About arjenwals

Arjen Wals is a Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development. He also is a UNESCO Chair in the same field. Wals has worked at Wageningen University since 1992 in various departments. He is a guest professor at IDPP at Gothenburg University since 2014. His research focuses on learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. A central question in his work is how to create conditions that support new forms of learning that take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness that is all around us, but so far remains largely untapped in our search for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect. Wals has been involved in a number of projects in Africa that seek to make curricula more responsive to current societal and labour market needs and challenges posed by (un)sustainability. Popular books include: 'Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability (Kluwer Academic, 2004) and Social Learning towards a Sustainable World (Wageningen Academic, 2007).

Another Timely Course in Times of COVID-19 – Climate Action: Scaling Up Your Impact

CornellCourse

Cornell University’s Civic Ecology Lab is starting a new online course on Climate Action during a time where the topic is more urgent then ever but also, when many people, the forunate ones, are locked-down into there home environment with access to technology and lots of time on their hands. Here is the basic info. You can also go straight to their website!

Overview. Many of us want to do something about climate change, but individual actions can feel inadequate in the face of the looming crisis. In the Network Climate Action: Scaling up your Impact online course, you will learn what the latest research says about how to scale up your individual actions through your social networks. You will choose a greenhouse gas mitigation action you take yourself and apply social influence research to persuade your family, friends, social media followers, or other social network to also take that action. You will be part of a unique online community that is applying innovative, exciting, and evidence-based approaches to fight climate change!

Participants. Environment, climate, and education professionals, volunteers, university students, or other climate concerned citizen from any country. Discussions will be in English. This is NOT a course about climate science, but rather about how you can take effective action to help address the climate crisis.

Cost. $60 fee. Most participants pay this fee.

Options available to pay a higher fee ($120) to sponsor another student, or pay a lower or no fee if you are unable to pay or live in countries without internationally accepted payment systems (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran).

Educational approach. The course is based on two principles: (1) Learning is social: participants learn by discussing ideas and sharing resources; (2) Learning should lead to action: participants will apply course content to implementing a climate action of their choice and by persuading one of their social networks to take that action alongside them.

Technology. Edge edX for readings, pre-recorded lectures, and discussion questions (asynchronous). We will also use Facebook and WhatsApp for optional informal discussions and sharing. We will host one webinar each week (Thursdays 8am NY time) and one “office hours” webinar for participants to ask questions each week (Wednesdays 8am NY time). Webinars will be recorded if participants are unable to attend in person.

Certificates. Participants who complete the course are awarded a Cornell University certificate (PDF). Weekly assignments include lectures, readings, and discussion questions. Participants are required to participate in a minimum of one course webinar in person or by watching the recorded webinar. Required course project is a one-page report on the climate action you took with your network.

Learning outcomes. Participants will:

  1. Describe the feasibility and effectiveness of actions to mitigate greenhouse gases across different countries and contexts.

  2. Implement an action to reduce greenhouse gases themselves and among their social network.

  3. Critically reflect on the results of their network climate action and write a one-page report of their action and reflections.

  4. Participate actively in a global online community of climate-concerned citizens.

Topics. Topics. Week 1: Climate Solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from www.drawdown.org. Week 2: Social Networks and spread of climate behaviors; Week 3: Social Mobilization; Week 4: Social Norms; Week 5: Social Marketing and Social Media.

Work load. 5 weeks (4-5 hours of work per week). Throughout the course, you will be working on your network climate action. During the last week, you will complete and submit a final report on your project to persuade one of your social networks to take a climate action.

Dates. April 7 – May 12, 2020. Assignments must be completed no later than May 19, 2020.

Instructors. An experienced and dynamic team from Cornell University Civic Ecology Lab: Marianne Krasny (Professor), Alex Kudryavtsev (Research Associate), Yue Li (Research Associate), Kim Snyder (Course Administrator), Melanie Quinones Santiago (Spanish language assistant), Wanying Wu (Chinese language assistant), plus 10 Chinese language teaching assistants.

Webinar Schedule. We provide two weekly webinars. You can watch them live or the recorded version.

