Teaching used to be about lectures, and learning about memorising information. But in a field such as sustainability where new ways of acting are the ultimate purpose, just knowing more is not enough. Certainly, knowledge and understanding is important, but the rate that new knowledge develops and the rate of change in the sustainability field itself, both mean that knowledge soon needs to be updated.
You often hear that the jobs of the future haven’t been imagined yet. This is especially so for the field of sustainability. Those participating in sustainability will need to keep up with the changing roles they will play, be it in their work or in their communities.
We can empower our students with these skills by allowing them to take an active part in their own learning through a learner-centred teaching approach. I have talked previously about the role of the educator as a facilitator of learning in such an environment, but there is also lots to talk about in terms of the learning activities.
These activities involve students in ‘doing’ so that they are able to become the active citizens that sustainability requires. By engaging in problem based learning around real issues or places, students encounter the uncertainties and ambiguities that are a real part of decision making and practice for complex environmental issues.
Student activities which immerse students in that ‘messiness’ mean they are involved in defining the problem, making sense of diverse and sometimes contradictory sources of information and having to reflect deeply on the many important considerations embodied in sustainability, including those around social justice (Phelan et al., 2015). Enquiry based learning such as this are student initiated and driven and they emphasize higher order thinking skills such as creating, evaluating and applying (see Blooms Taxonomy) which are critical for learning to ‘live’ and ‘do’ together (see the Pillars of Learning).
The range of activities that could be considered learner-centred are vast. For example activities such as debating controversial issues, role-play, simulation games, values clarification and analysis, as well as creative and experiential practices all make learning interactive and immersive (Skamp, 2009).
My colleague Liam Phelan and I have also co-authored a chapter in a new book edited by Loren Byrne which also provides many amazing approaches, tried and tested, by practitioners all around the world. It’s called ‘Learner-Centered Teaching Activities for Environmental and Sustainability Studies’. It provides detailed teaching resources so that we can all hand over the reins to our students more.
Image: chicken on a leash by HipsterBrown