CASE STUDY 4: University of Southern Queensland
A process for embedding education for sustainability into courses in an education degree
This project was undertaken in a Faculty of Education where sustainability had been an implicit component of some teacher education courses, particularly in the science area. However, no course required students to engage in explicit discussions about sustainability as a social, economic or political issue or about the role of pre-service teachers in educating towards a sustainable future. The timing of the project was opportune, as sustainability had been identified as part of the university’s strategy, and new education courses were being developed.
Identifying hubs and creating networks
The project involved three academics – one science educator and two literacy educators, each of whom focused on the development and writing of one new course for the Bachelor of Education degree. The team decided to use professional conversations to document the team’s development in relation to education for sustainability (EfS), as research on team learning has suggested that dialogue in conversational form is a most effective practice for encouraging team learning, building capacity and effecting change (Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton & Kleiner, 2000). The project was designed as small and manageable, with the assumption that organisational change would not necessarily be an easy process and that gaining shared understandings was an essential component if change was to be successful. The team realised that the direction of the project could not be pre-specified and that it would emerge as the project progressed.
Most significant change
Designing a process for embedding EfS: In taking action, the three-member team focused on five key action areas:
- professional conversations amongst the team members
- further professional development opportunities
- the involvement of students
- consolidation, critical reflection and further professional conversations
- processes surrounding the writing of courses with embedded EfS.
As shown in Figure 1, preparatory activities – which were foundational to the formulation of a set of principles for embedding EfS into courses – were quite complex.
Figure 1: Actions contributing to the development of a set of
principles to frame courses with embedded EfS
As the team moved through the five key action areas, it was evident that each member developed personally and professionally and that the three courses would provide examples of different approaches to EfS. However, the most significant learning was about the process for change.
Key action 1
The team engaged in a series of professional conversations to identify authoritative sources, share personal knowledges, beliefs and values, and discuss the place of EfS in the writing of courses. The conversations allowed team members to work from what they already knew and to build on that base. Reading, experiences and professional development contributed to the conversations, which provided a space for considering issues surrounding sustainability and EfS. Discussions about the reading that the team was doing played an important role in raising issues, confronting differences, deconstructing relevant issues, and thinking beyond the content of books, journal articles and other documents to the potential for action. In this way, the conversations included a process of critical reflection (Macfarlane, Noble, Kilderry, & Nolan, 2005). Whilst the conversations were a key part of determining the direction that the project would take, the outcomes of this key action were mainly intangibles, as the process was meant to develop shared understandings amongst team members and a depth of knowledge about the place of sustainability in teacher education.
Key action 2
The team engaged in a range of professional development opportunities relevant to the project, including attending workshop meetings as part of the larger project, Investigating Queensland Educating for Sustainability in Teacher Education (iQuEST), participating in a faculty-organised seminar series, which related specifically to issues surrounding course reconceptualisation and course writing, and attending seminars and a conference on sustainability.
Key action 3
The initial plan for the project had not considered the involvement of students, because the team planned to focus exclusively on course writing. However, the larger iQuEST project included activities that directly involved and benefited students. It became evident that insights from the students into their thinking about the place of sustainability in teacher education enhanced the course development work that the team was doing.
Key action 4
After engaging in key actions 1, 2 and 3, the team moved into a period of consolidation, critical reflection and further professional conversations. The focus had shifted from topics and issues relating to sustainability and EfS, to specific questions about the ‘how’ of embedding EfS into the courses that were to be written. Building on the processes of critical reflection – confronting and deconstructing relevant issues, theorising and thinking otherwise (Macfarlane, Noble, Kilderry & Nolan, 2005) – the team analysed and synthesised what they now knew about EfS and how this could be applied to course writing. Through these conversations, the team began to map conceptual frameworks for embedding EfS into course design.
Key action 5
The team planned to develop models of what sustainability could ‘look like’ in a range of courses:
- in a Science elective course where the topic of sustainability might be taken for granted
- in a literacy curriculum and pedagogy course where a major component of the course would be the subject English, a course where it might be assumed that EfS would not be evident
- in a literacy education course with a focus on integrated planning and literacies across the curriculum.
In the two literacy courses, course content was not a priority in terms of sustainability. Rather, it was necessary to consider the broader issues of sustainability, as per the elements promoted as part of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. With these elements underpinning the conceptual design of the literacy courses, content and pedagogy were both important. Although environmental issues and resources could be included where appropriate, pedagogy was a major focus. What was planned was a move towards socially transformative approaches, with pre-service teachers developing flexible repertoires of strategies that would enable them to be effective teachers of all students in all contexts.
One of the conclusions drawn by the team was that sustainability provided an umbrella for a whole range of issues and considerations, including catering for diversity, Indigenous perspectives, internationalisation, and productive pedagogies (Department of Education, Queensland, 2002). Although in many cases these elements were part of previous courses, they were not necessarily fore-grounded and they had not been identified as elements of sustainability. Part of the process of course design was making these elements explicit and linked clearly to the values of sustainability.
In terms of advice for others who wish to embed EfS into pre-service teacher education courses, the team offers the following advice:
- Begin with a small, but manageable project.
- Use professional conversations, as these are essential for developing shared understandings.
- Begin where the participants are at – build on prior knowledge; allow for professional development opportunities and other authoritative sources to immerse the participants in building their field of knowledge.
- Create spaces for discussions to occur and allow time for critical reflection throughout.
- Map the developed shared understandings with the authoritative sources and provide opportunities for discussions about the matches and mismatches.
- Share successful episodes with a larger audience to demonstrate that the embedding of EfS ‘can’ be done – ‘success breeds success’ (Crowther & the IDEAS Project Team, 1999).
- Remember that buy-in from others will be an issue unless ownership can be developed by the participation of all. A ‘top-down’ approach will not work.
Looking to the future
With the rollout of new courses occurring over a three-year period, only one course has been introduced to date, with the other two due to run for the first time in 2010. Plans for the future include the preparation of online interviews and artifacts as discussion starters, guides and exemplars about the embedding of EfS in teacher education courses.
Crowther F & the IDEAS Project Team (1999). The IDEAS Project: Guidelines for exploration and trial in Queensland state schools. Brisbane: Education Queensland.
Henderson R & Petersen S (2008). Professional conversations: Teacher educators making sense of literacy pedagogies. Paper presented at the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association National Conference, Adelaide, July 6-9.
Macfarlane K, Noble K, Kilderry A & Nolan A (2005). Developing skills of thinking otherwise and critical reflection. In K. Noble, K. Macfarlane & J. Cartmel (Eds.), Circles of change: Challenging orthodoxy in practitioner supervision (pp. 11-20). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson.
Senge P, Cambron-McCabe H, Lucas T, Smith B, Dutton J & Kleiner A (2000). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York: Doubleday.
UNESCO (2005). Education for sustainable development (2005-2014). Available from http://www.unesco.org/en/esd/decade-of-esd/