Earlier this month the 8th Report from the Global University Network fir Innovation (GUNi) was published with a wealth of contributions critiquing current resilient modes and models of education and outlinig alternative one in light of the current systemic global dysfunction we find ourselves in. I was asked to contribute a chapter on transgressive learning. The link to the chapter is here
The full citation for my chapter is: Wals, AEJ (2022) Transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacity building as levers for sustainability. In: Higher Education in the World 8 – Special issue New Visions for HigherEducation, Barcelona: Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi). Open access: www.guni-call4action.org, p216-222.
This paper recently appeared in International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. It explores students’ sense of community and belonging in an online course on environmental and sustainable education during times of physical distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a case study approach, the results show that students perceived a sense of community that was collectively build during the four week program. Sense of community was linked to and facilitated by the learning environment and the educators’ and students’ role throughout the course. Prominent factors here are interaction and inclusion created with mutual effort by design, the educator and student.
This research arose after the course ELS-31806 Environmental Education and Learning for Sustainability was converted as an ‘offline’ course into an online course due to COVID-19. The original content of the course enables students to systematically discuss important concerns in the development of an effective curriculum and/or operation for the environment and sustainable development using a range of instrumental and emancipatory approaches. But foremost ELS-31806 is a course that has always been, well appreciated and highly valued by participants for its highly experiential and hands-on approach.
However, due to COVID-19 this year’s course (2020) was changed into a less experiential on-line format mediated by Zoom for interaction and by Brightspace for course structure and organisation. This somewhat ad-hoc and sudden departure from the traditional successful format, lowered the instructors, and probably also, the students’ expectations about the course’ ability to create a vibrant learning community. Yet, contrary to pre-course expectations, ‘something’ (i.e. a sense) arose over the course of four weeks online education that both students and staff considered to be special or meaningful. These hunches got confirmed several weeks after by Wageningen UR’s student evaluation system PACE which revealed that the students highly valued the course.
We were intrigued by the question of how this online edition evoked similar, or nearly similar outcomes to its offline counterpart. After first checking whether our hunches were right about the course and what might explain the high evaluation marks, we centre in the paper’s main question:
What are key characteristics of an online course that fosters subjectification (personal development and inner-sustainability in relation to others and the other) and creates a sense of community?
The paper was led by former MsC student Robbert Hesen and co-authored by myself and ELS Postdoc Rebekah Tauritz.
I feel very privileged to be part of one of the two major International River Research projects led by Wageningen UR colleague Prof. Rutgerd Boelens: Riverhood and RiverCommons. Riverhood and River Commons are both 5-year research projects that focus on enlivening rivers, river co-governance initiatives, and new water justice movements.
Riverhood is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) (Grant Agreement No 101002921) and aims to build groundbreaking transdisciplinary concepts and methodological tools to analyze and support new water justice movements’ institutions, strategies and practices for equitable and sustainable water governance. It does so through comparing initiatives in Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia) and Europe (Netherlands and Spain). The focus will be on movements promoting novel concepts and practices such as Rights of Nature, new water cultures or nature-inclusive hydraulics, to name just a few.
RiverCommons is funded by Wageningen University’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) and unites chair groups from the social and natural sciences, as well as partners worldwide. Its objective is to develop transdisciplinary concepts and methods for research, education, and multi-stakeholder interactions to understand and support river co-governance initiatives and sustainable socio-ecological river systems in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
While each of the projects has its specific objectives, activities, regions, and partners, there is immense potential for synergies and cross-pollination. Riverhood and River Commons will therefore be integrated in multiple ways, to together build a diverse and wide network of river scholars, activists, and institutions that commonly aim to understand and strengthen river co-governance around the world.
Both projects are united by a common framework that illuminates the different facets and complexities of river systems. The framework encompasses four dimensions: River-as-Ecosociety, River-as-Territory, River-as-Subject, and River-as-Movement. You can find more information about it in Concepts.
