Science, citizenship and sustainability: a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to learning and teaching in Higher Education to address issues of sustainability

Laura Colucci-Gray, Elizabeth Mary Brebner Curtis, Donald S Gray, Christine Ann Fraser

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Socio-environmental issues involve collective responsibilities. This has implications for decision-making processes with the need to include multiple voices and the voices of people who have been traditionally excluded from policy-making. It also calls for raising consciousness of the individuals about specific issues affecting them in their everyday lives. Current initiatives in policy such as the efforts for public engagement in science and technology point to the need for public participation in both formal and informal ways. In the area of knowledge production, we are also witnessing efforts to move towards interdisciplinary and hybrid forms of knowledge, for new areas of inquiry such as sustainability science are emerging to deal with the complex nature of socio-environmental issues (Clark, 2007). In this scenario, it is not only the experts reforming their traditional affiliations but more extended peers’ communities are sought in which to share different forms of knowledge (i.e. from scientific to experiential), as each one provides an equally valid and valuable point of view (Gallopin et al., 2001). This implies that knowledge production is a dynamic, ongoing and interdisciplinary process.
In education, curricular reforms taking place across the globe – in Higher Education and schools alike - are aimed at promoting attitudes, skills and competences for people to actively participate in the new scenario of knowledge-formation and democratic life. In practice, this calls for teacher education practices which are commensurate with such goals, and a form of research which is aimed at building knowledge and understanding in this area.
This contribution is a research-based description of the educational features of a course in Initial Teacher Education designed to introduce beginning teachers to interdisciplinary issues in science and society. The course is addressed to post-graduate students enrolled in the post-graduate certificate in Education – both primary and secondary - at the University of Aberdeen. The module is attended by circa 25 students and it is co-taught by four tutors respectively drawn from the natural and the social sciences.

Interactive activities are proposed in each session with the purpose of:
- Getting students started on the journey towards sustainability by raising topic –specific as well as educational questions related to it.
- Introducing them to interdisciplinary and dialogical modes of learning and knowing to develop transferable skills to bring in their practice.

The course is rooted into an action-research in which data is produced in the course of the learning and teaching process, and are also used as part of it, to feed reflection at the global level (the overall structure of the course), and at the individual level (people’s perceptions of specific activities). So with respect to the pointers for reflection (and discussion of the findings) we are concerned with qualifying the nature of students’ understanding of interdisciplinary issues and weighing up the strengths and the limitations of the course. Conclusions point to the learning we gained from the experience of working collaboratively. It seems that links between sustainability and citizenship with core areas of the ITE curriculum are natural and feasible, but integration requires deep and sustained dialogue between tutors that are interested in grappling with the wider aims and messages embedded in their own subjects.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducation in a Global Space
Subtitle of host publicationResearch and Practice in Initial Teacher Education
EditorsTanya Wisely, Alan Britton, Ian Barr
Place of PublicationEdinburgh, United Kingdom
PublisherScottish Development Education Centre
ISBN (Print)1899136169, 978-1899136162
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2010


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