Wednesdays, 8am NY time, “Office Hours” question/answer with instructor Marianne Krasny

          8, 15, 22, and 29 April, 6 May

Thursdays, 8am NY time, Plant-rich Diet: Persuading family and friends (This webinar series also open to the public

         26 March: Where’s the beet? How diet is a climate game changer; Jennifer Wilkins, Syracuse University

        2 April: Harnessing Peer Pressure to Parry the Climate Threat; Robert H Frank, Cornell University

         9 April: Menus of Change: Bringing the principles of health and wellness to life; Brendan Walsh,

                      Culinary Institute  of America

        16 April: Sustainable Diets and the EAT Lancet Report; Elizabeth Fox, Cornell University

        23 April: Cornell Dining: Menus of Change principles reflected in our culinary program;

                        Lisa Zehr and Michelle Nardi, Cornell University

        30 April: How Climate Behaviors Spread in Networks; Damon Centola, University of Pennsylvania

        7 May: “Sustainable Tapas” Project: Complex behaviors and social mobilization approaches to climate action;

                       Fátima Delgado, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

‘Social Distance Education’ in Times of COVID19 – a collage of short lectures on education and learning for sustainability

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.

  1. 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)

In search of healthy policy ecologies for education in relation to sustainability: Beyond evidence-based policy and post-truth politics

pfe-cover-social

A new paper just came out in ‘Policy Futures in Education’ that I co-authored with Robert Stratford critiquing evidence-based approaches to policy making in the context of (re)orienting education towards sustainability in times of post-truth and alternative facts. In the aper we pose that there is a rational assumption built into some research projects that policy contexts are influenced by the quality of the evidence. This is, at best, only somewhat true some of the time. Through policy ethnographies, two education researchers working in the context of sustainability discuss their experiences with evidence-based policy. Central to both accounts is how critical messages about such issues as race, wellbeing and sustainability can become diluted and even lost. In the existing ‘politics of unsustainability’, and at a time of ‘post-truth’ politics, these accounts also show the limits of evidence-based policy.

We argue that those working with ‘the evidence’ need to be open about how evidence-based approaches can end up supporting the ‘status quo’. Moreover, while approaches such as knowledge mobilisation emphasise the relational qualities of policy contexts, and the importance of simple compelling narratives for decision-makers, they, like many other practices, do not sufficiently theorise the power structures surrounding knowledge and the policy context. In addition to the careful use of evidence, we argue that there needs to be greater emphasis on building healthy policy ecologies – including far more emphasis on building critical and creative policy alternatives, especially in areas like sustainability and education.

The paper can be found/downloaded here: Healthy Policy Ecologies Paper

 

Short Intro Video – Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF)

Wageningen UR is one of the partners in the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) Network. TESF is a GCRF funded Network Plus, co-ordinated out of the University of Bristol, working with partners in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The network undertakes collaborative research to Transform Education for Sustainable Futures.

TESF just released a short video outlining the mission and way of working of the network. The coming months the four hub countries will launch their innovation grant scheme which will allow local partners to apply for funding to engage in educational reform towards sustainable development at different levels of education.  Please go to the TESF-website for more information.

TESF_LOGO

TESF_Partners

 

 

Overcoming socio-ecological vulnerability through community-based social learning

LocEnvironment

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.

A link to the journal here!

Transformative Sustainability-oriented Open Education

BrillBookLast

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.

Entering the Transition Twenties – 10 critical years left for deep change and transformation

Transitions

This morning I received a heart-wrenching email from an Australian colleague of mine who lives and works in Sweden but went home for the holidays to spend time with her family.

I write this letter with a very heavy heart to briefly outline the terrible bushfire crisis that continues in my homeland of Australia. I have (thankfully and gratefully) been on leave for a couple of weeks, but I fear when I return to work I will have trouble talking about this when, and if, people ask. So this note is to let you all know what I can tell you-without choking up/bursting in to tears.

She then went on describing the unfolding tragedy of the run-away wild-fires and the completely inapt, near criminal response from the government and dysfunctional culture that has been created over the years to make sure that ‘business-as-usual’ is not at risk.