Another important component of both projects is the development of Environmental Justice Labs (Riverhood) and River Co-governance Labs (River Commons) to be organized in the case study sites to co-create knowledge and mobilize and exchange ideas for change.
World’s rivers are fundamental to social and natural well-being but profoundly affected by mega-damming and pollution. In response to top-down and technocratic approaches, in many places riverine communities practice forms of ‘river co-governance’, integrating ecological, cultural, political, economic and technological dimensions. In addition, new water justice movements (NWJMs) have emerged worldwide to creatively transform local ideas for ‘enlivening rivers’ into global action and vice versa. The Summer School aims to provide PhD students who conduct research on these ‘river commons’ and NWJMs with transdisciplinary concepts and approaches for studying their emerging ideas, concepts, proposals and strategies. The training thereby focuses on conceptualizing river systems in all senses, and capacity-building for (understanding and supporting) river knowledge co-creation and democratisation from the bottom up.
“It’s the economy, stupid!” was a slogan Bill Clinton used in his successful campaign against George W. Bush to point out that in the end it is the economy that matters most to voters. Now 30 years later this slogan has new meaning as we come to see the moral and planetary bankruptcy of old-style market and growth driven economic thinking that normalises unsustainability. Sadly, much higher (business) education still echoes and reproduces dysfunctional old-style economic thinking, even in universities that claim to have sustainability at the heart of their operations… even the SDG related to the economy – SDG 8 – seems to do so as it focuses on realizing ‘economic GROWTH and decent work’. It is hight time that alternative economic thinking takes root in our education – varying from distributive economic thinking to regenerative economic thinking to circular economic thinking to a letting go of economic thinking altogether to make room for alterative value propositions.What are the implications of such alternatives for how and what we teach? how students learn? how we connect with stakeholders around the university?
These and other questions will be addressed at the Higher Education Summit 2022 from 6-8 September 2022 in Hasselt, Belgium! Under the theme “Daring to transform learning for a future-proof economy” the summit will bring together those who wish to transform higher education for the benefit of a “safe and just space for humanity” (Raworth, 2017): people who study, teach, research, and contribute to governance at higher education institutions, and representatives of the business world, government, and civil society.
The organisers invite you to join us to rethink the role of higher education institutions in shaping the economy. Whether we prefer to call it a doughnut economy, circular economy, or regenerative economy – we all aspire for a world in which humans can flourish in close harmony with a thriving planet. And we know that learning is key to driving this transformation (Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development, 2021).
We are looking forward to celebrating your wonder! The Call for Contributions is open! Proposals are welcome until 15 March 2022. We will let you know by 29 April 2022 whether your proposal has been accepted. Your proposal should not exceed 1 A4 page, including references. You may include pictures or other visual representations. Proposals will be assessed by the scientific committee based on the following principles:
Potential for (societal and/or economic) transformation
Academic or other relevant quality for theory, practice or policy
Originality and level of innovativeness
Adequateness of mode of presentation, including the degree of co-creation with the audience
On 8 February 2022 SPARK the Movement organizes an interactive online meeting with regional, national and European educators around the question:
How can we mobilize the imaginative power of the region, thus learning together how to take up global challenges and focus on the local impact we can make?
SPARK’s conviction is that sustainability needs to be a part of the ‘everyday fabric of life’. The scale of a region seems to be a most suitable level to examine and enact sustainability in day-to-day life and in everyday business. The meeting is organised by United Nation’s supported Regional Centre of Expertise ‘Fryslan’ in The Netherlands. I will give a short introduction to the Whole School Approach as a key driver of sustainability.
It is my pleasure to share two calls for contributions in relation to the development of a Whole School Approach (WSA) to Sustainability. The first one relates to an international hybrid conference organized by the Dutch government that will take place in The Netherlands and partially online late March of 2022, the second one relates to an edited Volume on the topic in the Springer SDG4 Series on Quality Education.
