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Article
Publication date: 27 October 2021

Jodie Birdman, Arnim Wiek and Daniel J. Lang

This research aims to investigate the role of project-based-learning within graduate sustainability curricula through the lens of key competence development. Project-based…

Abstract

Purpose

This research aims to investigate the role of project-based-learning within graduate sustainability curricula through the lens of key competence development. Project-based learning has become a widely recommended pedagogy for sustainability education. It is hypothesized that through collaboration, student autonomy and real-world application, students develop key competencies for sustainability. This paper also aims to examine the connection between project-based learning and competence development on a program level from the student perspective.

Design/methodology/approach

This two-year comparative case study follows the project-based-learning journeys of nine graduate sustainability students from three programs: the Master’s of Sustainability at Arizona State University, the Master’s of Sustainability Science at Leuphana University of Lüneburg and the Global Sustainability Science Master’s, an ASU and Leuphana collaboration. Over four semesters, the students each took part in four competence-oriented self-assessments and interviews to map their perceived learning throughout their programs. Additional contextual information was gathered from program and course materials and descriptions, instructor interviews and in vivo observations.

Findings

The defining aspects of project-based learning including collaboration, student autonomy and real-world connection do contribute to students’ self-perceived competence development. Student-driven and program-driven project-based learning experiences equally foster this result, as long as the pedagogical challenges of balancing support and student independence associated with each are mitigated through instructor actions, program design or individual student coping skills.

Originality/value

The results of this research can support higher education institutions in designing sustainability programs aimed at competence development through project-based learning. The focus on the curricular and program level combined with repeated overtime student-reported attribution to specific courses and activities bridges the gap between individual course case studies and theoretical recommendations for curriculum design. In addition to length and depth, this study also forefronts student experience of curricula as delivered.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 7 November 2016

Guido Caniglia, Beatrice John, Martin Kohler, Leonie Bellina, Arnim Wiek, Christopher Rojas, Manfred D. Laubichler and Daniel Lang

This paper aims to present an experience-based learning framework that provides a bottom-up, student-centered entrance point for the development of systems thinking…

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1683

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to present an experience-based learning framework that provides a bottom-up, student-centered entrance point for the development of systems thinking, normative and collaborative competencies in sustainability.

Design/methodology/approach

The framework combines mental mapping with exploratory walking. It interweaves mapping and walking activities with methodological and theoretical inputs as well as with reflections and discussions. The framework aligns experiential activities, i.e. mental mapping and walking, with learning objectives, i.e. novice-level sustainability competencies. The authors applied the framework for student activities in Phoenix/Tempe and Hamburg/Lüneburg as part of The Global Classroom, a project between Arizona State University in the USA and Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany.

Findings

The application of the experience-based learning framework demonstrates how students started developing systems thinking (e.g. understanding urban systems as functional entities and across different domains), normative (e.g. using different sustainability principles) and collaborative (e.g. learning across disciplinary, social and cultural differences) competencies in sustainability.

Originality/value

The experience-based learning framework contributes to the development of curricular activities for the initial development of sustainability competencies in introductory-level courses. It enables students from different disciplinary, social and cultural backgrounds, e.g. in international education, to collaboratively start developing such competencies. The framework can be adapted to different educational contexts.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 17 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 8 January 2021

Theres Konrad, Arnim Wiek and Matthias Barth

For professional sustainability work, graduates need to be able to work in teams and collaborate with stakeholders; in other words, they need to have developed…

Abstract

Purpose

For professional sustainability work, graduates need to be able to work in teams and collaborate with stakeholders; in other words, they need to have developed interpersonal competence. There is growing evidence that project-based sustainability courses facilitate interpersonal competence development. However, research so far has focused on single case studies and on assessing learning outcomes. The purpose of this study is to deepen the understanding of how graduate students learn interpersonal competence in project-based sustainability courses.

