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Article
Publication date: 3 May 2016

Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Ana E. Escalante, Hallie Eakin, Ma. José Solares, Marisa Mazari-Hiriart, Marcia Nation, Paola Gómez-Priego, César A. Domínguez Pérez-Tejada and Luis A. Bojórquez-Tapia

The authors describe the challenges and opportunities associated with developing an interdisciplinary sustainability programme in an emerging economy and illustrate how these are…

Abstract

Purpose

The authors describe the challenges and opportunities associated with developing an interdisciplinary sustainability programme in an emerging economy and illustrate how these are addressed through the approach taken for the development of the first postgraduate programme (MSc and PhD) in sustainability science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The purpose of this paper is to outline an approach that has a potential for application in other parts of Latin America and perhaps more broadly in other world regions sharing some of the same challenges and opportunities as found in Mexico.

Design/methodology/approach

The implemented collaborative framework enabled a transformation of disciplinary research and teaching at UNAM into a postgraduate programme designed to generate cutting-edge educational and research capabilities. The approach to curriculum and programme design emphasized the process and methodological framework for curriculum development as much as the outcome itself. It entailed three primary elements: theory on collaborative processes; the curriculum design approach; and a formative and summative evaluation.

Findings

Several of the challenges faced were related to the nature of the institution (mainly because of the complexity of its organization and the emphasis in maintaining disciplinary boundaries), as well as to the curriculum development and design approach (acceptance of a competency-based programme appropriate for the MSc but considered restrictive for the PhD). The experience the authors relate in this paper exemplifies how to cope with such challenges. The approach enabled the emergence of a shared vision that was appropriated by all the participants. This ultimately empowered them in the presentation of the curriculum to their disciplinary peers. Furthermore, the approach facilitated the creation of a programme that remained salient along the process, while increasingly gained legitimacy and credibility among the academic community.

Social implications

In Mexico, the number of sustainability practitioners and scientists is still insufficient, and there is a clear lack of capacities in key themes and tools. UNAM combines a strong scientific tradition and a foundational mandate to serve both the country and humanity and is, thus, a natural platform for developing a higher education programme in sustainability science. The approach taken in the development of UNAM’s programme has useful lessons for the development of similar programmes in other developing nations facing similar educational and institutional challenges.

Originality/value

This model not only resulted in an innovative and novel programme in sustainability education but also, in the process, strengthened the competencies of diverse stakeholders through a systematic collaborative framework that fosters sustainability as a social learning process. Such experience illustrates the advantages of implementing a collaborative approach to enable the emergence of a critical mass capable to handle the diversity presupposed by a curriculum in sustainability science. It also shows how such a collaborative process can be implemented to overcome the limited resources, lack of experience in sustainability education and strong disciplinary focus that hampers the advancement of higher education in institutions similar to UNAM.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 17 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

Keywords

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 (SOS)…

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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

Keywords

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