Call for exemplary practices of a Whole School Approach to Sustainable Development
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy have commissioned a report to provide practical examples of how a Whole Institution/ Whole School Approach (WSA) is being used in practice around the world to engage with SDG4 – Quality Education, especially in relation to sustainable development issues as covered by the other SDGs. The reports aim is to highlight different aspects of a WSA – curriculum development, pedagogical innovation, school management and leadership, school-community relationships, professional development of staff, and the school as a ‘living laboratory’ for experimenting with healthy, equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable living – especially how these aspects can be integrated to mutually strengthen each other.
We are particularly interested in so-called critical case-studies that do not only highlight best-practice strategies and success stories, but also share the struggles, set-backs and challenges underneath and ways to overcome them. The report will be published as part of the WSA International Conference happening in The Netherlands on the 30th-31st March.
If you know of such a school (primary, secondary, or vocational) from your country that can be used as an exemplary example of a WSA in action, or want further details, please contact Rosalie Mathie via email. firstname.lastname@example.org before February 15th so she can still contact people connected to the exemplary case.
2 Call for Abstracts Springer SDG4 Series Whole School Approaches to Sustainability – Principles, Practices and Prospects
Ingrid Eikeland, Brigitte Bjønness, Astrid Sinnes and Arjen Wals (Eds)
Schools across the globe are seeking to respond to emerging topics like; climate change, biodiversity loss, healthy food and food security, and global citizenship. They are increasingly encouraged to do so by educational policies that recognize the importance of these topics and by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While there is recognition that such topics should not be added on to an already full curriculum, but rather require more systemic and integrated approaches, doing so in practice has proven to be difficult. This edited Volume seeks to engage educators, school leaders, educational policy-makers and scholars of sustainability in education in key principles, critical perspectives, generative processes and tools that can help realize a Whole School Approach to Sustainability. The book will contain three sections: 1) Principles & Perspectives, 2) Critically Reflexive Contextual Case Studies (Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education) and 3) Synthesis: Challenges and Prospects.
The editors are inviting abstracts (no more than 500 words) of potential chapters. Contributions can be research-based (spanning different genres of research) but can also be more conceptual in the form of critically reflexive essays. Abstracts should indicate a best fit with one of the sections and need to be accompanied with short bios of the author(s) and, if possible, references to prior publications that relate to the topic.
Please send your initial ideas for a contribution or any queries you may have to: email@example.com before March 1st. All abstracts will be reviewed by the editors and a selection will be made for further development into a full manuscript to be published by the end of 2022.
I was invited to give the closing keynote of the 2020 Annual General Meeting and Networking of Learning for Sustainability Scotland. The event was held online for the first time on 12th January 2021. More than 150 members gathered to explore the theme Building Forward Better: The role of Learning for Sustainability – What role does Learning for Sustainability play in making the world a better place, and how can we make this a reality? You can find a summary of the event and link to each of the programma elements here: https://learningforsustainabilityscotland.org/2021/01/28/report-from-the-lfs-scotland-jan-dec-2020-agm/
My talk titled ‘T-learning in Times of Transition Towards a Sustainable World’ presented an ultimately hopeful perspective on the role of new forms of learning and more ecological approaches of education in overcoming global systemic dysfunction – outlining some principles, perspectives and sharing international practice. You can see the 40 minute talk introduced generously by Rehema White, here: https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_gcmxxtyz The talk is followed up by some responses to questions raised by the participants.
The TESF Network tesf.netw has just released a background paper on Mobilising Capacities for Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures. Transforming education for sustainable futures requires coalitions and collaborations which span traditional boundaries – academic, professional, geographical and generational. A key point of departure in the paper is that sustainability is not something which can be discovered by scientists and disseminated through policy and practitioner networks, but rather something which must be created through processes of collective deliberation, questioning, negotiation, and experimentation. This requires opening spaces for examining entrenched unsustainable patterns, habits and routines which have become ‘frozen’, and engaging in collective action which includes experimenting, making and learning from errors, and celebrating progress towards more sustainable alternatives.
