“Beyond unreasonable doubt – learning for socio-ecological sustainability…”

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As my ‘special professorship’ has been converted into a ‘personal professorship,’ (I know this is confusing to academics from around the world but I don’t want to use up valuable blog-space to explain it) I was invited to give a second inaugural address titled: Beyond unreasonable doubt –  education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene in the Aula of the Wageningen University on December 17th 

The special day happened to be the warmest December 17th on record… quite fitting for the talk and the cover of the accompanying booklet (with people sitting on an terrace a cold Fall evening in Gothenburg under so-called ‘space heaters’).

A short introduction to the new Chair has been placed on youtube:

Transformative Learning for Socio-ecological Sustainability in less than 3 minutes

Here’s the back flap text of the booklet is now available:

‘For the first time in history one single species has succeeded in living in a way on planet Earth that disrupts major natural systems and forces in such a way that our survival is at stake. A transition is needed to break with resilient unsustainable systems and practices. Such a transition requires active civic engagement in sustainability. New forms of education and learning, including ‘disruptive capacity building’ and ‘transgressive’ pedagogies are urgently needed to foster such engagement.’

 

If you want to receive the booklet containing the accompanying text to the lecture then send an email to office.ecs@wur.nl with unreasonable doubt in the ‘subject’ and put your name and address in the body of the message and we will post you one.
 If you wish you can still attend, sort of,  the event by going to:
Here you can see the entire ceremony which starts at minute 9 with an introduction by our Vice-Chancellor (Rector Magnificus) Arthur Mol and with me starting the speech (battling the flu but hanging in there – I think/hope) at minute 15. Sometimes the animations I used do not fly-in on WURTV for some reason but fortunately they did in the auditorium). But it’s of good quality and you can advance the timer if you wish to.

 

Focus of the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability

In short the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability explores three important questions: 1) What sustain’abilities’ and responsibilities we need to develop in learners? 2) What learning spaces or ecologies of learning are most suitable in developing those abilities? and 3) How can the cultivation of these abilities, responsibilities and spaces be designed and supported? In other words, the main focus of the chair lies on understanding, designing and supporting learning processes that can help citizens understand complex socio-ecological issues through meaningful engagement and interactions with and within the social, physical and virtual realities of which people are part and the development of the capacities they need to contribute to their resolution.

The addition of ‘socio-ecological’ to sustainability is intentional, as much work done on sustainability nowadays tends to focus on economic sustainability, often without people and planet in mind. In a way sustainability has lost its transformative edge ‘sustainability’ during the last decade as the much of the private sector embraced it as a marketing opportunity. Adrian Parr (2009) even suggests that sustainability has been hijacked and neutered. While economics inevitably is part of the sustainability puzzle, the need to (re)turn to the ecological boundaries in which we have to learn to live together, as well as to the well-being and meaning of life issues for all, has prompted me to make the social-ecological more prominent in the description of this Chair. Therefore, I am particularly interested in understanding and supporting forms of learning that can lead to the engagement of seemingly unrelated actors and organizations in making new knowledge and in taking the actions necessary to address socio-ecological challenges.
Note 1: The booklet containing the inaugural address will be posted to you for free (as long as supplies last) when you email office.ecs@wur.nl with “Unreasonable doubt” in the subject area and your name and postal address in the body of the text).
Note 2: The inaugural address can be followed live via WURTV where it will also be archived: https://wurtv.wur.nl/P2G/cataloguepage.aspx

 

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Intergenerational Learning and Transformative Leadership for Sustainable Futures

During the UN World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development held in Nagoya, Japan in November, the Fourth Edited Volume of the Dutch government supported Series on education and learning in the context of sustainability was launched: “Intergenerational Learning and Transformative Leadership for Sustainable Futures” edited by Peter Blaze Corcoran and Brandon Hollingshead. Here’s how the flyer of Wageningen Academic Publishers describes the book:

The work of creating the future is being done now – and much of it is unsustainable in terms of natural and cultural resources. How will the next generation of leadership for environmental sustainability be raised up? Can we imagine sustainable futures, and can we enable transformative leadership to help us realize them? How can we best ensure that the several generations share their particular knowledge? What are the ethical frameworks, methodologies, curricula, and tools necessary for advancing and strengthening education for intergenerational sustainability learning and leadership?

In this book, 82 authors from 26 countries across 6 continents seek answers in 32 essays to the many questions related to the intergenerational collaboration that holds promise for creating sustainable futures. The authors themselves represent a diversity of geography, gender, and generation – and include the institutions comprising the emerging International Intergenerational Network of Centers. They speak to key principles, perspectives, and praxes at the intersection of intergenerational learning and transformative leadership in thecontext of education for sustainability. The foreword was written by UNESCO’s Director General Irena Bokova.

