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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…

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

Keywords

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Abstract

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: 1 June 2003

Ralf Hansmann, Harald A. Mieg, Helmut W. Crott and Roland W. Scholz

This paper includes three analyses concerning: expert support in the selection of impact variables for scientific models relevant to environmental planning, the quality of…

Abstract

This paper includes three analyses concerning: expert support in the selection of impact variables for scientific models relevant to environmental planning, the quality of students’ individual estimates of corresponding impacts before and after a group discussion, and the accuracy of artificially‐aggregated judgments of independent groups. Participants were students of environmental sciences at ETH Zurich. The first analysis revealed that during participation in an environmental case study, students’ individual estimates of impacts of variables which have been suggested by experts increased, as compared to the estimates of impacts of additional variables, which have been selected by the students. The remaining analyses consider group discussions on the strength of particular environmental impacts. The quality of the estimates was analyzed referring to expert estimates of the impacts.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 11 July 2008

Jennie C. Stephens, Maria E. Hernandez, Mikael Román, Amanda C. Graham and Roland W. Scholz

The goal of this paper is to enhance consideration for the potential for institutions of higher education throughout the world, in different cultures and contexts, to be…

Abstract

Purpose

The goal of this paper is to enhance consideration for the potential for institutions of higher education throughout the world, in different cultures and contexts, to be change agents for sustainability. As society faces unprecedented and increasingly urgent challenges associated with accelerating environmental change, resource scarcity, increasing inequality and injustice, as well as rapid technological change, new opportunities for higher education are emerging.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper builds on the emerging literature on transition management and identifies five critical issues to be considered in assessing the potential for higher education as a change agent in any particular region or place. To demonstrate the value of these critical issues, exemplary challenges and opportunities in different contexts are provided.

Findings

The five critical issues include regional‐specific dominant sustainability challenges, financing structure and independence, institutional organization, the extent of democratic processes, and communication and interaction with society.

Originality/value

Given that the challenges and opportunities for higher education as a change agent are context‐specific, identifying, synthesizing, and integrating common themes is a valuable and unique contribution.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 9 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 9 January 2009

Ralf Hansmann, Helmut W. Crott, Harald A. Mieg and Roland W. Scholz

Deficient group processes such as conformity pressure can lead to inadequate group decisions with negative social, economic, or environmental consequences. The study aims…

Abstract

Purpose

Deficient group processes such as conformity pressure can lead to inadequate group decisions with negative social, economic, or environmental consequences. The study aims to investigate how a group technique (called INFO) improves students' handling of conformity pressure and their collective judgments in the context of a transdisciplinary case study (TCS) for sustainability learning.

Design/methodology/approach

The improvement of normative functioning and output (INFO) group technique was tested in a field experiment embedded in a TCS. The INFO technique involves individual and group assessments of task difficulty. The experiment compares the performance of student groups assigned to control and experimental conditions in estimation tasks related to environmental planning and rail traffic.

Findings

The INFO interventions significantly improved the accuracy of group estimates compared to the control conditions. Applying the group technique could promote student's learning and facilitate the search for sustainable solutions in a TCS.

Practical implications

Results indicate that individually and collectively analyzing and discussing difficulties of a task as suggested by the INFO group technique can help students improve collective judgments on real world issues.

Originality/value

Group techniques are a prominent type of TCS methods as group processes are crucial for sustainability learning. First, this study applies the INFO group technique in a TCS in order to evaluate and further develop the technique.

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 10 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

Keywords

Content available

Abstract

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 13 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

Content available
Article
Publication date: 1 June 2003

Walter Leal Filho

Abstract

Details

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol. 4 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1467-6370

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Article
Publication date: 1 July 2006

M. Stauffacher, A.I. Walter, D.J. Lang, A. Wiek and R.W. Scholz

The purpose of this paper is to present the transdisciplinary case study (TCS) as a learning framework based on what we call functional socio‐cultural constructivism and…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to present the transdisciplinary case study (TCS) as a learning framework based on what we call functional socio‐cultural constructivism and project‐based learning (PBL). In doing so, the paper attempts to illustrate the applicability of TCS to learn competencies and skills necessary to research problems of sustainable development.

Design/methodology/approach

TCS is considered a learning framework based on the principle of self‐regulated learning; i.e. students must actively deal with the requirements as well as plan and execute their project work within their own worldviews and goals. TCS methods are essential as we tackle complex real‐world problems.

Findings

The paper discusses challenges and obstacles of such an approach and present lessons learned since 1994, on both the viewpoints of students and of teachers. It conclude that case study learning is a demanding task, especially in a transdisciplinary context where more challenges emerge than in PBL, since goals of teachers, case agents, and students have to be balanced.

Practical implications

TCS or courses like it are important for universities at the present time. Under present budget restrictions and a wide‐ranging mistrust of society toward universities, there is a necessity for a new contract between society and research: students should learn to take over responsibility in societal contexts and be able to communicate beyond the “ivory tower”.

Originality/value

The learning goals of TCS differ from the goals of most university courses. They are more comprehensive and include complex problem solving, societal context, and group processes. The ambitious goal is that students become enabled to tackle complex, real‐world problems.

Details

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

Keywords

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Article
Publication date: 1 July 2006

G. Steiner and D. Laws

The main focus of this paper is to discuss appropriate forms of higher education for building up students' competence for working on complex real‐world problems.

Abstract

Purpose

The main focus of this paper is to discuss appropriate forms of higher education for building up students' competence for working on complex real‐world problems.

Design/methodology/approach

Within this paper the Harvard approach is accurately compared with the ETH approach by discussing theoretical and practical implications as well.

Findings

It is argued that the Harvard case study approach is a sensible approach to bridging the gap between the academic and the practical world, but it has important limits in preparing students to cope with complex real‐world problems. In some important respects, the ETH case study approach goes further by exposing students directly to the multi‐faceted and complex character of real‐world problems.

Practical implications

The ETH approach puts additional demands on students and teachers to bridge the gap between university and society with a high degree of responsibility. Consequently, a combination of both the Harvard and the ETH approach might be interesting.

Originality/value

The comparison of the Harvard case study approach with the ETH case study approach is novel. The discussion of educational together with practical implications provides insight to the peculiarities of each single approach together with an orientation for their implementation within higher education. Guidance is given to universities who are deciding what educational means have to be implemented in order to prepare their students for the task of solving complex real‐world problems in an inter but also transdisciplinary manner.

Details

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

Keywords

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Article
Publication date: 1 July 2006

Harald A. Mieg

This paper aims at a better understanding of expert roles in transdisciplinary projects. Thus, the main purpose is the analysis of the roles of experts in…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims at a better understanding of expert roles in transdisciplinary projects. Thus, the main purpose is the analysis of the roles of experts in transdisciplinary projects.

Design/methodology/approach

The analysis of the ETH‐UNS case studies from the point of view of the psychology of expertise and the sociology of professions is based on findings and considerations from the psychology of expertise and the sociology of professions – as both lines of research are concerned with experts and the use of expertise. This paper focuses on projects in the framework of the so‐called transdisciplinary case study approach that has been developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in the 1990s.

Findings

It is claimed that, firstly, system experts provide important information on the local human‐environmental system and have to be regarded as serious experts, that is knowledge specialists with a certain responsibility for information. Secondly, decision‐making experts run into problems integrating other professionals into transdisciplinary projects and should, therefore, professionalize themselves.

Practical implications

The paper encourages the use of residents, etc. as system experts in transdisciplinary projects.

Originality/value

The roles of experts in transdisciplinary project are clarified.

Details

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

Keywords

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