The key elements of mobilising capacities for achieving more dialogical, deliberative and co-creative forms of sustainability in and through education, can be summarised as follows:
Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures requires mobilising capacities in the form of knowledge, skills, agency, relationships and other valuable resources which are distributed across communities, organisations, professions and other stakeholder groups.
From a holistic or ecological perspective, capacities are relational, emerging through social interactions and relationships-in-action, rather than being individual properties or attributes.
Mobilising capacities which are distributed, and fostering capacities which are relational, requires reaching out and bringing together diverse groups to pursue shared goals within a wider coalition or network.
This requires creating, or opening up, spaces for dialogue, deliberation, experimentation, decision-making, developing relationships, and collaborative inquiry, action and learning.
Across these spaces, intentional structures and processes can support the learning of individuals and groups within the network, and facilitate learning by the network.
With schools and universities across the globe needing to find ways to share their knowledge without face-to-face interaction with students, many of my colleagues are having to resort to online lecturing. In order to make some of my own knowledge and insights easily available I made a collage of short lectures that are available for not just my own students but to anyone who is interested. Below you can find the links to 8 short introductions.
An Introduction to Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development (11 minutes)
2. Sustainability as an Attractively Vague Concept – a Competence Perspective (11 minutes)
3. An introduction to Wicked Sustainability Problems (12 minutes)
4. Intro: Transformative Learning in Relation to Sustainability (13 minutes)
5. Introduction to Social Learning and Sustainability – a short interview (4 minutes)
6. Introduction to Systems Thinking and Transitions (7 minutes)
7. Earth is Calling – Anybody Answering? How to use a smart phone as a teaching tool in education for sustainable development (21 minutes – note the actual lecture starts at minute 1 after a brief intro).
8. Three Strands of Research – a snapshot of research as ‘mining’, as learning and as activism (3 minutes)
A new paper was published in the journal Local Environment this month led by one of my recently graduated PhD-students, Daniele Souza. The paper investigates community-based initiatives and collective learning practices in sustainability transition processes. This paper presents the results of a participatory study that investigated a local initiative in the community of Lomba do Pinheiro in south Brazil to examine social learning processes in the context of socio-ecological vulnerability. In this community, a group composed of local residents and members representing the public sector and local educational institutions has promoted several learning-oriented actions aimed at restoring a degraded local watershed and improving residents’ livelihoods.
The study used social learning as a lens through which the initiative enacted by this group may be understood, and analysed how local conditions, determined by a context of vulnerability, have influenced local processes. We applied a multi-dimensional analytical framework that included individual, collective, and territorial dimensions. The analysis focused on the leading group, the individuals who comprise it, and their actions in the territory, while considering local constraints. Our findings highlight the importance of (1) shared values, mutual trust, and affective bonds for group cohesion as well as concerted action, equalisation of diverse languages within the group, knowledge integration, and initiative persistence; (2) a practical-reflexive approach based on a sequence of actions that catalyses group learning and facilitates advancement within the wider community; and (3) the role of inter-sectoral articulations and the establishment of partnerships to support actions.
This paper raises questions about the limits of an exclusively bottom-up approach to solve complex problems in the context of extremely precarious conditions.
The full reference is: Souza Tubino, D., Wals, A.E.J., Jacobi, P. (2019) Learning-based transformations towards sustainability: a relational approach based on Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire, Environmental Education Research, 25 (x), 1-15.
This new book published by Brill just came out and I am pleased to have been ablte contribute to its contents together with one of my colleagues from the University of Gothenburg, Anne Algers. Our chapter is part of a rich collection of chapters focusing on ways of opening education to allow for more dynamic forms of learning to emerge in a world that is trying to grapple with many of the existential and ecological crises that, both ironically and sadly, humanity itself has created. The chapter that Anne and I wrote (have look at the pre-print here: Sustainability_orientedOpenLearningAlgersWals2020) asks the question of “How can open education play a role in making academia more responsive and responsible in addressing ill-defined and ambiguous, but ever so urgent, sustainable development challenges?” In our chapter, a case study from the field of sustainable development of food systems provides a narrative that illustrates the possible impact of open education; and the value of a culture of openness to individuals, to a community, and to society.
