Environmental Activism and its Influence on Sustainability Education (SE): Experiences at two British universities
MetadataShow full item record
The primary aim of the project is to explore the relationship between environmental activism and the formal teaching of sustainable development in higher education. This will be investigated through two research questions:- 1) What are the key influences, transformational qualities and “critical incidents” in sustainability education that foster students’ engagement in environmental activism? 2) In what ways does the personal experience of environmental activism influence an individual’s learning and engagement with sustainability education.in higher education? Research on student environmental activism has so far focussed on its origins, concentrating on behaviour (Stern, 2000) characteristics (Tranter, 2010) motivation (Whitmarsh and O’Neil, 2010) values (Shean & Shea, 1995) and social identity (Dono, Webb & Richardson, 2010). To date the learning experience that such activism presents to students has only initially begun to be explored (Cook and Cutting, 2012). The complex nature of ‘motivation’ and student environmental advocacy has resulted in much of the research remaining both poorly characterised and integrated, however, an examination of learning through environmental activism is more clearly defined and integrative with the pedagogical theory and practical approaches often associated with SE. This is not to over-simplify, as there is a complex relationship here. There are environmentally ‘active’ students at all Universities yet how, if at all, has their learning in higher education influenced their view of sustainability issues? Have their studies, through critical engagement with their subject, reinforced their commitment or undermined it? With the increasing interest in student-led experiential, informal work and problem based learning, what, if anything, does their activism bring to their studies and what can be learnt from their experiences in order to shape learning and teaching practices across all these domains and approaches? The project will be a combined study of data drawn from two British Universities in the south-west of England; Plymouth and Exeter. The need to adapt the curriculum to imbue students with the values necessary for sustainable living is increasingly recognised (Sterling 2001; Huckle and Sterling 2006), as being a central yet problematic concern. “Environmental activism” in its various forms is probably the most active expression of those values, but what leads to its adoption and how does it influence SE? Stern (2000) defines environmental activism as requiring dynamic involvement in organised environmental groups. Tranter (2010) however, makes a distinction between active environmentalism and environmental activism, with the former being involved in group’s promoting and involving pro-environmental behaviour and the latter involving groups more concerned with environmental protest. Therefore, this project will work with two student cohorts. The first is of students who are members of UPSU volunteering societies, The second is students who are active in local environmental pressure and “direct action” groups. Once established, a mixed method approach will be utilised to evaluate potential drivers for behaviour and potential synergies from their degree studies to these environmental behaviours. At this time is hoped to utilise some of the methods developed by the Learning Lives Project and by Godson (2005) and Haylor (2011) particularly in relation to data collection. However, the team has significant experience in research design and analysis. An independent Research Steering Group will be established to assist in method design and analysis at regular meetings across the duration of the project. The outcomes of the project will be to evaluate the influence and role, if any, that higher education may play in promoting, moderating or even, through critical engagement, weakening environmental behaviour. To what extent do they feel that membership and involvement in environmental groups influences their formal studies and to what degree is such involvement a learning experience in itself?
The following license files are associated with this item: