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A practical learning environment for sustainability and sustainable tourism: The case of student engagement at the sustainability house (SH)

Young Hoon Kim (Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA and Kyung Hee University, Seoul, The Republic of Korea)
Daniel L. Spears (Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA)
Elecer E. Vargas-Ortega (CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza), Turrialba, Costa Rica)
Tae-Hee Kim (College of Hotel and Tourism Management, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, The Republic of Korea)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 12 July 2018

Issue publication date: 15 August 2018

645

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to review the current joint master’s program between two international institutions in the USA and Costa Rica; to identify students’ perceptions and experiences with the sustainability house (SH); and to apply these experiences in an effort to improve the practical learning environment for future students.

Design/methodology/approach

In an effort to understand student outcomes provided by the SH, an in-depth literature review on practical learning environments and interview methods were applied. The following open-ended questions were asked in an effort to gather and consolidate student experiences with the SH. What are your experiences in/with SH? Please tell us briefly about your experiences. The language has been adjusted and interviewers answered questions and made clarifications if asked to. Master’s in international sustainable tourism (MIST) program students were selected for this study. Participants’ responses were recorded using the computer-assisted personal interviewing technique.

Findings

The most important characteristic students recognized about the SH is that it “provided us a safe place to fail”. One student described SH as “[…] a safe space where students can gain experiences of learning new processes firsthand without external pressures (e.g., on-the-job training, eventuation, and financial analysis)”. The safety attribute of the SH environment is considered as a comfortable place to learn from other classmates or visitors (mostly volunteers and interns). It is a “real” hospitality and tourism business-learning center, which is a great benefit to the students not only because of its environment but also because of the diversity among student’s educational and professional backgrounds.

Research limitations/implications

The primary limitations of this study need to be addressed. The number of interviews was very limited with one year data which could affect the generalizability of this study. In addition, it was not clearly explained to the student what rubrics and standardized metrics were used during interview process; after interview, students were asked to provide a better way to improve the research outcomes. For further studies, it is strongly recommended to provide the direction to make sure it applies to the conditions that are prevalent in the existing site to be examined.

Practical implications

Both strategies that link the SH to this MIST program have significant merit. Students implementing best practices in the courses have clearly identified the challenges of implementation, but all agree that there is tremendous value in the experiences they have received during their studies. Furthermore, using the SH as an engagement tool has motivated students to consciously interactive and collaborative in a more proactive manner.

Originality/value

This unique experience and operational competency at the SH provides participants with an in-depth understanding of the context and challenges of sustainability but needs to be detailed and promoted more in the future. The SH is facilitating a learning environment among not only students but also faculty and staff. The results clearly indicated that the SH has influenced sustainable behaviors by promoting interactive engagement.

Keywords

Citation

Kim, Y.H., Spears, D.L., Vargas-Ortega, E.E. and Kim, T.-H. (2018), "A practical learning environment for sustainability and sustainable tourism: The case of student engagement at the sustainability house (SH)", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 1019-1035. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2018-0015

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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