First, we provide a contextual background on the implications of openness in higher education. Second, we introduce the subject of sustainable development (SD) of our global food systems; and third, we discuss the concept of education for sustainable development (ESD). Fourth, by means of thick description (Geertz, 1973), we report a case study on open education which we discuss in light of learning theory, critical pedagogy, and sustainable development.
In the end we argue for a radical interpretation of open education which we refer to as transformative sustainability-oriented open education, where ”open” refers to inviting and expressing critique and marginalized perspectives in controversial societal issues, while transformative refers to enabling learners to bring about change.
Suggested citation: Algers, A. & Wals, A. J. (2020). Transformative Sustainability-Oriented Open Education. In: Conrad, D. & Prinsloo, P. (Eds.). Open(ing) Education. (pp. 103-120). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Sense. doi.org/10.1163/9789004422988_006
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Taking place in 3 countries (Sweden, United Kingdom and The Netherlands) three ‘collective residencies’ brought together an intergenerational group of people who played, ate, (re)imagined, learned and created together, to design alternative futures around a selected ‘glocal’ issue, and explore what needs to be disrupted to realise these imagined realities; what is working with us and what is working against us? Two hopeful examples of local residents and one from academia show the power of arts-based approaches and the importance of hope and lightheartedness. The research was initiated and led by former MSc and PhD-students of mine, Natalia Eernstman
Imaginative Disruptions was a two-year creative research project that explored the transgressive potential of art and making to engage groups of citizens and experts in imaginative conceptions of alternative environmental narratives.
Underneath the project is the assumption that the structures and mind-sets of our modern society have made unsustainable living the default and sustainable living the exception. Acknowledging that environmental issues occur in the every-day lives of people rather than on drawing boards of technocrats, implies that designing and transitioning towards a more environmentally sustainable alternative should include citizen, lay or situated knowledges. There are some signs that such knowledge is recognized and demanded in both science and society (e.g. the push for citizen science and multi-stakeholder social learning). However, the practical realisation of processes that include public dialogue, in which citizens become critics and creators of knowledge, are fairly under-developed.
Here are some of the things we aimed to find out:
What arrangements and conditions are needed to disrupt daily routines and generate new ones?
Does the recognition and inclusion of situated knowledges generate radically different perspectives on how we can live well and environmentally, or do they represent the fine-tuning and, thereby, the maintenance of the status quo?
What happens if you put adults and children in the same learning arrangement and invite them to learn, play and experiment collectively? Chaos or…?
(How) is the knowledge produced through this heterogenous, vernacular, artistic, non-hierarchical and intergenerational process ‘useful’ to the community in question and a wider subject arena around it?
What is the added value of creative / artistic techniques in the social learning that will take place?
The ‘data’ of the research project emerged from the residencies with people talking, creating and reflecting together. We aimed to collect what the residencies generate in ways that don’t disrupt the activities, and allow us record things that we didn’t know we were going to document in advance.
Last month I attended the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER in Hamburg this year. Around 3000 participants from over 60 countries attended the conference. Since the overall theme was ‘Education in an Era of Risk – the Role of Educational Research for the Future’ I had the honor of being asked as one of the plenary keynote speakers, as was my good colleague and friend Heila Lotz-Sisitka from Rhodes University in South Africa who, like myself, is a member of ECER/EERA’s subnetwork on Environmental and Sustainability Education (Network 30), one of the youngest and rapidly expanding networks.
The title of my talk was: Should and Can Education Save the Planet? In the talk I outlined the current global sustainability challenges form a learning perspective and I introduced the concept of sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning. I also introduced the notion of sustainability Bildung in which Biesta’s three tasks of education are reconfigured with Planet in mind to become eco-subjectification, eco-socialization and eco-qualification.
