Key competencies to action : transdisciplinary learning of key competencies for sustainability
Abstract: Purpose: According to literature there is a set of six key competencies that distinguish sustainability professionals, including researchers, from professionals and researchers in other fields, making them “systemic problem solvers, change agents, and transition managers”. However, there is lack of empirical evidence, first, that these skills are necessary and sufficient for sustainability problem solving, and second, that current sustainability programs and courses convey these skills. This thesis aims to contribute to closing this gap. Design/Methodology/Approach: The thesis follows a case study approach, looking at the transdisciplinary Knowledge to Action course module of the LUMES Master’s programme. The study is designed as a mixed methods study containing quantitative as well as qualitative elements. Semistructured interviews with the course instructors and focus group interviews with students helped to contextualize the research. The results served as input for an ex-post self-assessment survey on key competencies. The survey results were analysed with the help of descriptive statistics and visual analysis. Document analysis was used to further compare the results to the aims and expectations of the course. Findings: LUMES students acquired all the competencies with varying degrees, systems-thinking being developed least and interpersonal competence being developed the most. The key competencies are well integrated into the teaching activities and the learning outcomes. Interpersonal competence is most developed through the course across project activities and phases, underscoring its cross-cutting nature. Real-life activities are only slightly more helpful in developing the key competencies. The five activities that contributed the most to the development across the key competencies are Problem Definition, Content Development, Impact Evaluation, Report Writing and Field Research, with only interpersonal competence having a quite distinct set of activities. Further, difficulty of and involvement in project activities as well as overall project success were found to have an effect on competence acquisition. Research Limitations/Implications: Focus on a single case, subjective self-assessment and lack of corroboration through extra-academic project partners limit the generalizability of the research results. However, it shows that the integration of the key competencies into sustainability curricula is possible and needs to further be fostered in the future. The findings further underscore the importance of real-life experience for the acquisition of key competencies and shows which activities should receive further attention. Future research needs to go even more in depth in order to determine the usefulness of the (teaching) activities for the development of key competencies in more detail. A comparative case study would also contribute to a better understanding of the connection between curricula, learning outcomes and the key competencies. Originality/Value: This thesis contributes to the theoretical development of sustainability education and provides an empirical basis for further development of the key competencies framework. It further provides insights into how current transdisciplinary course modules can contribute to the development of these competencies.
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