Clearly, ‘business-as-usual’ is not an option; even conventional economists will agree that there are no jobs on a dead Planet. What is now desperately needed is a deep and meaningful repsonse that can unite people, rather than polarize them. Sadly, the latter continues to be happen and, even though I tend to ignore conspiracy theories, seems to be even cultivated to maintain current power and wealth distribution.

As we are entering a new decade, the twenties, I was reminded of the last twenties: the Roaring Twenties.

The Roaring Twenties – as a break in the normalized and a turn to something else

It is now 100 years when many people in the, granted, Western world, experienced the so-called Roaring Twenties. The following description is a synopsis Wikipedia.

The Roaring Twenties refers to the decade of the 1920s in Western society and Western culture that marked a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Europe. In France, the decade was known as the “années folles” (‘crazy years’), emphasizing the era’s social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flapper redefined the modern look for British and American women and Art Deco peaked.

In many major democratic states, women won the right to vote. The right to vote had a huge impact on society.

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with tradition. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures, and radio, brought “modernity” to a large part of the population.

Arguably, the Roaring Twenties also planted the seeds of unsustainability as (again borrowing from Wikipedia):

this period saw the large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, movies, radio, and electrical appliances being installed in the lives of thousands of Westerners. Aviation soon became a business. Nations saw rapid industrial and economic growth, accelerated consumer demand, and introduced significantly new changes in lifestyle and culture. The media, funded by the new industry of mass-market advertising driving consumer demand, focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars, as cities rooted for their home teams and filled the new palatial cinemas and gigantic sports stadiums.

The Roaring Twenties represented a significant rupture or discontinuity that triggered a whole new way of living (and, yes, we must acknowledge, not for everyone, everywhere, and yes, as we know now, at the expense of the carrying capacity of the Earth) and shows that radical shifts at a large scale can happen in a relatively short period of time.

Entering the Transition Twenties…?

As the world is burning and not just metaphorically, as exemplified by runaway climate change, extreme loss of biodiversity, collapse of fragile ecosystems and the ever more tangible consequences of all this in our daily lives (in terms of stress, fear, anxiety for those still having the possibility to sit down behind a computer and ponder this over and blog about it, but in very real terms for those who need to flee, run, abandon, resort to poverty, etc.,  as is the case for (hundreds of) millions of people elsewhere in the world), we need another rupture to overcome systemic global dysfunction.

Now that 2020 has begun, we have 10 years towards 2030, the year in which the  17 SDGs need to be realized, the year that runaway climate change needs to be ‘under control,’ to turn the tide.  The very resilient practices of ‘business-as-usual’ that normalise growth thinking, individualism, inequality, anthropocentrism, exclusion, and even catastrophes (there are so many catastrophes going on everywhere in one way or another, that it leads to a kind of acceptance and a kind of psyching numbing – which is not going to help dealing with them).

So let us start looking for, contribute to and build on all these niches, networks and innovations are fortunately also all around us, that seek to disrupt these normalized practices by not only questioning them but by providing alternative ones with (all) People and (the whole) Earth in mind. See as an example the figure below from Mark Beam’s ‘The World We Want Project’. For me, a key question is: how can education in all forms connect with these niches, networks and innovations? How can people learn from them, how can they contribute to them? How can we create sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning that can pave the way for a systemic transformation of the way ‘we’  (and ‘we’ is not all of us, I must say, either by force or by choice) we live on this Earth? Feel free to enter your response below!

WorldWeWant

Just before posting this I searched for ‘Transition Twenties’  on the Web and found that several others are talking about this as well! One blog post from a fellow 4TU-Colleague at Delft University blogged about this about this one week ago. See his blog here: Aldert Kamp’s Blog-Post on Entering the Transition Twenties in relation to Engineering Education but, for the Dutch readers, there is also a nice article available in the Volkskrant from December 27th by Wilma de Rek: De transition twenties breken aan – minder zal meer zijn

More ideas please via Twitter using #transitiontwenties