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Bolger, D.T., Bieluch, K., Krivak-Tetley, F., Maggs-Kölling, G. and Tjitekulu, J. 2018. Designing a Real-World Course for Environmental Studies Students: Entering a Social-Ecological System. Sustainability, 10: 2546; doi:10.3390/su10072546


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Designing a Real-World Course for Environmental Studies Students: Entering a Social-Ecological System.

Summary / Notes:

There is increasing interest in using "real-world pedagogy" to train students in ways that make them better able to contribute toward a more sustainable society. While there is a robust body of literature on the competencies that students need as sustainability professionals, there is a lack of specific guidance in the literature on how to teach for competency development or on how to structure a program or course to support competency development. Our research addresses this gap in the literature through a description and autoethnographic reflection on the design and early implementation of a “real-world” course. The course is from the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH, USA), but it takes place in the environs of the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre in the Namib Desert of Namibia and in nearby Topnaar settlements. Our research objective was to articulate strategies to address the primary pedagogical challenges that we faced during the design and first five iterations of the course. These include: How do we frame this course and communicate it to students in a way that is understandable and works within the particular context and constraints of the course? Can we provide students with a coherent framework that helps them to understand the approach and also provides a platform for thoughtful consideration, acquisition, and retention of appropriate competencies? How do we develop collaborations with our community partners that are ethical and effective? How do we frame these real-world experiences in a way that allows for students to integrate their experience with the theory and broader empiricism they learn on campus? To address these pedagogic challenges, we framed the course as a research-based course, more specifically community-based research (CBR), conducted in a social-ecological system (SES). We developed lower-level strategies for implementing this framing, including preparing students for collaborative research, encouraging student ownership of their learning, linking theory to research, and thoughtfully navigating time constraints. Furthermore, program-level and student-level engagement with community have been critical for avoiding becoming "helicopter researchers." Drawing on our personal reflections and those of our community partners, we conclude with a discussion of emergent outcomes and the next steps for continual improvement and adaptation. Keywords: social-ecological system, community-based research, environmental studies education, sustainability education, real-world pedagogy, Namibia

Year: 2018

Type: Journal Article

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