30 SES 13 A, Teaching ESE
After decades of international calls to re-cast education in ways that might build a socially just and environmentally sustainable society (Rieckmann 2018), formal education remains far removed from such an ideal. This is particularly true in England where the Government sees education’s purpose in serving the economy as ‘most important of all’ (Gibb 2015). Even in jurisdictions that explicitly promote education for sustainable development (ESD), the practical implications for teachers are unclear; in progress reports on implementing the ESD Strategy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), several Member States claimed that their teachers’ lack of competence in ESD was a major ‘bottleneck’ (UNECE 2012). In response, UNECE experts developed a framework of competences for educators of ESD (Ibid).
The UNECE framework failed to gain widespread support as it was seen as too complex, therefore an international project, called A Rounder Sense of Purpose (RSP), ‘distilled’ the UNECE competences into a more accessible framework (Vare et al 2019). The twelve RSP 12 competences can be arranged in a matrix using the three headings of the original UNECE framework: Thinking Holistically; Envisioning Change; Achieving Transformation. During the testing phase, project partners noted how the competences could not be isolated in the manner suggested by a table format so an artist’s palette was adopted as a means of demonstrating the fluid and flexible nature of competences that may be combined by the educator in creative ways depending on their context.
This research paper is based on the piloting of the RSP competences through an elective module offered to thirty level five student teachers.
Assessment has been through self-evaluation using reflective journals with certificates given at three levels depending on a student’s level of engagement with the process. In earlier runs of the ‘RSP module’ this assessment helped to reassure tutors of the module’s popularity and highlighted some of its likely impacts on the students. We are, however, aware that in assessing ESD competences there is an inevitable contradiction between highlighting the learning outcomes that each competence seeks to impart and the desire to encourage learners to think for
themselves. This double bind is highlighted by Shephard et al (2018) whose review of selected literature on competences identifies an important distinction between (i) the obligation on the part of learners to achieve pre-determined learning outcomes and (ii) the aspiration of educators that
their learners will choose, of their own volition, to use the new competences in the ways that they were intended.
During the 2019/20 academic year we ran the RSP module while conducting research, with the consent of participating students, into the rather open question: what have been the impacts and outcomes of following the RSP programme?
Alongside the search for a feasible assessment method (see below), this process revealed tensions regarding the use and assessment of competences including:
– The tension between aiming for depth, breadth and detail against the desire for usability and accessibility and how to reach a workable mid-point
– The relative merits of embedding the competences within an existing programme, or creating a discrete course
– The dangers of teaching and assessing competences separately rather than as linked, combined and overlapping
– The relative merits of direct assessment of the competences in action against assessing them indirectly through, for example, portfolios of evidence
If the sole purpose of ESD is to create change that contributes towards sustainability, then the question of what is actually being assessed remains troublesome; portfolios of evidence might show evidence of impact for example but cannot be relied upon to demonstrate genuine potential for long-term change.
Methodologically, we have taken a socially critical perspective, interrogating this question through dialogue with focus groups of students, accepting that this process is an integral part of their own (and our) learning. In a first research cycle, after teaching two thirds of the programme, we reviewed students’ written reflections to date. Secondly, we invited students to focus group discussions based on themes drawn from that analysis. In a third cycle, notes from these discussions were analysed and then triangulated through a follow up course which is still taking place early in 2021.
What emerged from this process was that student portfolios with their records of reflection and activity, provided evidence of: - Understanding of the competences and the issues they raise - Action taken on the basis of the competences and - Reflection on the competences themselves and on their own engagement with them. On closer reading of portfolios and discussion with students each of these aspects were further broken down into three possible sub-categories under each heading. Providing evidence of all nine aspects for each of twelve competences would require 108 pieces of evidence thereby sacrificing depth and engagement for breadth and tedium. We therefore defined an acceptable spread of aspects across the competences. Students also advised that greater flexibility could be offered in terms of the type of evidence provided, e.g. diaries, video clips, photos, vlogs. Further analysis of student feedback provided example statements that revealed students achieved these nine aspects at different levels. These qualitative differences helped us produce descriptors for each aspect which we can use to assign different grading levels. By shading the ‘best fit’ descriptors for each aspect (criterion) the assessor is able to build an overall impression of how competent the learner is, this then allows for a composite grade to be reached based on a global average. Whilst far from ideal, this process offers a practical approach that can be trialed with our next cohort of students. Results will guide further refinement before we implement this approach with a credit- bearing Level 6 module in 2022. It is envisaged that the trialing process will also produce further example statements that can be shown to students in order to help them understand what is being looked for to help guide them towards deeper and richer entries in their portfolios.
Gibb N (2015) The purpose of education. Speech by the Schools Minister to the Education Reform Summit. Accessed January 2020 at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-purpose-of-education Shephard K, Rieckmann M & Barth M (2019) Seeking sustainability competence and capability in the ESD and HESD literature: an international philosophical hermeneutic analysis,Environmental Education Research, 25:4, 532-47, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2018.1490947 Rieckmann M. (2018) Learning to transform the world: Key competences in Education for Sustainable Development. In Leicht A, Heiss J & Byun WJ, (Eds) Issues and Trends in Education for Sustainable Development. UNESCO: Paris. UNECE (2011) Learning for the future: Competences in Education for Sustainable Development. Geneva: UNECE Vare, P., Arro, G., de Hamer, A., Del Gobbo, G., de Vries, G., Farioli, F., Kadji-Beltran, C., Kangur, M., Mayer, M., Millican, M., Nijdam, C., Réti, M., Zachariou, A. (2019) Devising a Competence Based Training Programme for Educators of Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned. Sustainability 2019:11 1890.
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