating children and their parents. Analyses will be performed in NVivo.
We expect to find what sustainability issues the participating 10 to 14-year-old children want to see addressed. This will provide insight in what children themselves see as problematic in their current and future society. Furthermore we will discover some action possibilities that different intelligence profiles present. This will offer us a rich and varied range of viable action scenarios for children, which will be reported on. In the next step of our project, these will then be used as the starting point for the development of a measuring scale of AC in SD of children. The scenarios will be used in subscale ‘knowledge of action possibilities’ of the ability dimension in this measuring scale under development. From a methodological point of view, the experience gained in the course of conducting our research, may further insight into the challenges and opportunities of researching this age category. Respecting various intelligence profiles should allow for a rich variety of viable action possibilities for 10 to 14-year-old children. Furthermore, this approach may allow researchers to give voice to a greater variety of children in the search for ways to respect children’s rights to be heard (Greene & Hill, 2005). A detailed description of our experiences with the procedure as outlined in the method section, will further insight into the qualities and shortcomings of this methodological approach.
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