Design/methodology/approach

This study adopts a multi-case study approach triangulating observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups supported by Photovoice method. A comparison of three project-based sustainability courses in graduate programs at universities in the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Spain is conducted to gain generalizable insights on how interpersonal competence can be developed through project-based sustainability courses.

Findings

Receiving inputs, experiencing, reflecting and experimenting are four learning processes supportive of interpersonal competence development. Interpersonal attitudes seem to be mostly learned through a combination of experiencing and reflecting, followed by experimenting; not surprisingly, interpersonal knowledge is mostly developed through a combination of receiving inputs, experiencing and (collective) reflection; and interpersonal skills seem to be mostly learned through a combination of receiving inputs and experimenting, or, more directly, experiencing and experimenting.

Practical implications

These findings support the unique learning opportunities offered through project-based sustainability courses and can help instructors to better facilitate students’ development of interpersonal competence.

Originality/value

The value of this study is three-fold: (i) it provides a comprehensive picture of interpersonal competence, including attitudes, knowledge, and skills; (ii) it spells out specific teaching and learning processes; and (iii) it links these to specific interpersonal competence facets and components.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 22 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 2 December 2019

Theres Konrad, Arnim Wiek and Matthias Barth

Advanced skills in communication, teamwork and stakeholder engagement are widely recognized as important success factors for advancing sustainability. While project-based…

Abstract

Purpose

Advanced skills in communication, teamwork and stakeholder engagement are widely recognized as important success factors for advancing sustainability. While project-based learning formats claim to advance such skills, there is little empirical evidence that demonstrates how interpersonal competence is being developed. This study aims to describe and explains teaching and learning processes of project-based sustainability courses that contribute to the development of interpersonal competence as one of the key competencies in sustainability.

Design/methodology/approach

This study on an international project-based learning course adopted a multi-method case study approach, triangulating observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups supported by Photovoice method through which students tracked their learning processes. Data collection and analysis followed a grounded theory approach.

Findings

Learning through and from conflicts within a learning community can foster competence development in teamwork, communication and stakeholder engagement. This study identified inner and outer conflicts (within individuals versus between individuals or groups) as potential drivers of learning processes, depending on strategies applied to address these conflicts.

Originality value

The value of this study is fourfold: it demonstrates how conflicts can be leveraged for students’ competence development; it provides in-depth empirical data from multiple perspectives, it discusses the findings in the context of teaching and learning theories, and it demonstrates an application of the Photovoice method to track and improve teaching and learning processes.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 21 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 26 August 2014

Arnim Wiek, Angela Xiong, Katja Brundiers and Sander van der Leeuw

The article aims to describe the problem- and project-based learning (PPBL) program and the institutional context at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability…

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7383

Abstract

Purpose

The article aims to describe the problem- and project-based learning (PPBL) program and the institutional context at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability (SOS), with the goal of offering experience-based guidance for similar initiatives in sustainability programs around the world.

Design/methodology/approach

This case study presents the diverse PPBL activities that SOS offers on the undergraduate and the graduate levels and examines the institutional structures in place that support these activities. Data were collected through literature and document reviews, observations, interviews, student evaluations and faculty surveys.

Findings

The review of the PPBL program at SOS illustrates a case of successfully inaugurating a PPBL program in sustainability at a major university in the USA. Yet, a key challenge for this program and similar programs around the world is how to maintain the institutional momentum and make advances after the initial takeoff. SOS is attempting to address this issue by developing greater program cohesion and coordination, synthesizing past products and learning, monitoring and evaluating impacts, and developing PPBL training programs for faculty and graduate students.

Practical implications

The experiences and findings presented can help other programs to articulate the benefits of a PPBL initiative, anticipate implementation challenges and successfully support their own PPBL initiatives through adequate institutional structures. The review points to the fact that the major impact on both student learning and outcomes for partner organizations is achieved through a concerted effort by the organization as a whole. Successful PPBL programs require both top-down commitments from the administration and bottom-up drive from interested faculty and students.

