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Escaping the disciplinary straitjacket: Curriculum design as university adaptation to sustainability

Kate Sherren (Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia School for Resources and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada)
Libby Robin (Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia Centre for Historical Research, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australia)
Peter Kanowski (Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)
Stephen Dovers (Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)

Journal of Global Responsibility

ISSN: 2041-2568

Article publication date: 15 October 2010

Abstract

Purpose

Curriculum design is often a challenge. It is particularly so when the subject is sustainability, which is an aspirational but contested concept, draws on a range of disciplinary insights and is relatively new to university curricula. There is no single “right way”, or even agreement across the disciplines that inform the collective enterprise about general approaches to sustainability curricula. The likely content is ill‐defined and spans departmental units and budget areas in most traditional universities. Like other societal and institutional attempts at realising sustainability, curriculum design for sustainability is beset by difficulty, yet an essential intellectual activity. This paper aims to focus on these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper compares actual curriculum development processes for “sustainability” in two very different Australian universities, as studied using participant observation and qualitative interviews.

Findings

The paper draws out some of the common challenges of interdisciplinary curriculum design for sustainability, and identifies four principles transferrable to other institutional adaptation settings. It argues that curriculum design is an opportunity to develop collegiality, and further advance the problem area under discussion.

Originality/value

Case study research is often difficult to generalise to other settings. The opportunity to observe two sustainability curriculum design processes, operating in parallel, provides transferrable insights.

Keywords

Citation

Sherren, K., Robin, L., Kanowski, P. and Dovers, S. (2010), "Escaping the disciplinary straitjacket: Curriculum design as university adaptation to sustainability", Journal of Global Responsibility, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 260-278. https://doi.org/10.1108/20412561011079399

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited