30 SES 02 A, Competence based perspectives in ESE
Sustainability problems need novel and lasting solutions, which, in return, calls for change agents with key competencies in sustainability. Various course offerings have been designed to help students develop such competencies. The research presented here is part of a larger research project entitled “Educating Future Change Agents” and focuses on project-based sustainability courses at higher education institutions in Europe and the USA. It is an ongoing study that investigates what key competencies in sustainability were developed and how they were developed. Empirical studies are being conducted on a joint course at Arizona State University and Leuphana University of Lüneburg (in-depth case study), as well as on courses at ETH Zurich, Barcelona Tech, and Lund University. The study adopts a multi-method case study approach, based on grounded theory, to collect, analyze, compare and contrast students’ learning processes and the development of key competencies in sustainability. Field observations and interviews were used for data collection. Photovoice method and focus group interviews yielded insights into the learning processes outside the classroom. Preliminary findings from the in-depth case study indicate that “inner” and “outer” conflicts facilitate the development of interpersonal competence. Conflict is understood as an oppositional relation within a subject or between subjects. Inner conflict is the oppositional relation between new experiences or impressions and established worldviews, knowledge and belief systems within a subject. Outer conflict is an oppositional relation between two or more established worldviews, knowledge and belief systems held by different individuals. Inner conflicts resulted from unfamiliar situations such as coming to a new place due to the international component of the course, working in multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary teams, and engaging with non-academic stakeholders. Outer conflicts resulted from deficient interactions in familiar situations, e.g., lack of direction from course instructors, what impacted student ownership. Both, inner and outer conflicts, if approached constructively, supported the development of interpersonal competence. Opportunities for reflection, through instructors, peers, and the lead researcher of this study, supported this learning process. A key recommendation from this study is therefore offering sufficient opportunities for reflection within courses. The comparative study promises to shed light on other aspects of learning processes in project-based sustainability courses such as those triggered through the cooperation with so-called “developing countries”. Further, the researcher’s role will be compared and contrasted to the role of instructors, tutors, project providers, and advanced students across the four cases. The findings are discussed against a number of learning theories such as transformative and experiential learning theory as well as cognitive apprenticeship. This research contributes to the growing body of studies on how to develop students’ key competencies in sustainability through engaged sustainability pedagogies.
This research adopted a multi-method approach with four case studies. Open, direct, and mostly non-participant observation was applied across the four case studies, from March 2017 to July 2018, and were accompanied by semi-structured interviews with instructors, students, and stakeholders. Focus group interviews, supported by Photovoice method, concluded the data collection for each case study. Students were asked to track their group´s teaching and learning processes along the entire course semester in taking photographs and handing them in with brief selection statements. These submissions turned into a gallery walk-focus group where photos were used as memory triggers of students’ learning processes. This collective meaning-making activity allowed a rich exploration of the learning processes. The Photovoice method was easy to implement and particularly useful for the remote case studies (ETH, UPC) as it allowed data collection from afar. Data analysis was performed simultaneously with data collection and informed subsequent data collection. Data was coded in Maxqda. First themes emerged during open coding, were refined through axial coding, and finally got consolidated in core categories, following a grounded theory based approach. Thereafter, research findings were discussed against cognitive apprenticeship as well as transformative and experiential learning theory to explain teaching and learning processes and approaches. Assessment of key competencies did not yield a sufficient data set, but informed related research in the lager project (“Educating Future Change Agents”).
The expected outcomes of this research are empirically-informed guidelines for project-based sustainability courses to enable students’ development of key competencies in sustainability. An in-depth case study at Leuphana University of Lüneburg and Arizona State University provides evidence how constructively dealing with inner and outer conflicts can develop interpersonal competence. International project-based courses offer students to experience a new place, work in multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary teams and engage with non-academic stakeholders – new experiences for many of the students that first need to be reconciled with their established worldviews and action patterns. Reflection was an important mediator of students’ learning processes, as also supported by learning theories. Resolving outer conflicts equally strengthened interpersonal competence through dialogue and re-establishing trust for further project conduct. This research encourages to embrace conflicts, inner as well as outer, as opportunities to learn and develop interpersonal competence. This key competency is needed for solving sustainability problems, as this can only happen in collaboration. The findings of this research encourage an attitude to learn through/from conflicts – in constructively approaching them, attributing time and space for shared and individual reflections.
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