Work Packages

Work Package 1: Conceptual Specification

The first work package focuses on the question: what key competencies in sustainability do graduates need to become future change agents while being competitive in the job market (employability or entrepreneurship)? This work package has two objectives: (1) to develop a contextualized set of key competencies in sustainability, and (2) to validate the set through dialogue with stakeholders (transdisciplinary workshops).

Work Package 2: Research on Competence

The second work package focuses on the research question: how can students best acquire and demonstrate key sustainability competencies through courses with novel teaching and learning processes (micro level)? In this work package, we analyze courses that adopt novel learning and teaching environments, focusing on teaching and learning context, objectives, pedagogies (approaches and settings), and assessments. The objective is to gain structured insights into how students can best acquire key competencies in sustainability through different teaching and learning environments.

Research in this work package is being conducted through multiple case studies that explore a “bounded system” and offer opportunities to study the manifold factors that produced the unique character of the case. As a preferable strategy to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions they allow contextual factors, and thus the singularity of a case, to be taken into. Multiple case studies and cross-case comparisons are considered viable options to overcome limitations of single case studies.

A comparative study of three cases with one or two courses is set out here to investigate students’ competence acquisition in different teaching and learning environments (see table below). The case studies have been chosen because they prominently illustrate novel sustainability education at Leuphana and at ASU, while representing typical patterns of implementing education for sustainable development on the micro-level. The selection of cases and courses is based on a theoretical sampling approach to contrast relevant categories and their properties. Courses have been selected that display high variance between cases and high similarity within cases.

Work Package 3: Research on drivers and barriers for implementing sustainability curricula

Work package 3 focuses on drivers and barriers of implementing sustainability curricula. Based on earlier research, we expect to find a limited number of distinctive patterns that represent different forms of implementing sustainability curricula with specific influencing and moderating factors. By identifying and understanding such factors, we derive context-sensitive strategies for successful implementation of sustainability curricula on the macro level, and to offer both responses to barriers that can be expected and strategies for leveraging existing drivers. Through this study, the previous in-depth studies are complemented in two ways: First, we conduct a quantitative sample study to produce more general results across cases. This study complements the context-sensitive in-depth analysis of single cases with an analysis of correlations of factors across cases. It will support more general findings and point out the most important factors of curriculum change within specific patterns of implementation. Second, by focusing on the macro-level of curriculum change, another layer of higher education is added to the micro-level of work package 2.

Two main activities specify work package 3: An analysis of around 100 cases of implementation processes using the case survey method and an in-depth study of how planned curriculum change can be planned, based on previous insights in favorable conditions. Both activities draw widely on previous work of the applicants, using a conceptual framework which has been derived from existing research on implementation processes. In this framework, different layers describe the context in which curriculum development is embedded: the institutional context that can be further analyzed against factors of the institutional environment and those of the educational environment, and the sociocultural context in which the institution is embedded. For both layers influences can be depicted that interact among themselves and with curriculum development through specific moderators.

This framework serves as a starting point and helps to systematically place and relate the different influential factors in different layers and to analyze moderators of the implementation process. With the activities outlined below we will attack the essential problem of ‘what works’ in curriculum change processes, i.e. how a successful implementation of sustainability into higher education can be supported in different contexts. This will produce knowledge that is highly relevant for curriculum developers and decision makers in higher education and will help specifying the role of higher education for sustainable development for a sustainability transformation.

Work Package 4: Triangulation across levels and scales

The objective of the last working package is to systematically relate previous findings and to provide a synthesis of how higher education can contribute to educate future change agents. In a first step by triangulation of methods, data from in-depth case studies will be systematically related to results of the quantitative sample study. This aims at a detailed understanding of the interrelatedness of change processes at the micro- and macro level and allows to test more general findings against the specific variables of single cases. As previous research suggest, there is a strong interdependency with change on the macro-level often triggered by innovation on the micro-level. By triangulating data, we expect to gain a better understanding of what factors and processes on the micro-level stimulate what patterns of curriculum development on the macro-level.

Synthesizing findings in such a way will allow to critically re-evaluate qualitative data against the findings from the quantitative analysis and in turn a further elaboration of quantitative findings based on hypotheses derived from the qualitative data. In an iterative process with discursive validation steps this will lead to a combined model of higher education for sustainable development that successfully supports the competence acquisition of future change agents.

Closely linked to the transdisciplinary workshops in WP 1, findings will be discussed and further elaborated in a transdisciplinary setting, involving the same participants as involved in WP 1. The intent of these workshops is to validate the findings of the subject, and derive conclusions for educational practice. Analogously to WP 1, three workshops are planned covering the areas of sustainability graduates, teachers, as well as business professionals and entrepreneurs.

Key Academic References for this Project Proposal