CASE STUDY 1: Queensland University of Technology
Mainstreaming sustainability into pre-service teacher education:
The beginnings of systems change within a large faculty
This action research/systems change project was undertaken in one of Australia’s largest faculties of education. As in most other educational settings, education for sustainability (EfS) has been fragmented and piecemeal with just a very small number of academics addressing the topic with no great awareness of each other’s work. Hence, the sustainability and EfS experience of students within their courses has been ‘hit and miss’ over the years. This project was seen as just the beginning of a longer-term process to reshape Faculty teaching and learning with respect to EfS.
Specifically, the aim of this project was to begin to:
- build capacity for EfS within the faculty. This was started through working with a small number of academics from each of the schools within the faculty who were not already aligned with the environmental education (EE)/EfS field but who were interested in building their knowledge and capacity for EfS
create/ identify a cohort of student teachers who would support measures for the integration of EfS into their courses
make the most of ongoing opportunities to raise awareness of EfS within a larger group of faculty staff by deliberately using existing structures and processes rather than starting new ones.
Involvement in the project
My role in the project was twofold: I was a co-leader for the overall initiative called Investigating Queensland Educating for Sustainability in Teacher Education (iQuEST); and an agent of change within my own university.
- leading local change within my own Education Faculty
- helping facilitate change within the other four participating universities
- supporting change within the broader Queensland educational system (for example, EfS initiatives within the Qld Education Department).
Having been involved in the overall design of the Queensland project, I was keen to ‘test’ the theory of systems change in practice. It is fair comment that having responsibility for the leadership of the larger Queensland-based project impacted on what I could achieve within my own faculty. Nevertheless, considerable changes were achieved at the local level that can be further built upon into the future.
Interest in the project
I have a long-standing interest in environmental issues, environmental education and education for sustainability, holding a Diploma of Education, an Environmental Studies degree, a Masters of Environmental Education, and a PhD in environmental education. Recent interest in global warming/climate change have provided opportunities to capitalise on teaching and learning about/for sustainability, though I have been careful to explain and illustrate that EfS is about much more than global warming. Both my post-graduate research projects used action research within a whole-school change process and therefore provided a solid grounding for this teacher education change project.
As a teacher educator, I have been incorporating EE/EfS perspectives into subjects for which I have had responsibility for almost 20 years but have generally felt professionally isolated, both within the faculty and more broadly within my teacher education specialism. Indeed, until recently, most of my close professional/academic colleagues have been from outside my own organisation.
Identifying hubs and creating networks
Identifying and working with ‘hubs’ (Barabasi, 2003) – those structures or people who have influence and act as connectors within an organisation – are a fundamental part of creating systems change. They provide a place in a complex system where a small change in one area can bring a disproportionate change to a whole system (Hjorth and Bagheri, 2006).
At the time the project was being developed, I was course coordinator of several programs of study within the faculty. This leadership position gave me insights into the workings of the faculty with regards to course development/course change processes as well as the necessary contacts and leverage to attempt to ‘scale up’ EfS work within the faculty. From this relative position of influence, the following hubs were identified:
Initially, access to faculty leadership via my course coordination duties enabled me to ‘make a case’ for EfS to be part of faculty work. This was surprisingly easy and involved a personal meeting with the Dean and a presentation to the faculty’s course leadership team that included an overview of sustainability issues and EfS (late 2007). The positive responses provided momentum for engaging in the project proper in 2008.
As a key hub within the faculty myself, I then selected a small group of academics who were already known to me as having an interest in sustainability issues/EfS but were not directly aligned with the field. This was a deliberate strategy as I wanted to reach new people to illustrate that sustainability and EfS could be ‘everyone’s business’ in education and not simply work for recognisable EE/ EfS specialists. Hence, an early childhood Arts educator, a primary Science educator, an educator working with socially disadvantaged youth, an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) educator and an academic specialising in studies of racism and Indigenity, were approached to join the team.
Once contacts were made with these staff, a group of ten student teachers were then identified to bring them into the project. The task of these students was to work with the student teachers selected by the other four Queensland universities to:
- create the Student Charter: Embrace, Embed, Empower, using Facebook as the means of collaborating, learning and communicating
- participate in a number of events (United Nation Australia Conference and the Patches of Green Forum, organised as the means for delivering the Student Charter to the Queensland Minister of Education).
