Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Teaching Sustainability in Higher Education: Pedagogical Styles That Make a Difference

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Teaching Sustainability in Higher Education: Pedagogical Styles That Make a Difference

Article excerpt


Higher education for sustainable development (HESD) is inspired by the aim to help students (i) develop sustainability attitudes, skills, and knowledge that inform decision making for the benefit of themselves and others, now and in the future, and (ii) act upon these decisions (UNESCO, 2009). Education for sustainable development, or the inclusion of key sustainability issues in all types of teaching and learning, has been supported and promoted over the last decades by global frameworks such as the United Nations' Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) and the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (post-2014), both led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (Buckler & Creech, 2014; UNESCO, 2014).

Higher education institutions can make a significant impact in the advancement of sustainable development as they take on various roles and responsibilities. Some of these include education for a sustainable society (James & Card, 2012; Leal Filho, MacDermot, & Padgam, 1996), developing future professionals as change agents (Moore, 2005; Svanström, Lozano-Garcia, & Rowe, 2008), as well as facilitating the creation of spaces where ideas are expressed freely, paradigms are challenged, creativity is promoted, and new knowledge is acquired and generated (Barth, Godemann, Rieckmann, & Stoltenberg, 2007; Córtese, 2003; Lozano, 2006).

Different kinds of models for teaching and learning are required to meet UNESCO's challenge; the very nature of sustainable development is much more complex than certain and is multidisciplinary at many levels (UNESCO, 2014). The goal of higher education is to support students in developing their capacity for recognizing and understanding the complexity of sustainability issues, and for thinking critically about assumptions, biases, beliefs, and attitudes while actively participating in their resolutions. The very nature of sustainability as a contested, multilayered and multifaceted subject provides rich opportunities for critical thinking and transformative learning (UNESCO, 2014).

Despite an urgent need for young people to gain vital knowledge and understanding of sustainability matters-and don the role of pro-sustainability citizens in thought and action-the nature of the pedagogy that neglects to tend to students' prior knowledge and lectures "a right position" is untenable, rendering it unsustainable in students' lives. A paradox exists between sustainability in higher education as a message that provokes thinking and action through transformative learning, and current sustainability in higher education pedagogy, which lacks the sustenance to facilitate sustainability thinking and behaviour, and often is stymied by a transmissive and lecture-driven delivery. Some issues to consider are: (i) whether there is a chasm between the transformative element in sustainability lifelong learning and the actuality; (ii) what there is to comprehend about models of teaching that could make a difference; and (iii) whether or not sustainability courses, as they are currently conceptualized and implemented, incite learning that matches initial goals.

In the present paper, definitions of approaches to sustainability (Alvarez & Rogers, 2006), pinpointing their epistemological and pedagogical positions, are presented and discussed in light of HESD teaching and learning. The authors juxtapose approaches to sustainability with three basic teaching styles (Roberts & Silva, 1968), three philosophical models that offer an in-depth critique of the necessary conditions for an effective teaching pedagogy in acquiring an understanding of, and engaging in, sustainability-related issues and solutions. The paper positions the concept of transformative learning as a reference point for effective HESD instruction and attempts to overcome the existing paradox of a powerful sustainability message delivered via a powerless pedagogy, which results in current teaching practices that lead to unsustainability. …

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