You can watch the full keynote here (also understandable for the deaf and hearing impaired as the talk was kindly supported with sign language).
Here is the official ECER2019 abstract of the keynote.
Education unwillingly has become a key mechanism for fostering economic development, innovation and growth. In the meantime, humanity is facing a range of sustainability issues that include: rising inequity, loss of democracy, runaway climate change and mass extinction. These issues can be so overwhelming that they can easily lead to apathy and despair which will only make them bigger. We appear to be at a tipping point where the decisions we make about how to live together will be crucial for the future of our planet. There is no better time than now to ask: What is education for? What if education would serve people and planet rather than just or mainly economic interests? Is this a role education should play? And, if so, what does such an education look like?
Based on emerging research and practices from around the world, I will sketch forms of education and learning that are: responsive, responsible and transformative in light of global sustainability challenges. Sustainability here is not seen as another subject to be added to an overcrowded curriculum, but rather as a continuous quest for finding ways to live more equitably, meaningfully and healthier on the Earth without compromising planetary boundaries and the futures of the coming generations. Such a quest requires a more relational pedagogy that can help establish deeper connections with people, places and other species. Such a pedagogy not only invites reflection on values and ethics, and the utilization of diversity, but also the critiquing and transgressing of the structures and systems that make living unsustainably easy and living sustainably hard.
Here is the abstract. This paper is a part of Daniele’s PhD work at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil which Pedro and I co-supervise. The paper is a first attempt to link the thinking of Paulo Freire and Humberto Maturana to each other and to emancipatory sustainability-oriented transformations in urban area’s.
This article investigates the relevance of the work of the Latin-American thinkers Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire to learning-based transformations towards sustainability. This analysis was inspired by a case study of a Brazilian urban community seeking to develop pathways towards sustainable living and was informed by a review of their key works. The paper aims to obtain a better conceptualization of learning-based transformations and provide insights into collective learning processes focused on advancing sustainable practices. We present notions of the transformative social learning approach that underpins the case study, using the concepts of Maturana and Freire as a lens. Our results indicate the importance of a relational approach in fostering collective learning processes. Finally, we derive three principles that can guide such processes: (1) facilitating transformative interactions between people and places, (2) enabling dialogic interaction within a climate of mutual acceptance, and (3) creating space for ontological pluralism.
Over the past three years I have been fortunate to be a part of an ISSC supported Transformative Knowledge Network (TKN) called the T-Learning Network (see: T-Learning Network Website). The network has yielded several highly cited academic papers but, fortunately, also more practical ideas, concepts and tools. Three young and talented people in the network -Thomas Macintyre, Martha Chaves and Dylan McGary – co-created a lovely guide in both Spanish and English introducing one of the networks most exciting ideas: the Living Spiral Framework. This guide is targeted at researchers and practitioners interested in sharing their research into transformative and transgressive learning in the field of sustainability, climate change, and social and environmental justice.
In the introduction the guide states:
“We can understand transformative learning as transformations in beliefs, values and practices in a way that helps us live a more socially and ecologically responsible way. Delving deeper into the intricacies of transformation, we arrive at the emerging field of ‘transgressive learning,” a critical and action-oriented form of learning which challenges normalised systems which have become oppressive and detrimental to life.
We believe questioning our unsustainable beliefs, worldviews and practices as well as offering alternatives, is needed for such deeper learning to occur and transgress. To achieve this we need voices and narratives from actors within and outside of academia: from social learning facilitators, to indigenous shamen; from the city-based sustainability practitioners to the rural farmer, to have different perspectives on understanding transformation towards sustainability.
This guide provides a step-by-step guide for discovering how and to what extent, personal and collective learning journeys result in transformations towards sustainability, including the challenges and tensions experienced along the way. Moreover, it will allow you to follow the process cautiously to find your own indicators of transformation, unexpected results and opportunities, as well as other experiences along the way.” (Macintyre, Chaves, McGary, 2018 – p. 8).