Originality/value

This case study discusses the PPBL program at SOS. The findings can inform and support the ongoing transformation in sustainability education with the ultimate objective to build students’ capacities to address and solve wicked sustainability problems in the real world, competently collaborating with partners from government, business and civil society.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 15 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 31 August 2010

Arnim Wiek, Robert Ries, Lanka Thabrew, Katja Brundiers and Anoja Wickramasinghe

Sustainable housing and community recovery processes in the aftermath of tsunamis have to cope with direct impacts, such as fatalities, destroyed buildings, and loss of…

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1492

Abstract

Purpose

Sustainable housing and community recovery processes in the aftermath of tsunamis have to cope with direct impacts, such as fatalities, destroyed buildings, and loss of economic assets, as well as indirect impacts caused by shortcomings in recovery management. Recent studies on post‐tsunami recovery tend to focus on direct impacts, ranging from monitoring to prevention studies. Less attention is paid to recovery as a complex bundle of multi‐agent processes causing subsequent problems.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper presents results from field studies evaluating post‐tsunami recovery processes in Sri Lanka against the concept of sustainable housing and community recovery. Semi‐structured observations and interviews were conducted on eight sites in the south‐western part of Sri Lanka during field visits 2005‐2006. The research involved beneficiaries and other citizens, representatives from government and administration, field workers (non‐governmental organizations), and scientists.

Findings

Empirical findings identify subsequent problems for specific capital forms, across different capital forms, and across different administrative levels. Moreover, critical issues refer to conceptualizing temporal horizons, comprehensive planning and decision making, stakeholders' involvement, and institutional embedding of recovery processes.

Originality/value

Against this empirical background, the paper indicates improvement potentials referring to literature on comprehensive and adaptive planning to address the sustainable recovery challenges identified. The paper provides guidance for researchers, decision makers, planners, and field workers engaged in post‐disaster sustainable development.

Details

Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal, vol. 19 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0965-3562

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Article
Publication date: 1 July 2006

Roland W. Scholz, Daniel J. Lang, Arnim Wiek, Alexander I. Walter and Michael Stauffacher

This paper aims at presenting the theoretical concepts of the transdisciplinary case study approach (TCS), which is a research and teaching approach developed and…

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4397

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims at presenting the theoretical concepts of the transdisciplinary case study approach (TCS), which is a research and teaching approach developed and elaborated at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), as a means of transition support.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper reveals the historical roots of case studies, transdisciplinarity and sustainable development as teaching and research paradigms. The TCS approach is presented, which has been developed at ETH for supporting transition management of regional, urban, and organizational systems. This approach is entrenched by an ontology that reveals the basic characteristics of ill‐defined transition problems, an epistemology that refers to Probabilistic Functionalism and distinguishes between multi‐layered systemic and normative epistemics, a methodology that includes a set of methods for case representation (including modelling and projection), assessment, and strategy building, and a project management model that refers to more than a dozen TCSs in the field of sustainable development. Problems of validity of TCSs as a research methodology are discussed.

Findings

Three major strengths of the TCS approach presented in the paper are: that it is based on three sound paradigms, which focus on different, relevant characteristics of complex, human‐environment systems; i.e. the case study approach, transdisciplinarity and sustainable development, that it is strictly organized according to an elaborated and consistent theoretical framework that includes ontological, epistemological, methodological, and organizational considerations, and that it is itself subject to an ongoing inquiry and adaptation process. All theoretical considerations of the paper are clarified be elaborated examples from the more than 10 years experience with TCS of the authors.

Practical implications

The paper gives a comprehensive overview of the theoretical foundation of TCS that might assist other scientists engaged in case study research and teaching to further develop their approaches. Additionally, relevant topics for further research in the field of TCS are presented which hopefully induce an inspiring discussion among case study researchers.

