Interdisciplinary learning in Environmental Sustainable Development (ESD) at taught postgraduate level: research-informed capacity building for curriculum development

John Powell worked with a research team led by Lindsey McEwen to explore interdisciplinary approaches to student learning in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at taught Master’s level in Higher Education Institutions in the UK. The multi-institutional project team comprised Lindsey McEwen (University of Gloucestershire); John Powell (CCRI); Sheila Bennell (Bangor); Stephen Sterling (Plymouth); David Norcliffe (Newport); Glenn Strachan (London South Bank); and Joe Howe and Chris Lowe (UCLAN).

The project evaluated students’ experiences of interdisciplinary learning (IDL) and ESD at post-graduate level and investigated:

  • how existing knowledge, understanding, abilities, motivations, language and culture, and conceptions/styles of learning among post-graduate students are brought into co-learning environments for environmental sustainable development;
  • what kinds of learning can occur in inter-disciplinary teaching-learning environments and in what settings can it be transformative or third order;
  • how post-graduate students in interdisciplinary courses perceive, experience and approach different inter-disciplinary teaching-learning environments/ activities; and,
  • what students perceive as the learning outcomes/graduate attributes/skills for employability achieved through interdisciplinary learning in ESD.

ESD is construed broadly with a range of different types of taught postgraduate courses surveyed using a mix of methods including on-line surveys, focus groups and a workshop. John Powell brought experience from operating the CCRI’s distance learning European Rural Development Masters’ programme to the project team, as well as previous experience in teaching on a range of interdisciplinary environmental programmes.

The project ran from October 2010 to July 2011 and was funded by the Higher Education Academy.