Most significant changes
Most Significant Change 1:
As a result of lobbying, engagement, presentations and dialogues, sustainability/EfS is now one of four trans-disciplinary themes to be embedded into faculty work (the others are: Indigenous perspectives, ICT, and literacies/numeracies). In reworking its Bachelor of Education (the faculty’s major teacher education pre-service degree) to conform to the new Queensland Teacher Standards, this faculty also included its strategy for embedding sustainability/EfS across the four years of the course.
This was a significant change because:
- it overtly demonstrated a commitment to EfS that could be built upon into the future
- it signalled to the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) that this Education Faculty recognises EfS as an important teacher ‘standard’ – even though the current standards do not make specific reference to sustainability/EfS. That is, just because EfS is not ‘written into’ the current teacher standards, this does not mean it should be excluded.
Most Significant Change 2:
The participation of pre-service student teachers in the various project events such as attendance at the United Nations conference, the development of the Student Charter and its presentation at the forum to the Minister of Education illustrated the power and passion of including students in design and advocacy work within the faculty and within the teacher education sector more generally. This is important because, as the teachers of tomorrow, these students have gained new knowledge about sustainability issues, new collegiality with each other and with academics, and capabilities to continue to advocate for EfS in their courses and classrooms.
Most Significant Change 3:
Sustainability was identified as the key organiser for an assessment task for a new Graduate Diploma course commencing in the faculty in 2010. The task integrates learning across five key learning areas (KLAs) illustrating interdisciplinary learning within a team teaching approach. This course development is illustrative of the extent to which sustainability/EfS is now viewed as an important part of faculty thinking and practice.
A broad range of opportunities reflecting systems thinking and systems change have been created as a result of this ‘mainstreaming EfS’ project. These show local, state, national and international connections and include:
- new and enhanced cross-school and cross-disciplinary connections within the faculty leading to greater spread of interest and sharing of ideas and resources – there are now more ‘champions’ for EfS
- new/refined skills in project leadership and management especially related to creating change in complex and shifting environments
- new and stronger links with educational partners such as the Queensland Education Department, thus helping to leverage support and energy for systems-wide initiatives such as the Queensland Environmentally Sustainable Schools Initiative (QESSI) and Earth Smart Science Schools
- new and stronger partnerships with academics from other universities. This has created a ‘community of interest’ to continue supporting each other’s work. These relationships are also being channelled into opportunities to apply in the future, for example, for an Australian Research Council Linkage grant or an Australian Learning and Teaching Council grant
- dissemination of outcomes designed to influence the broader teacher education field by:
- preparation/publication of the project report at www.aries.mq.edu.au/projects/preservice2/
- papers presented at national and international conferences (WEEC 5; AARE 2008 and 2009; OMEP 2009)
a suite of planned papers for refereed journals
- case studies of the research project, process and outcomes (both print and web-based) for non-academic national/international audiences.
- preparation/publication of the project report at www.aries.mq.edu.au/projects/preservice2/
- new/ strengthened links with international organisations and colleagues (e.g. Professor Charles Hopkins, UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Teacher Education towards Sustainability) and Ingrid Pramling Samuellson (UNESCO Professor in Early Childhood Education and Sustainable Development).
Looking to the future
Now that sustainability and EfS are clearly ‘on the radar’ within the faculty, the next step is to ensure that embedding sustainability/EfS into our courses proceeds in a cohesive and comprehensive manner. This means identifying the best/most logical places for EfS within particular subjects and at the best points within course structures to avoid shallow and repetitious learning and teaching. Matters to consider include:
- ensuring that education for sustainability, and not just sustainability as a topic, is developed – that is, critical thinking and action-oriented learning around sustainability topics/ issues
- ensuring the four trans-disciplinary themes – sustainability, ICT, Indigenous perspectives and literacies/numeracies – are themselves not ‘silo-ed’
- finding authentic ways for students to experience EE/EfS as part of field experience or other service learning opportunities
- linking into sustainability initiatives within the wider university. For example, the faculty can demonstrate a ‘greening curriculum’ for other faculties
- ensuring that the next iteration of teacher standards explicitly includes EfS. This requires the current five universities (and those additional universities with Education faculties) to continue to use their combined momentum and leverage to push for such a change.
Barabasi A (2003). Linked: how everything is connected to everything else and what it means for business, science, and everyday life. New York: Plume.
Hjorth P & Bagheri A (2006) Navigating towards sustainable development: A system dynamics approach. Futures, 38, 74–92.