2010: Sustainability: Past, Present, and Future (Mainland, UHI)

  • Start date: 2010-06-01
  • End date: 2011-06-01
  • Amount: £4994
  • Status: complete
  • Funding Initiative: Higher Education Academy

This report presents the findings of the Higher Education Academy (HEA)-supported initiative led by Ingrid Mainland & Jane Downes at the University of the Highlands and Islands and Ian Simpson & Richard Oram at the University of Stirling, which sought to facilitate interdisciplinary curriculum development of education for sustainable development (ESD) within Archaeology, Environmental Science, Geography, Anthropology, Sociology and History using the Scottish HE sector as a pilot. A Working Group was established which, by means of two workshops, explored the demand, context and mechanisms for interdisciplinary ESD within Scotland. The Working Group indicated that a Humanities and Historical perspective on sustainability is lacking in current HE provision on ESD in Scotland and that interdisciplinary curriculum development under the theme of ‘Cultural Environments’ would meet this need. Two potential areas for curriculum development were identified: an undergraduate course book which would provide HE ‘educators’ support for embedding ESD in their courses; at a postgraduate level, the creation of a new cross-institutional Sustainable Development programme for Scotland was scoped. It was concluded that, to facilitate such developments and to support interdisciplinary teaching and pedagogic research in ESD in Scotland, infrastructure investment is required at both the intra- and inter-institutional scale.

Background
There is a developing tradition of synergy between Archaeology, Environmental Science, Geography, Anthropology, Sociology and History and of integrating teaching and research in these disciplines (e.g., Downes et al. 2008; MRes Environmental History, Stirling).

There is increasing evidence for interdisciplinary research across these disciplines which focuses on the complex reflexive interconnection between human societies and ecological systems and aims to establish methodologies and insights linked to human behaviour and sustainability in the long, medium and short terms (e.g., NABO, van der Leeuw and Redman 2002).

This approach has clear relevance for ESD, as it provides the potential for sustainability-literate graduates with an awareness of social, economic and environmental issues and, more crucially, a historic dimension to contextualise this understanding (see e.g., Dale and Newman 2005; Blake et al. 2009, 5‐7).

We would argue that it is in only with the juxtaposition of the humanities, social and environmental sciences that the full potential of interdisciplinary ESD in these subject areas will be realised.

Effective ESD requires university teachers to move beyond the single, collaborative or multidisciplinary approaches which characterise the HE sector today to an integrated and genuinely interdisciplinary future model (Chettiparamb 2007, Blake et al. 2009).

Aims
The project aimed to facilitate interdisciplinary curriculum development of ESD focusing on Archaeology, Environmental Science, Geography, Anthropology, Sociology and History using the Scottish HE sector as a pilot and had three primary objectives:

  • a review of demand for the development of interdisciplinary ESD in the identified subject communities within the Scottish HE sector at an undergraduate (UG) level, considering perceptions of the necessity for ESD in these disciplines (including institutional and discipline barriers to ESD), employer and graduate needs;
  • a review of methods for embedding ESD at an UG level in the identified subject communities within the Scottish HE sector, specifying potential curricula and mechanisms for delivery; and,
  • a review of demand for, and potential structure of, an interdisciplinary Masters degree programme in Sustainability Studies Past, Present and Future, identifying course content and mechanisms for delivery, including integrated summer field schools and online delivery of modules, across a network of Scottish universities.
Results
The project findings can be summarised as follows:

Overview
The current position of sustainability education in Scotland broadly accords with the situation as identified by Ryan (2009): there are several UG and postgraduate (PG) degree programmes with a specific focus on sustainability within Environmental Sciences and Geography, but in Archaeology, Environmental History and History, sustainability issues are more likely to be covered in a case study format on a module-by-module basis (Downes and Mainland 2010, Ryan 2009).

There is limited evidence for integrated interdisciplinary teaching on sustainability in the target disciplines.

A coherently structured broad Humanities and Historical perspective on sustainability is lacking in current HE provision on ESD in Scotland (and the UK).

The development of curricula for ESD which integrates Archaeology, History, Anthropology and Sociology with the Environmental Sciences and Geography would meet this need.

Undergraduate
The Working Group identified that, at an undergraduate level, interdisciplinary ESD has greatest potential in the creation of generic graduate skills for employability access and in raising awareness of sustainability issues. Students who have had access to different perspectives on topical issues from diverse disciplines, particularly in the area of natural/cultural heritage management, and who are able to effectively summarise conflicting viewpoints, were seen to be particularly attractive to employers.

Interdisciplinary degree programmes relating to specific aspects of sustainability in the target disciplines (e.g., sustainable management of natural and cultural heritage) were, however, considered more appropriate for postgraduate level teaching.

