Research, sustainability and learning
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Research, sustainability and learning
Bridging the gap between science and the practice of learning for nature, the environment and sustainability
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Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development (Hardback) - Routledge

Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development (Hardback) - Routledge | Research, sustainability and learning |
The Routledge International Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development gives a systematic and comprehensive overview of existing and upcoming research approaches for higher education for sustainable development. It provides a unique…
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Rewilding the World

On October 8th 2014 acclaimed writer, George Monbiot and the inspiring conservationist Alan Featherstone, Executive Director of Trees for Life presented their ideas on the concept of 'rewilding' to a sold out lecture room at the University of Edinburgh. In itself it was encouraging to see that their were so many people interested in what these men had to share, that there weren't even enough seats available.


Monbiot and Featherstone, who come from very different backgrounds, set out to to describe their perspectives on the social, ecological and developmental benefits of rewilding, including the return of 'keystone species' to degraded habitats across the globe. They also explained how their own experience and connection to the natural world had inspired them to pursue their mission to connect people to nature and to their cause to improve the quality of the natural world left around us.


If you follow this link you will be able to watch Monbiot's and Featherstone's lecture:


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Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education

Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education | Research, sustainability and learning |

How can you ensure that people do not only spend time thinking about important global issues like climate change or world food supplies, but also roll up their sleeves and do something about them? Four researchers, including Professor Arjen Wals from Wageningen University, think that the education sector holds the key. Teaching processes around the world could be given more influence and meaning by making pure science subjects, such as biology and physics, complementary to lessons in nature, environment and sustainability. Their article on this new approach to teaching, which is based on citizen science, is published in the 9 May edition of Science.

Throughout the world, ‘pure’ science subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, maths, geography and general natural sciences, which traditionally aim to build up knowledge and understanding, are seen separately from subjects such as nature and the environment, which together with the latest branch ‘sustainability education’ take a more practical approach. Although this certainly makes scholars aware of the current condition of our planet, their lack of practical perspective evokes a sense of powerlessness. For example, what can you do to prevent or respond adequately to forthcoming climate shifts? Affinity with politics, society and the economy are essential in this respect. Conversely, education in nature, the environment and sustainability (aka ‘environmental education’) does not equip scholars with the scientific insight they need to back up their proposed remedies.


When taught separately, natural sciences and environmental education give a disjointed answer to society’s demand for a truly sustainable society. “It’s time these two schools converged,” says Arjen Wals, Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development at Wageningen University. “If we cannot create a firm link between these two educational areas, scientific education is in jeopardy of becoming purely a vehicle for enhancing the innovative and competitive potential of a country’s economy”, he says. “At the same time, without a firm link with the sciences, environmental education will never be able to find a responsible and realistic way of dealing with the contradictions and uncertainties that are raised in the scientific debate surrounding questions of sustainability.”

The authors of the article in Science give a number of examples of environmental education, which cover the area where science meets society. Among them is the American concept of Edible School Gardens, whereby schoolchildren grow their own food in an educational garden while simultaneously learning about the things they grow in science lessons. The Dutch version is known as Groene schoolpleinen (‘green school grounds’). Another good example is YardMap, based on IT and citizen science. Citizens, both young and old, analyse biodiversity in their own neighbourhood by means of digital photos, special apps and Google Maps. The aim is to identify the areas with the greatest potential for boosting biodiversity. Action plans designed to ensure that the YardMaps are kept fully up-to-date are drawn up and implemented on the basis of studies and in consultation with scientists and local partners (including the municipal authority, garden centres and an NGO). The various YardMaps are linked via social media. The Dutch Natuurkalender works in much the same way.


Creating closer ties between citizen science, scientific education and environmental education will help citizens and scientists to take a meaningful and practical approach to the pursuit of sustainability. Wals: “It’s not just about linking up the content; it involves developing new competencies such as dealing with complexity, uncertainty and confusion, and devising and implementing meaningful local solutions”. This method of learning may also help to restore the damage to public confidence in science. The government will have to put more effort into stimulating and supporting the ‘hybrid teaching environments’ that blur the boundaries between science and society, school and neighbourhood, local and global, and shift the emphasis to the wellbeing of mankind and the planet.


Calls for transition and another way of thinking are becoming more urgent, says Professor Wals: “At the end of the day, the climate problem is as much in between our ears, as it is between the North and South Poles”. He backs this up with a remarkable conclusion: to his mind, the role of education and citizen involvement has been seriously underemphasised in the climate debate. In fact he wonders if we will ever be able to bring about a transition without committed, critical and competent citizens, who aspire to values that are not purely based on the material side of their existence but also on care for fellow human beings and, indeed, other species, here and elsewhere, now and in the future.

Join in the discussion on #CitizenScience


Wals, A.E.J., Brody, M., Dillon, J. and Stevenson, R.B. (2014) Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education, Science, 344, p. 583-584.