Originality/value

As far we know, this paper is one of the first that presents a comprehensive and theoretically sound overview of applying transdisciplinary case studies as means of sustainability learning. Thus, it can be seen as a first, crucial step for establishing the new research field of TCS research and a sound research community of complex, transdisciplinary problem solving towards sustainability learning.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 7 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 21 September 2010

Katja Brundiers, Arnim Wiek and Charles L. Redman

Academic sustainability programs aim to develop key competencies in sustainability, including problem‐solving skills and the ability to collaborate successfully with…

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6880

Abstract

Purpose

Academic sustainability programs aim to develop key competencies in sustainability, including problem‐solving skills and the ability to collaborate successfully with experts and stakeholders. These key competencies may be most fully developed in new teaching and learning situations. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the kind of, and extent to which, these key competencies can be acquired in real‐world learning opportunities.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper summarizes key competencies in sustainability, identifies criteria for real‐world learning opportunities in sustainability programs, and draws on dominant real‐world learning models including project‐ and problem‐based learning, service learning, and internships in communities, businesses, and governments. These components are integrated into a framework to design real‐world learning opportunities.

Findings

A “functional and progressive” model of real‐world learning opportunities seems most conducive to introduce students (as well as faculty and community partners) to collaborative research between academic researchers and practitioners. The stepwise process combined with additional principles allows building competencies such as problem solving, linking knowledge to action, and collaborative work, while applying concepts and methods from the field of sustainability.

Practical implications

The paper offers examples of real‐world learning opportunities at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, discusses general challenges of implementation and organizational learning, and draws attention to critical success factors such as collaborative design, coordination, and integration in general introductory courses for undergraduate students.

Originality/value

The paper contributes to sustainability education by clarifying how real‐world learning opportunities contribute to the acquisition of key competencies in sustainability. It proposes a functional and progressive model to be integrated into the (undergraduate) curriculum and suggests strategies for its implementation.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 11 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

Keywords

Content available
Article
Publication date: 21 September 2010

Zinaida Fadeeva and Yoko Mochizuki

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476

Abstract

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 11 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 12 December 2020

Jodie Birdman, Aaron Redman and Daniel J. Lang

This paper aims to investigate student experiences and the potential impact of experience-based learning (EBL) in the early phase of graduate sustainability programs…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to investigate student experiences and the potential impact of experience-based learning (EBL) in the early phase of graduate sustainability programs through the lens of key competencies. The goal is to provide evidence for the improvement of existing and the thorough design of new EBL formats in sustainability programs.

Design/methodology/approach

This comparative case study focuses on the first semester of three graduate sustainability programs at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany and Arizona State University, USA, for two of which EBL was a core feature. The study compares the curricula, the teaching and learning environments and the reported experiences of one student cohort from each of three programs and synthesizes the resulting insights. Student interviews were combined with student self-assessments and supported by in-vivo observations, curriculum designer input, instructor interviews and course materials. MAXQDA was used for data analysis following a grounded theory approach.

Findings

EBL influences students’ reflective capacity, which impacts the development of key competencies in sustainability. Qualitative analysis found four key themes in relation to the students’ learning in EBL settings, namely, discomfort, time-attention relationship, student expectations of instructors and exchange. The intersection of these themes with curricular structure, student dispositions and differing instructor approaches shows how curriculum can either support or interrupt the reflective cycle and thus, holistic learning.

Research limitations/implications

With the focus on the first semester only, the students’ competence development over the course of the entire program cannot be demonstrated. Learning processes within EBL settings are complex and include aspects outside the control of instructors and curriculum designers. This study addresses only a select number of factors influencing students’ learning in EBL settings.

Practical implications

Early engagement with EBL activities can push students to leave their comfort zones and question previous assumptions. Designing curricula to include EBL while encouraging strong intra-cohort connections and creating space for reflection seems to be an effective approach to enable the development of key competencies in sustainability.

Originality/value

This paper investigates the experiences of students in EBL through a key competence lens. The study combines student self-perceptions, instructor reflections and in-vivo observations. Data collection and analysis were conducted by a researcher not affiliated with the programs. These factors make for a unique study design and with data-driven insights on the seldom researched competence-pedagogy-curriculum connection.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 22 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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