ERG SES C 08, Sustainability and Education
In recent years, insights into the need for change seem to have gained more and more real momentum and there appears to be a willingness to address the challenge of sustainability transformation (UNESCO, 2014). Two recent international developments are symptomatic of the importance of education for sustainable development (ESD) in this regard. The first development can be seen in the recently ratified Agenda 2030, which is based on the Millennium Development Goals and translates them into a globally binding agenda (Griggs et al., 2013). The Agenda 2030 contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals, one of which makes special mention of inclusive quality education for everyone and the promotion of lifelong learning (DESA, 2015). A second development is intended to advance the manifold activities and experiences of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, which ended in 2014 (Firth & Smith, 2013). Since 2015, the further development and dissemination of what was achieved during the UN-Decade has been carried out by the Global Action Programme (GAP) “so that everyone has the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower them to contribute to sustainable development” (UNESCO, 2014: 14). Strengthening the competencies of multipliers is one strategy to ensuring inclusive, quality education for all and to empowering everyone to support sustainable development. The successful implementation of ESD into curricula and school practice strongly depends on how competent and committed teachers are in terms of sustainability (Barth, 2015). Consequently, GAP emphasizes “building capacities of educators and trainers” as one of only five priority areas (UNESCO, 2014). In order to act as change agents, teachers themselves need the ability to actually bring about change in different educational sectors. To do so, teachers need the chance to develop the necessary competencies along their own educational pathways which is why teacher education needs to provide this opportunity.
Over the last few years, a number of competence models and profiles have been defined, tested and elaborated that largely rely on Shulman´s (1987) categories of what constitutes a competent teacher (Elliott, 1991). Recently, Baumert and Kunter (2013) have designed a model of teachers’ professional competence which identifies four nonhierarchically structured aspects of such competence: knowledge, beliefs, motivation, and self-regulation (Baumert and Kunter, 2013). Bertschy et al. (2013) were among the first to adopt Baumert and Kunter’s general competence model for ESD and introduced an integrative model for “ESD-specific professional action competency in Kindergarten and primary school”. To best support the development of these competencies, students need the opportunity to engage actively for sustainable development (UNESCO, 2014). Yet, how learning situations can be designed and implemented can be elaborated with the concept of open learning environments (Hannafin et al., 1999). The framework of open learning environments provides a heuristic to analyze open-ended learning processes in ill-defined, ill-structured domains, which are typical of sustainability-related problems. The concept of the ESD-specific professional action competence of teachers (Bertschy et al., 2013) together with Hannafin et al.’s concept of open learning environments (1999) provides us with a conceptual framework to analyse learning processes of future teachers.
The following research question can be derived from these considerations:
To what extent does the learning environment of a course with focus on competence oriented teaching and ESD as part of the BA program ”Teaching and Learning” at Leuphana University Lüneburg support the development of sustainability related key competencies of students?
What are the desired and achieved learning outcomes of the course?
How do the students reflect on these outcomes and which learning processes do they perceive?
Which of the above mentioned competencies can be developed and observed after the course?
To set up the learning environment, university researchers work together with teachers from cooperating schools and actors from other educational institutions in a “community of practice” (Wenger, 2003). In a transdisciplinary manner (Lang et al., 2012), the different actors with their diverse expertise continuously develop, test, and finally implement a competence-oriented learning environment as a new learning format in teacher education at Leuphana University. Within this course, a group of up to 25 students works together with school practitioners in a joint project and is constantly supported by researchers from the university (Bürgener and Barth, 2018). Such project-oriented learning supports deep levels of engagement, participation, and self-direction (Brundiers and Wiek, 2013). Furthermore, cooperation with practitioners increases the chances of creating “socially robust knowledge” (Nowotny et al., 2001: 117) and reaching a “cultural shift of science” towards sustainability (Wagner and Ertner, 2016). The design of the specific learning environment that is being developed by the members of the community of practice is inspired by the idea of living laboratories, offering the opportunity to deal with real-world problems and transformation processes and to scientifically support the latter at the same time (König, 2013). This specific design fosters the creation of transformation knowledge, increasing the potential for innovation in and inspiration of society (Wagner and Grunwald, 2015). Within these real-world experiments, participants get the chance to co-design their environment and contribute to target-, system-, and transformation knowledge, which can lead to a better understanding of these transformation processes that eventually help the participants to become more actively involved. As a result, concrete and transferable action knowledge – needed to turn knowledge into action – might thereby help close the gap between training and practical knowledge (Bürgener and Barth, 2018). Our research is designed as case study following a mixed method approach, using qualitative and semi-structured interviews with practitioners, focus groups with students as well as focused observations throughout the course. The interviews and focus groups will be evaluated by grounded theory. Furthermore, we consider the implementation of competence assessment tools, such as minor case studies and/or multiple choice questionnaires concentrating on the development of sustainability related key competencies.
The research shall provide valuable information on how the teaching and learning environments as well as respective learning processes may be structured in order to ensure and foster the development of the required competencies. This would allow an improvement of future teacher education in sustainability. Finally, the goal is to provide a thick description of teaching and learning environments as well as pedagogical approaches in teacher education for sustainability at Leuphana University and evidence in how far individual courses ensure the development of sustainability key competencies for teachers as future change agents. The analysis of education at a course level promises insights that may be equally relevant to university instructors, administrators, and students. There is emerging agreement on the necessity for a large-scale transformation of how societies produce, distribute, consume, and interact. The guiding concept of sustainability calls for developing production, distribution, consumption, and interaction patterns that use material and immaterial resources in a way that maintains or enhances the well-being of future generations. The transformation necessary to achieve a sustainable world, requires a new workforce of professionals, i.e., change agents who are willing and capable of inspiring, supporting, and carrying out this transformation. Yet, if there is agreement that such professionals are needed, evidence is required on how to best educate them. Over the past decade, educational programmes have been developed at universities around the world. This research will contribute to sustainability and educational science by generating evidence for how to best educate future change agents. In advancing the evidence base, the project offers research-based guidance to other universities around the world on how to design impactful sustainability curricula and courses. Thereby, we hope to address the root of the sustainability transformation – educating future change agents in the best possible ways as to enable them to make a sustainable development happening around the world.
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