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Toolkit "Problem-Based Learning: A Case Study of Sustainability Education"

Toolkit "Problem-Based Learning: A Case Study of Sustainability Education" | Research, sustainability and learning |

This toolkit is one outcome of a three year project entitled: ‘Hybrid problem based learning: a scalable approach to sustainability education?’ funded by the Higher Education Academy's National Teaching Fellowship Scheme. It is a collaboration between Keele University, the University of Manchester and Staffordshire University. The project aimed to explore effective ways of adapting traditional problem – based learning approaches for the delivery of transformative sustainability education to large student numbers.


This toolkit is aimed at educators wishing to learn more about any one of the following areas:

-      traditional and hybrid problem-based learning;

-      delivering less resource intensive PBL;

-      the use of online learning technologies/social media in group-based teaching and learning;

-      education for sustainable development;

-      and, managing student group working dynamics.



Download the toolkit:,%20et%20al.%202013.pdf

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Nature and Sustainability: An Educational Study with Foucault and Rousseau

Nature and Sustainability: An Educational Study with Foucault and  Rousseau | Research, sustainability and learning |

This new book by EdD Lili-Ann Wolff gives a historical and philosophical view of education that deals with nature and sustainability and highlights the ethical dilemmas that arise if we expect education to be the main promoter of sustainability. The discussion makes a loop starting from contemporary educational problems and the quest for sustainability and continues to the era of Enlightenment. There it brings forward the thoughts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and finally it returns to the present time.


This study also employs Michel Foucault’s historical research methods, and even brings him in as a speaker with his own voice. Rousseau's writings offer excellent examples of the role of both ethics and education in dealing with sustainability. And Foucault sets the stage for understanding such fundamental ethical and educational issues as matters of power that act in complex networks on both individual and social levels.


The conclusion of the discussion between the three voices: the author, Rousseau, and Foucault, is that the sustainability enigma calls for an education that makes a profound difference, in order to be able to bring about mindfully responsible actions. The education has, therefore, to face three basic challenges: firstly, the promotion of self-transformation through self-understanding and self-training; secondly, the development of social relations and collective responsibility; thirdly, the promotion of understanding of the natural world and life on a global scale.

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Living and Learning Sustainability in Higher Education: A Research Study on Indicators of Social Learning

Living and Learning Sustainability in Higher Education: A Research Study on Indicators of Social Learning | Research, sustainability and learning |

by Ingrid Mulà (2011)


Higher education institutions not only provide research and policy in sustainability, but also create and facilitate environments for students and staff to develop their understanding and responses to sustainability. Sustainability learning opportunities in higher education are often thought to occur only in formal settings - facilitated by educators and lecturers in a classroom. This research looks at the learning which occurs within the informal and social contexts of higher education institutions. This study refers to this learning as 'social learning'.


The research was conducted at three universities in the UK which had made and explicit commitment to sustainability. Through a critical collaborative inquiry, this research sought to capture and document lived experiences of staff (academic, administrative and support) which were informed by social learning opportunities regarding sustainability within these institutions. This research will ultimately construct indicators as a basis for benchmarking practice which can help universities improve their contribution of social learning in the attainment of sustainability.

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Conversations about learning for sustainability

Conversations about learning for sustainability | Research, sustainability and learning |

Case studies of Scottish schools and early years centres to mark the conclusion of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).


The launch of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) on 1st January 2005 marked the start of a collective global effort to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning, in order to address the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems we face in the 21st century.


Scotland embraced the opportunity and the Scottish Government produced two action plans, Learning for our Future and Learning for Change , to set out its ambitions and targets for each half of the Decade. Within the school sector, the biggest achievements have arguably been the embedding of global citizenship and sustainable development education as themes across learning within Curriculum for Excellence.


As we approach the conclusion of the DESD in December 2014 we are prompted to reflect on how the reorientation of education towards sustainable development has made a difference at classroom level and how has it improved outcomes for learners, their families and school communities.


Education Scotland conducted a series of visits to 20 schools and early years centres between June and September 2014 to seek their views and gather testimonies. Positive outcomes were reported in relation to:

Confidence and skills of learnersLearning experiences and motivation of learnersThe reputation of the centresStaff morale, wellbeing and motivationCommunity partnerships and community spirit.


The full report contains case studies from the establishments. Various sectors were included: early years establishments, primary and secondary schools and schools for learners with additional support needs (ASN).


Download here:

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EVIDENCE of NATURAL CHANGE Case studies from the Scottish education sector

EVIDENCE of NATURAL CHANGE Case studies from the Scottish education sector | Research, sustainability and learning |

By Margaret Kerr & David Key

June 2013


The Natural Change (NC) Project works with people who hold  positions of influence in society, offering them potentially  life-changing experiences of wild places. It then goes on to support the growth of these personal experiences into leadership and social action for an ecologically sustainable future.


This report presents six case studies of participants from the education sector. The studies demonstrate that there is a strong link between taking part in the Natural Change Project and taking action to help create a more sustainable society.


The data show that participants have engaged in

several specific types of social action as a result of

their Natural Change experiences.

