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Weaving the future – interdisciplinary learning in ESD for taught postgraduates Lindsey McEwen University of Gloucestershire HE Academy, York 14 th December.

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Presentation on theme: "Weaving the future – interdisciplinary learning in ESD for taught postgraduates Lindsey McEwen University of Gloucestershire HE Academy, York 14 th December."— Presentation transcript:

1 Weaving the future – interdisciplinary learning in ESD for taught postgraduates Lindsey McEwen University of Gloucestershire HE Academy, York 14 th December 2011 John Powell (Glos), Stephen Sterling (Plymouth), Glenn Strachan (London South Bank), David Norcliffe (Newport), Sheila Bennell (Bangor), and Jon Kelly (Glos)

2 Aims To explore students perceptions of interdisciplinary learning in ESD at taught postgraduate level To provide underpinning pedagogic research evidence base to support curriculum development in taught postgraduate courses

3 Background Builds on: McEwen, L. J., Jennings, R., Duck, R. and Roberts, H. (2009) Student experiences of interdisciplinary Masters courses Report for Higher Education Academy For further information on current project: see project website

4 Defining the nature of the postgraduate bar Traditional Masters level descriptors (QAA, SEEC, NICATS etc.); emphasis on skill development Importance of affective/attitudinal domains and personal skills (Fink, 2003) Creative professionalism (Kennedy, 2002) - ability to self-direct and renew learning Postgraduate learning - distinctive approaches to co-learning activities and socialisation

5 Predicted learning outcomes of ESD programmes mapped against those from interdisciplinary learning (Ivanitskaya et al., 2002) in McEwen et al. (2009)

6 The project - evaluating students experiences of IDL and ESD at taught Masters level: How students knowledge, understanding, abilities, motivations, language and culture, and conceptions/styles of learning are brought to ID co- learning environments for ESD; What kinds of learning can occur in IDL teaching- learning environments for ESD. In what settings can IDL be transformative?; How students perceive, experience and approach different IDL teaching-learning environments/ activities including assessment; and What students perceive as graduate attributes/skills for employability achieved through IDL in ESD.

7 Methodology Literature review Questionnaires – students/staff – eleven HEIs Focus groups – five institutions Weaving the Future Workshop Staff and student guides ESD IDL Postgraduate learning

8 Resources Website Guidance for staff and students Summary report from student questionnaire survey Project report to HE Academy Good practice case-studies – suggested by students/ staff Article - Planet 27 (May/June, 2011) Weaving the future: student and staff perceptions of interdisciplinary learning in ESD at taught postgraduate level

9 Courses surveyed:

10 Student perceptions questionnaire – selected themes: Understandings of interdisciplinary learning Learning outcomes Perceptions of co-learning environments Interdisciplinary learning and skills for employability Approaches to teaching and learning Interdisciplinary learning for transformation

11 Character of the 61 student respondents: Average age of respondents ; range from % female; 36% male All had work experience; average = 9.65 years, range = 3 months to 37 years. 28% - full time study; 44% - part time. 41% -distance learners; 31% - work-based learners Learning contexts very diverse – campus based v remote

12 Discipline(s) of prior degree Motivations for study: personal growth (75%) retraining (28%)

13 Theme 1: Understandings of IDL learning that involves a transformative process allowing the connections between disciplines to emerge/become apparent


15 Student voice: learning outcomes I was a black and white thinker - typical engineer! And now I am beginning to feel more comfortable working in the shade of grey. Has expanded my thinking by giving me opportunities to discuss issues and values, has made me read more about issues I am interested in and challenged me to write about them. The variety of backgrounds represented mean there are some very different value systems within the student group.

16 Perceptions of co-learning environments 92% students agreed that working with students from varied disciplinary backgrounds is a valuable learning experience. Only half the students (49%) perceived that their course provided plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary co-learning at postgraduate level. I feel that I have paid to attend a taught course in order to be taught by leaders in their research and teaching fields, not other students.

