An action research approach for embedding education for sustainability in a university undergraduate curriculum.
Área/s de conocimientoCiencias de la Educación
Research on sustainability in higher education has tended to focus on environmental management of university estates and operations, and case studies and examples of good practice, without presenting the coherent theoretical or methodological approaches required to look at the change processes of universities seeking to embed sustainability. Although the value and contribution of university initiatives has been articulated, little holistic and structural transformation of universities has been achieved so far. This doctoral research aimed to examine organisational learning and change processes to build education for sustainability into the university curriculum by developing its theoretical basis, and by developing qualitative methodology. The original contributions to knowledge of this doctoral thesis are the exploration of organisational learning processes towards sustainability in higher education, the exploration of action research as a research method to foster organisational learning towards sustainability, and the development of an evidence-based model on how to embed education for sustainability in the undergraduate curriculum at the University of Southampton. The integration of different theoretical approaches to organisational learning such as organisational learning theory, the idea of expansive learning at work, the learning organisation ideal and transformative learning theory provide the theoretical foundations for this study. Therefore contributing to the understanding of how individuals in organisations can transform their mental models in order to change current practice leading to organisational learning towards sustainability in higher education. At a methodological level, an action research approach guided by participatory and emancipatory approaches was used. The researcher aimed to learn from real practice through acting as a facilitator for curriculum development in education for sustainability within an interdisciplinary group of academic staff members. A critical friend position was acquired within a community of practice to implement a programme which attempted to embed sustainability within the student experience. An evidence-based model (the I3E Model) has been developed with four overarching components that can support the University of Southampton in its aim to embed education for sustainability within the undergraduate curriculum. These integrated components are: Inform the university community about sustainability; Engage the different university stakeholders in the change process towards sustainability; Empower individuals and groups to make change happen within their sphere of influence and action; and Embed sustainability within existing university structures.