CASE STUDY 3: James Cook University, Cairns
Hubs and networks: Embedding education for sustainability into teacher education and beyond
This project, undertaken at an Australian university, focused on engagement, capacity building, and development of plans for embedding education for sustainability (EfS) into pre-service teacher education. The aims of this participatory action research project were to:
- describe the current subject offerings in the School of Education in relation to EfS
- engage teacher educators in EfS through face-to-face interviews about their current practice and visions for how they could develop opportunities for support teacher educators to contribute to developing their own plans for EfS in their subjects.
Interest in the project
The two core lecturers in the project both have a history of interest in EfS. One initiated an elective unit specifically on environmental education, has a frog pond, has a son with political ambitions with The Greens, and has both Honours and PhD students in Indigenous Science, Resilience and EfS. The second lecturer has an interest in EfS from adventure sports and as a Science lecturer, and she had developed an EfS subject at another university. She embedded EfS into her teaching, with links to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and digital pedagogies.
In 2005 both lecturers won Australian Schools Innovation in Science, Technology and Mathematics (ASISTM) grants. One grant built online communities between remote regional schools using the science of bird conservation as the unifying element. The other grant was for a community-participation, hands-on science event.
These mutual interests sparked collusion, and resulted in a joint involvement with IQUEST. We integrated our approaches to EfS and research into an IQUEST Action Research project.
Identifying hubs and creating networks
A few individual lecturers were doing something about global issues of sustainable practices, waste reduction, and futures perspective through their teaching and research, but a change to the institutional culture was urgently needed. We wanted to raise the profile of EfS so that the majority of lecturing staff would engage with the ideas, adopt its message, and build an organisational mindset and infrastructure to enable the message to have some impact on practice.
One of our chief aims was to bring in additional stakeholders beyond those already committed so that pre-service teachers had increased opportunity to engage with EfS, from a broad range of subjects and perspectives. Our situation was that EfS activity was substantial but uncoordinated across courses. We wanted to work out how to move beyond the three participating teacher educators and subjects, to embed EfS so it was a recurring theme in the Bachelor of Education (BEd) and the Graduate BEd programs.
Our project started with ‘Network One’ between the key players at the School of Education (the two project lecturers). ‘Network Two’ included Investigating Queensland Educating for Sustainability in Teacher Education (IQUEST) project members from other universities who initiated a strong response from us. Knowing that others are interested in your own passion, that there is project funding for a support network to help provide templates, organise meetings, suggest relevant literature, and share a symposium, made the work collegial, cooperative and satisfying.
‘Network Three’ was localised, between School of Education lecturing staff, and was made tangible through the simple process of informal interviews about staff perceptions of EfS and the extent they embedded EfS into their teaching. Fifteen School of Education (SoE) staff were interviewed about:
- their understandings of environment, environmental education (EE), and education for sustainability (EfS)
- the extent to which they included EfS into their subjects
- a personal reflection on their environmental values, practices, and beliefs.
We were careful to create a climate of no pressure, no compulsion, just a discursive chat about what it might be, how it might look, and it’s OK not to do it if you can’t see how it might fit. It was a network characterised by infusion, not an aggressively constructed one.
‘Network Four’ was through to campus administration, after our Acting Head of School attended a staff IQUEST workshop, and got excited about EfS. Through this person, we connected to ‘Network Five’, the university administration, with the Head of School who promoted adoption of the university strategic intent towards sustainability, and the Deputy Head of School who took on the challenge of a university-wide critical appraisal of existing courses, with a view to attract enrolments, and to update content, pedagogy and assessment. This appraisal allowed our ‘Network Six’ (other SoE lecturers who were long-term EfS supporters) the status to push, insistently and consistently, to embed EfS throughout the four-year BEd course.
Most significant changes
The most significant changes were observed at three levels: individual lecturer, curriculum change within a course, and systemic change.
The key value of the IQUEST project was that it provided an opportunity for staff to have professional conversations about their roles, their understandings and their interest in sustainability. Interview data from 2008 indicated a wide range of views of EFS but generally there was a binary view of either environmental sustainability or cultural sustainability; however, all staff were supportive of the value of ‘sustainability’ but not all saw it as included in their work as a teacher educator.
These initial interviews had immediate change for some lecturers. For example, an Arts/Drama staff member who initially said that because she taught Arts, not Science, there was ‘no way’ she could do EFS in her work. As a result of IQUEST’s professional development, she experienced a paradigm shift, of ‘sustainability education doesn’t mean you have to plant trees’ and saw rich opportunities for working through the emotional range inspired by an issues-approach to conflict, from a range of perspectives, such as ‘you are a crocodile hunter’, ‘you are an Indigenous elder’, ‘a tourist operator’, and ‘mother of small children’.
At whole-of-school planning days in 2008 EfS was seen as ‘in competition’ to other possible ‘new’ subjects (e.g. Indigenous Studies, service learning, or more time on Maths and Literacy, etc.). During the remainder of 2008, and into 2009, the lengthy, formal process of having new subjects written, ‘squeezed’ into the semi-fixed course structures (i.e. four subjects per semester, of three units each, for four years) ground on. Behind the scenes the political manoeuvring, lobbying and frequent meetings coalesced into a unified approach to incorporate – not EE, not EE for Sustainable Development – but EfS.
