Tag Archives: university

What would a sustainable Third Level Campus look like?

Another rehearsal video – this time for a short job talk on ways to address sustainability and sustainable development in third level (a.k.a. post-secondary, higher or further) education.

I advocate an integrated systems approach, where every aspect of the institution is informed by key sustainability competences, and viewed as an opportunity for students to develop these competences.  Communities of practice among faculty, staff and administrators, can help make this possible.

Works Cited and Recommended References

Abdul-Wahab, S. a., Abdulraheem, M. Y., & Hutchinson, M. 2003. “The need for inclusion of environmental education in undergraduate engineering curricula.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 4(2), 126–137. doi:10.1108/14676370310467140

Bacon, Christopher M, Dustin Mulvaney, Tamara B Ball, E Melanie DuPuis, Stephen R Gliessman, Ronnie D Lipschutz, and Ali Shakouri. 2011. “The creation of an integrated sustainability curriculum and student praxis projects.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 12 (2):193-208.

Barth, Matthias, Jasmin Godemann, Marco Rieckmann, and Ute Stoltenberg. 2007. “Developing key competencies for sustainable development in higher education.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 8 (4):416-430.

Cullingford, Cedric, and John Blewitt. 2004. The Sustainability Curriculum: The challenge for higher education: Routledge.

Jones, Paula, David Dr Selby, and Stephen R. Sterling, eds. 2010. Sustainability education: perspectives and practice across higher education: London ; Sterling, VA : Earthscan, 2010.

Lambrechts, Wim, Ingrid Mulà, Kim Ceulemans, Ingrid Molderez, and Veerle Gaeremynck. 2013. “The integration of competences for sustainable development in higher education: an analysis of bachelor programs in management.”  Journal of Cleaner Production 48 (0):65-73. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.12.034.

Meadows, D. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Merrill, M.Y., Chang, Y., Islam, M.S., 2016. Communities of Practice in Education for Sustainability: A Case Study from Asian Higher Education, in: Sharma, V.K. (Ed.), International Symposium on a Sustainable Future-2016 (ISSF-2016). Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mumbai, India, pp. 127-143.

Merrill, M.Y., Chang, Y., Islam, M.S., Burkhardt-Holm, P., Chang, C.-H., in prep. Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia. Routledge, Singapore.

Mochizuki, Yoko, and Zinaida Fadeeva. 2010. “Competences for sustainable development and sustainability.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 11 (4):391-403. doi: doi:10.1108/14676371011077603.

Rieckmann, Marco. 2012. “Future-oriented higher education: Which key competencies should be fostered through university teaching and learning?”  Futures 44 (2):127-135.

Sandri, Orana Jade. 2013. “Threshold concepts, systems and learning for sustainability.”  Environmental Education Research 19 (6):810-822. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2012.753413.

Sterling, Steven. 2011. “Transformative learning and sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground.”  Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 5:17-33.

Wiek, Arnim, Lauren Withycombe, and Charles L Redman. 2011. “Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development.”  Sustainability Science 6 (2):203-218.


Creating a New Kind of University

If you know me or have been following my blog, you may have surmised that I’m interested in creating new forms of higher education that are more conducive to sustainable human futures. This is an idea I’ve been ruminating upon for quite some time, so I’d like to share a little of the history of my thinking on the topic. I was especially inspired by a recent conversation with Arshad Rab, who noted in his welcoming talk at the International Greening Education Event last October:
“The university of the future doesn’t exist yet.  We will build it in the next five years.”

Arts, Design and Media building, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  Photo by Erik S. Peterson.

I have often wondered what it would take to create a university that could provide real education for a sustainable future. Can such a thing be built by a small group of thoughtful, committed people, in a way that promotes institutional resilience and sustainability?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead (attiribution disputed)
In 2000-2001, I worked at New College of California, a higher educational institution that was consciously designed by a small group of scholars in the 1970s with the intention of providing holistic education for social activists.  I participated in the meetings where the motto of “Education for a Just, Sacred, and Sustainable World” was proposed and thoughtfully debated.  New College of California established one of the earliest “Green MBA” programs. Sadly, financial and organizational mismanagement hampered the institution’s viability, leading to eventual loss of accreditation and closure by 2008.  But, despite its shortcomings, I was most inspired by the stories of how it started at the beginning of the 1970s: just a couple professors and a few dozen students gathered in someone’s living room, deciding they should create a higher education institution for people who wanted to change the world.
Of course, financial crises were widespread in higher education institutions in 2008.  At about that time, I started a new blog to share my thinking about trying to form a new institution to offer Bachelor of Arts degrees, as a way to make use of the relative abundance of qualified-but-underemployed instructors in my hometown.  That never took off, but the notion of building a new institution of higher education has lingered in the back of my mind.  Last month, there was a piece in Nature on the overabundance of science PhDs relative to academic jobs.  Wouldn’t it be great to be making better use of all that potential talent, in service of building a sustainable and resilient future?
And I believe that talent is best harnessed using approaches to teaching (really, facilitating learning) that are more appropriate for today’s and tomorrow’s world. Since July, I’ve been working on a paper with Rodrigo Lozano on linking sustainability competences (skills, abilities, attitudes) to pedagogies (methods for teaching or otherwise guiding learners), to better inform higher education for sustainability (this is what I presented at the Global Cleaner Production and Sustainable Consumption conference in Barcelona last November).  The take-home message from that work is that there are many pedagogies in use in a few places that would serve the goals of helping students develop sustainability competences, and that most of the best are very different from what are still the most widespread pedagogies at our universities (didactic lectures and summative exams).
I have a suspicion that the structure of established universities may inhibit (perhaps even prohibit) the development of of better approaches to education for a sustainable future.  I believe that it is time to start talking about how to create a higher education system that can support the evolution or revolution of adult learning that can improve our prospects for sustainability.
At a workshop by Lauralee Alben in 2006, participants were tasked to articulate a guiding question.  Mine was “How can I connect with, learn from and teach people so that we can co-create a sustainable, resilient culture?”  This question is still what guides my work, and I believe it is essential that I have conversations with people around this question.
 What can and should we do?  Where do we start?  What are our visions for the university that has yet to sprout?  If you want to join this conversation, I encourage you to leave a comment below, or join the “International Andragogy for Sustainability” group I initiated on LinkedIn.

NTU races toward sustainability

Why would I come all the way to Singapore to do research on education for sustainability?  Here’s why:

NTU’s new icons of sustainability

In 2013, the two new [residential] halls achieved Green Mark Platinum status – the highest award for an individual building given by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for environmental sustainability…

NTU is also set to become the greenest eco-campus in the world, with its aim to have a 35 per cent reduction in energy, water and waste by 2020.

They’re also requiring all incoming freshman to complete a short, multidisciplinary, online course on sustainability.  Learn more…

NTU is serious about becoming a leading world university, and how they plan to get there is by leading the world in sustainability.

I do believe I love my job 🙂