Methods for embedding ESD at an UG level: a module, or even segments of a module, (e.g., ‘podules’, see Sterling et al. 2008) was identified as being the ideal format for delivery, reflecting the emphasis placed by the group on generic skills-based teaching at this level.

The development of a module, which could be taught across a network of Scottish universities (as represented by the Working Group), was not considered a practical option due to diverse institutional barriers, such as differences in teaching semesters, credits, accreditation and financial implications.

The Working Group argued that the creation of a resource or toolkit for the teaching of sustainability across the target disciplines, which could be accessed and adapted for specific university contexts by HE educators, would be more useful.

The Working Group proposed to develop a collaboratively-produced core textbook with an online pool of teaching material which would set out the framework for a course on sustainability with specific emphasis on a Historical and Humanities perspective and on Cultural Environments.

Postgraduate
The workshop held in Orkney focused on identifying course content and mechanisms for PG delivery, including integrated summer field schools and online delivery of modules, across a network of Scottish universities.

Location-based teaching/training and interdisciplinary field schools were identified as effective ways of developing and embedding a focused set of skills as much as staff development and for ‘educating the educators’ as for professional qualifications and Taught Postgraduate candidates.

The use of a designation such as World Heritage Site (WHS) was felt to be of great value in ESD, as a way of internationalizing, giving ESD in Scotland a global context and thus providing valuable case studies: e.g., Interdisciplinary through collaborative research; Management of the cultural and natural heritage; Economic development: impact on and of tourism, renewables (on land and offshore); Impact of climate change – e.g. coastal erosion; Adaptation and resilience to past environmental change; Education: Curriculum for Excellence, etc.; potential for future development of integrated interdisciplinary education via field schools.

In terms of Taught Postgraduate curriculum development, it was felt that students will enter a programme with different levels of knowledge and skill about sustainable development matters, and that a good way to embed, enhance and add to these skills is through training field schools.

The Working Group expressed a desire for the creation of a new cross-institutional, interdisciplinary Sustainable Development programme for Scotland – perhaps an overarching programme to which Masters courses from a number of Scottish institutions can contribute.

Conclusions
This project concluded that a Humanities and Historical perspective on sustainability affords a unique insight into the human condition and the dynamic relationship of people and the environment at diverse scales, both chronological (covering millennia to decades) and spatial (households vs. communities vs. societies; local vs. regional vs. international).

An emphasis on the centrality of the past and on observation and analysis across long chronological spans as dimensions fundamental to the study of such important subjects as sustainability and change was, moreover, seen to be at the core of the grouping of disciplines targeted by the project.

It is in the combination of these aspects under the overall theme of Cultural Environments that the curricula and other resources scoped in this project could make a unique contribution to sustainability studies and ESD.

It was further concluded that an interdisciplinary approach with a Humanities and Historical perspective will expose students to a wide range of sustainability issues and points of view and will equip students with transferable and adaptable skills that will improve their employability.

This project has demonstrated that there is a demand for ESD within the target disciplines – Archaeology, Environmental Science, Geography, Anthropology, Sociology and History – and has identified mechanisms by which ESD pedagogies could be developed and embedded within the Scottish HE sector.

In the individuals and institutions brought together for the Working Group, the project has established a resource through which further developmental work could be undertaken, in effect an Advisory Group on Sustainability of Cultural Environments.

We would argue that the long-term success of the initiatives identified in the course of this study could only be sustained through infrastructure investment towards supporting ESD at both the intra- and inter-institutional scale in Scotland.

There is need for an inter-institutional framework in Scotland to support interdisciplinary teaching and pedagogic research in ESD, acting effectively as a ‘think tank’ for ESD within our target disciplines (and beyond) in Scotland and providing leverage to address local barriers to implementation, perhaps though provision of centralized modules and/or degree programmes of courses of the type scoped in the study.

Some such provision would go some way towards addressing the obstacles presented by established traditional institutional structures and enabling the paradigm shift necessary to promote comprehensive embedding of ESD in our HE establishments.

Recommendations

  • A Humanities and Historical perspective on sustainability is lacking in current HE provision on ESD in Scotland which could be met by the development of curricula for ESD which integrates Archaeology, History, Sociology and Anthropology with the Environmental Sciences and Geography.
  • The development of cross-sector ‘common standard’ teaching and teaching support materials in the form of an undergraduate course book with an online pool of teaching material which sets out a framework for a course on sustainability (with sustainability as defined above). This will enable HE educators to develop ESD curricula according to their own institutional and curriculum requirements while maintaining coherence of methodology across the wider HE sector.
  • At PG Taught level, the creation of a new cross-institutional Sustainable Development programme for Scotland, supplementing and utilising components of existing Masters courses from a variety of Scottish institutions.
  • Infrastructure investment is required at both the intra- and inter-institutional scale in Scotland to support interdisciplinary teaching and pedagogic research in ESD.

Organisation/Institutions:
  • UHI Millennium Institute

Contact details