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Key experiences for the transdisciplinary approach: fieldwork-based training in sustainability science education

Shogo Kudo (Graduate Program in Sustainability Science, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Japan; Afromontane Research Unit and Department of Geography, University of the Free State – QwaQwa Campus, Phuthaditjhaba, South Africa and Institute for Asian Studies and Regional Collaboration, Akita International University, Akita, Japan)
Kanako Omi (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, International Christian University, Mitaka, Japan)
Kevin Florentin (Graduate Program in Sustainability Science, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Japan)
Doreen Ingosan Allasiw (Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 28 January 2021

Issue publication date: 22 February 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to describe how a sustainability-focused program in higher education can provide training and key experiences for implementing transdisciplinary approaches. The case is a fieldwork-based training course called the Global Field Exercise (GFE) at the Graduate Program in Sustainability Science, The University of Tokyo. The GFE is a methodological training course that emphasizes generating locally relevant research questions on sustainability.

Design/methodology/approach

This research is a case study regarding how a sustainability science program can offer a fieldwork-based training course that focuses on a transdisciplinary approach. Five students from diverse academic disciplines and cultural backgrounds participated in the GFE in QwaQwa where they conducted semi-structured interviews with six local entrepreneurs to identify the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship. The authors investigated the learning process and outcomes of the students through participatory observation in preparatory meetings, daily reflection sessions during fieldwork and a content analysis of feedback reports.

Findings

Four learning outcomes of the students were suggested: the reexamination of assumptions, managing misunderstanding and miscommunication, mutual learning and being empathic toward the local people.

Research limitations/implications

This paper suggests three key opportunistic experiences for the transdisciplinary approach: discuss the normative dimension of sustainability; build intersubjectivity among team members and adopt methodological pluralism; and become empathetic to diverse stakeholder groups to facilitate the cogeneration of knowledge.

Originality/value

How to design training on a transdisciplinary approach in educational programs remains an area for further exploration. This study addresses this knowledge gap by establishing a link between sustainability education and sustainability in practice.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The research is being supported by the JSPS, Japan Core-to-Core Program [grant number JPJSCCB20180002) and the ESDA program by the African Development Bank.

Citation

Kudo, S., Omi, K., Florentin, K. and Allasiw, D.I. (2021), "Key experiences for the transdisciplinary approach: fieldwork-based training in sustainability science education", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 615-634. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-05-2020-0185

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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