Building on from attendance at the first IQUEST-related Professional Development for staff, the Acting Head of School commissioned research on the exposure of pre-service teachers to EfS in the Bachelor of Education. Focus groups of pre-service teachers from each of the four years, and in the Graduate Diploma of Education, at two campuses, were asked about their perception of what EfS was, and what they recalled from on campus, or professional experience, which helped develop their knowledge, values and practices.
As proof that the iQUEST momentum culminated in significant system-wide change, by mid-2009 EfS became officially embedded into the BEd. A new first year, core subject would introduce ideas of land, air, water, energy and place-based pedagogy by excursion to wetlands and schools changing their physical landscape. In a second year subject the notion of sustainability was broadened to cultural sustainability, continuance of languages, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and contexts. In a third year, these core curriculum areas, due to the interests of lecturers, took on a re-invigorated slant towards EfS.
Another core 4th year subject involved lecturer’s preference for using sustainability issues (e.g. preservation and conservation of iconic Qld species) as the key concept for integrated planning. A re-vamped final year subject moved beyond a community-service mentality, to one where students focus on practical ways to help schools and communities recognise and work towards their shared vision of a sustainable future. In these subjects, EfS concepts, knowledges, values, pedagogies and practices will be explicitly included in the Subject Outline and assessed.
By the time of the School of Education whole-of-school planning days in November 2009, there was a palpable acceptance that EfS was part of the course landscape, and should not just be limited to these subjects to the exclusion of any others. The energy of the action research process was compounded, resulting in a profoundly different response to EfS.
To assist staff to achieve more widespread changes, and help to create a new identity of a more cohesive school, more than 30 staff engaged in three hours of professional development in EfS. Visiting scholars pushed the EfS message. A further 1.5 hour professional development showcased the practices of seven SoE staff, who shared their pedagogy, showcasing the diverse, and equally valid ways they were embedding EfS into practice. Table 1 below summarises four of these stories:
Table 1 Embedding EFS practice
|Foundations of Educational Technologies||I address aspects of sustainability in ICTs through the inclusion of stimulus materials on e-waste and ‘green IT’. Students work in groups to consider the future implications of these topics. Students produce a short oral report that summarises their position and suggests possible actions to address these issues.|
|HPE Curriculum ECE & Primary||I include aspects of sustainability by discussing strategies for social and physical environmental sustainability as a health consumer. For example, types of products and services to choose; sunscreen run-off when snorkelling the reef; walking to the shops instead of taking the car; and selecting food choices between organic or highly processed, nitrogen-fertilised, packaged foods.|
|Teaching for Learning 2||I include aspects of sustainability by offering students the option of using and exploring ‘sustainability’ as an organising concept for their Unit Plan and Teaching.|
|Mathematics education for primary school||I include aspects of sustainability by investigating a dugong habitat and seagrass, using mathematical tools of time, area, percentage, transects methods. Maths is situated in a locally-relevant context.|
UNESCO documentation on sustainable futures, as inter-linked ecological, cultural, economic, political, and scientific realms was a significant driver of this widespread acceptance. The extent to which the SoE is embracing EfS is also evident in a professorial appointment from 2010, to promote recognition of the importance of EfS to the school.
By the end of 2009, there was quiet, general agreement by all 30 SoE staff that EfS was acceptable, appropriate, do-able, and desirable.
Overall, our involvement with IQUEST was remarkably productive in terms of research output, successful grant applications, and a lasting and profound effect on EfS within far north Queensland. The mutual support system between the two core lecturers continued to develop in strength. Its capacity to attract interest in EfS in teacher education increased. We met with ‘staff from the other campus’ who were already trying to find ways to embed EfS into their practice but had ‘no idea’ others were of the ‘same persuasion’.
We made new, and refreshed old, links by presenting our EfS and IQUEST-related research at: the Australian Association of Environmental Education (AAEE) conference in Darwin 2008; Australian Association of Research in Education (AARE), Brisbane 2008, IQUEST Symposium; and the Fifth World Environmental Education Conference, Montreal, May 2009.
We looked for, and found, opportunities outside the SoE with CSIRO and the university’s Science Faculty. We consolidated our existing links within the university Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (MTSERF) project and with PhD students. We partnered with a local natural resource management (NRM) organisation and with the regional council, and received a Caring for our Country: Community Coastcare grant which resulted in a pre-service teachers’ project to develop community awareness of a wetland.
A small faculty (Schools of Arts, Education, Social Sciences and Indigenous Studies) research grant was awarded to the two core lecturers to replicate the IQUEST interviews with non-School of Education staff. This demonstrates an institutional willingness to financially support research into EfS. At a November review meeting, participants in this study discussed the lack of high-profile commitment to sustainable practices at a university-wide strategic level by the university leaders (e.g. lack of policy or practice); and conversely, their own commitment to embed EfS into their History, Social Work and Psychology subjects. In addition, a Master of Education for Sustainability student has replicated the iQUEST study, interviewing lecturing staff from the Faculty of Business, Law and Creative Arts. EfS has crossed the School of Education divide.
Looking to the future
We have three future-looking directions for planning for our system:
- Work through the SoE management system to encourage university-wide management to highlight EfS in its policies, choices and overt practices.Consolidate our output in terms of research publications, through papers for an international audience.
- Transition our focus from EfS in pre-service teachers’ education, towards Resilience and Sustainable Development, the effects of climate change on human capacity.