17 Student voice: student co-learning and IDL Being a distance learner I am not able to participate in these opportunities It does but not sure about plenty as it is a part time course and people only tend to meet up on the taught weekends Especially during the residential sessions But not as part of course

18 Q: Staff are not important role models in IDL Only a minority of staff actually practice "interdisciplinarity". Most remain in their scientific field of interest. (4.9%) (6.6%) (18.0%) (52.5%) (18.0%)

19 Interdisciplinary courses and skills for employability 85% students perceived that interdisciplinary learning would prepare them for the work place. but I am not sure it's recognised as a benefit in current employment opportunities (13.1%) (49.2%) (32.8%) (4.9%)

20 Which aspects of your interdisciplinary learning prepare you for the workplace? My workplace is made up of people from a variety of disciplines and I am able to understand better where they are coming from and use this to better meet their needs or explain my views to them. It also helped me to understand why some of my workmates are the way they are, some of their sentiments and behaviour are ingrained and I do not hold it against them. I had not understood this before.

21 Approaches to teaching, learning and assessment: that provide the best opportunities for interdisciplinary learning in ESD

22 I found that I understood things best when I was with a group of people from different disciplines and each gave their understanding of a situation. It was harder when I was on my own and had to figure out what things meant. Pedagogies that support social critical interactions between learners and/or learning interventions of varying disciplines. We have used a focus or theme as a context for the activities undertaken. Other approaches could be location or time based. An emphasis on participatory activities seems to enable formative thinking and discussion. Student voice: types of teaching and learning environments that provide the best opportunities for interdisciplinary learning in ESD

23 Environments where all students feel comfortable and supported enough to contribute to discussion. Environments where students are encouraged to participate. 'Dialogical' rather than 'banking'-style learning, in which the teacher sort of follows you where you take them and attempts to understand your perspective and interests. Environments in which students feel equal to the teacher and equally able to contribute. Student voice: Teaching and learning environments (cont.)

24 The facilitators passion is transferred to the learners The lesson/session has to be as interactive as possible This is possibly the most important factor: the attitude of the learner, and the willingness to explore and reflect

25 writing a reflective learning journal gender, human rights EU Policies and Research methods immersive stay for a week at a land based learning centre learning of my personal impact on the marine environment relationship between the local and global perspectives placement with an NGO The apparent unstructured approach of my tutors has made me work harder for my outcomes, and has challenged my pre conceptions of Masters level study. This thinking and understanding has helped me advise and even inform other people on key issues in community development and eco-tourism related issues in Uganda. Identification of a specific learning experience (IDL and transformative learning)

26 Building bridges and developing tools Building knowledge bridges – taking network discussions out beyond academia – to employers and professional bodies (GEES funded follow-on project) Developing tools (Living documents as guidance; e.g. shared exploration of pedagogies that encourage IDL in ESD at taught postgraduate level).

27 Conclusions Research base as stimulus for student/staff discussion about IDL in ESD at M- level Student perceptions here – match those of staff (in literature) Importance of making IDL explicit Need to move student neutral responses Need to support transitions to IDL in ESD at PGT Explore IDL and work-based elements of courses Establish case-studies of good/ innovative practice Themes for further investigation –IDL, sustainability and employability –IDL, sustainability and transformative learning Resources from project:

28 Selected references Brewer, G. D (1999) The challenges of interdisciplinarity Policy Sciences 32, pp Graybill, J. K. et al. (2006) A Rough Guide to Interdisciplinarity: Graduate Student Perspectives BioScience, 56 (9), Hansson, B. (1999) Interdisciplinarity: For what purpose?, Policy Sciences 32, pp Ivanitskaya, L. et al. (2002) Interdisciplinary learning: process and outcomes. Innovative Higher Education 27, Selby, D. (2006) The catalyst that is sustainability: bringing permeability to disciplinary boundaries. Planet 17, Sterling, S (2001) Sustainable Education – Re-visioning learning and change, Schumacher Briefing no.6. Schumacher Society/Green Books, Dartington.

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