1. Influencing policy

2. Creating professional networks

3. Community development

4. Organisational development?

5. Conducting research

6. Extending skills


You can download the report at:

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Education as a response to sustainability issues. Practices of environmental education in the context of the United Nations Decade of education for sustainable development

PhD Dissertation by Katrien van Poeck

University of Leuven, October 2013


"The United Nations designated the decade 2005-2014 as the ‘UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development’ (ESD). Practices of environmental education (EE) are facing this changing policy discourse and practice and are challenged to find new ways to relate to it. Drawing on an empirical analysis of the policymaking process in Flanders as well as of seven very diverse EE practices we aim at grasping the educational dynamics emerging in concrete practices within a policy-context focusing on ESD.


Throughout the history of EE and ESD education is pre-eminently framed as an instrument to tackle social and ecological challenges through a narrowly conceived process of socialisation. Sustainability appears as a goal that can be reached by applying the proper learning strategies and, thus, education is reduced to the acquisition of those skills, competences, knowledge, or dispositions that are regarded vital so as to qualify people for sustainable behaviour or for active, democratic, and sustainable citizenship.


Our analysis of the scholarly discussion about EE and ESD shows how this narrow focus on ‘learning’ is inadequate so as to grasp what is at stake in educational practices addressing sustainability issues. Researchers on EE and ESD point at the importance of educational practices that, in one way or another, take into account the far-reaching implications of sustainability issues. Yet, all the same criticism is raised about the expectation that these educational practices can solve social and political problems. A variety of different opinions exists simultaneously centred around the paradox between acknowledging pluralism and taking into account sustainability concerns. The insights of Bruno Latour and Noortje Marres about ‘public issues’ inspired us to develop a conception of EE and ESD that moves beyond normative socialisation without falling into a sheer plurality of opinions, values, interests, and points of view. Thus, this doctoral research aims at deepening our understanding of what it means to approach sustainability issues as public issues within educational processes.


Our analysis of the interaction between policymaking and educational practices shows the emergence of a regime that fosters the ‘privatisation’ rather than ‘public-isation’ of sustainability issues within EE practices. That is, policymakers as well as practitioners and participants are somehow expected to be willing and able to see these practices, think and speak about them and act in/toward them in a very particular way and, as a result, EE practices tend to contain (instead of proliferate) contestation and controversy and to limit (rather than broaden) the public around sustainability issues. Yet, this regime to which ESD policymaking contributes does not force EE practices to the privatisation of sustainability issues. It is ‘merely’ appealing for such practices. As our case study reveals, at particular moments EE practices do create a space for public-isation and, thus, resist the appeal for privatisation. By bringingthisforward in our descriptions we want to invite and inspire the reader to be attentive to different ways of seeing, speaking, thinking, and acting."



Nick Maidment's OHS Quest's curator insight, June 11, 2014 6:24 AM

Definately think environmental studies should form part of childrens learning @ school...... we need to educate to assimilate........ make informed decisions

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CoDeS - Collaboration of schools and communities for sustainable development

CoDeS - Collaboration of schools and communities for sustainable development | Research, sustainability and learning |

CoDeS is a Comenius multilateral Network funded by the Lifelong Learning Program from the European Union. It focuses on collaboration between school and community addressing sustainable development. The network’s activities provide a European perspective on learning processes, models, values and tools for successful collaboration. The partners have wide ranging experience and backgrounds in Education for Sustainable Development. The network produces, publishes and disseminates a range of products: case study reports, a tool box, a travelling guide and different types of workshops.


The CoDeS Working Conference will take place from May 1-3 2012 in Vienna, Austria. Konekto will assist in the collection and evaluation of the networks output in general, and of the results of the conference in particular.


For more information go to:

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International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education is freely available for one week!

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education is freely available for one week! | Research, sustainability and learning |

The issue of sustainability in a higher education context is, to some extent, a rather recent theme. Current journals are either focusing on sustainable development or on general higher education. There are no specific fully-refereed outlets to date, to disseminate the broad body of work and knowledge currently available on sustainability in a higher education context. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education (IJSHE) is therefore the first scholarly publication to specifically address the need for the dissemination of this information.


Persons and organisations interested in sustainability in higher education, may access all issues published in the journal, free of charge, for the period 30th January - 5th February 2012, by following this link:


and using the following log-in details:

Username: Environ2012
Password: emerald


Further details about the journal and instructions for authors can be accessed at:

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Message in a bottle - learning our way out of unsustainability

Message in a bottle - learning our way out of unsustainability | Research, sustainability and learning |

Social learning – essential for a more sustainable world


"Making the world more sustainable can't succeed without social learning," said Arjen Wals in the spring of 2010 when he accepted the UNESCO- Chair 'Social learning and sustainable development'.


Sustainability needs to become part of people's thinking, their way of life and their value system. This requires learning processes that transcend traditional ways of transferring knowledge.


When people with different backgrounds come together in an environment in which they feel comfortable and where they get to know each other it will be more likely that new knowledge, energy and creativity emerge. Wals states that these are three essential ingredients needed to develop a sustainable society.


Central questions in the UNESCO-Chair research program focus on creating the right circumstances that stimulate and support new ways of learning.


Read the entire inaugural lecture:


Watch the inaugural lecture on Wageningen UR TV:

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