CoverpngTogether with my colleague Valentina Tassone I wrote a chapter on the EYE for Sustainability Tool developed at Wageningen University to help engage students more meaningfully in the exploration of everyday sustainability issues. For more information go to Wageningen Academic Publisher’s website!

Other books in the Series can be found under ‘books’ in the menu bar on top of the page!

Education and citizen science; the missing pieces in the sustainability puzzle, Science Magazine article now available

Front page of Science Article

Front page of Science Article[/caption]

In May of 2014  ‘Science’ published a paper on the importance of creating synergies between science education and environmental education with the support of Citizen Science. The article, which I co-authored with Justin Dillon, Bob Stevenson and Michael Brody, is based on the trends emerging from the International Handbook of Environmental Education Research (Stevenson et al, 2013)*. The article is available through most university library systems in the world and can be obtained for personal use by clicking: ScienceWalsetall2014.

There are a number of lessons to be drawn from the article but essentially we emphasize the importance of: Connecting biophilia and videophilia: that is, study ways in which ever-present technologies and cyberspaces can be used to help people (re)gain a deeper and more empathetic contact with each other and with the world (presently these technologies and spaces tend to lead to the exact opposite). Creating spaces for hybrid learning: that is, hybridized environments and new spaces are needed for learning about the sustainability challenges of our time (e.g. climate change, malnutrition, loss of food security and biodiversity) that embraces the authenticity of multiple voices and cultural and theoretical perspectives, new forms of representation, and more change-oriented and community-based approaches. Strengthening community-engaged scholarship with a planetary conscience: that is, with the increasing complexity of societies, the interdisciplinary nature of people-society-environment relationships, the problems faced at local and global scale, and the uncertainty of their solutions or resolutions, there is a need for new spaces for collaborative and transformative approaches to research. Supporting emerging forms of ICT-supported Citizen Science: that is, the active involvement of citizens, young and old, in the monitoring of local socio-ecological issues by collecting real data and sharing those data with others doing the same elsewhere through social media and on-line platforms, as a catalyst for realizing the first three points. Furthermore we suggest that future research address: • the importance of acknowledging different ways of knowing into educational program(me)s; • the importance of place-based education; • the need for EE to focus on community-based activities that lead to • the individual and group empowerment; • the need to factor in issues of identity in EE; • the need for a convergence of science education and environmental education; • the need for EE to address issues of life-long learning • the need for practitioners and researchers to address policy issues; • the need for inter- and transdisciplinarity in EE practice and research. On a critical note, not so much stressed in the Science article but noted in the Handbook, we plea for stressing the importance of education serving people and planet rather than just serving the economy. The current push for innovation, competence, and a lifelong of learning for work and competitiveness, is resulting in the marginalization in education of people and by squeezing out place-based learning, arts, humanities and the development of values other than those driving consumerism and materialism. Wals, A.E.J., Brody, M., Dillon, J. and Stevenson, R.B. (2014) Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education, Science, 344, p. 583-584.  * Stephenson, B., Brody, M., Dillon, J. and Wals, A.E.J. (Eds.) (2013) International Handbook of Environmental Education Research. London: Routledge. Below you will find today’s press release by Wageningen University & Research Centre.

Here’s the press release of Wageningen University, no. 045, 9 May 2014 “Addressing climate change, requires a change of mind”

Sustainability needs link between theory and practice in education How can you ensure that people do not only spend time thinking about important global issues like climate change or world food supplies, but also roll up their sleeves and do something about them? Four researchers, including Professor Arjen Wals from Wageningen University, think that the education sector holds the key. Teaching processes around the world could be given more influence and meaning by making pure science subjects, such as biology and physics, complementary to lessons in nature, environment and sustainability. Their article on this new approach to teaching, which is based on citizen science, is published in the 9 May edition of Science. Throughout the world, ‘pure’ science subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, maths, geography and general natural sciences, which traditionally aim to build up knowledge and understanding, are seen separately from subjects such as nature and the environment, which together with the latest branch ‘sustainability education’ take a more practical approach. Although this certainly makes scholars aware of the current condition of our planet, their lack of practical perspective evokes a sense of powerlessness. For example, what can you do to prevent or respond adequately to forthcoming climate shifts? Affinity with politics, society and the economy are essential in this respect. Conversely, education in nature, the environment and sustainability (aka ‘environmental education’) does not equip scholars with the scientific insight they need to back up their proposed remedies. Convergence When taught separately, natural sciences and environmental education give a disjointed answer to society’s demand for a truly sustainable society. “It’s time these two schools converged,” says Arjen Wals, Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development at Wageningen University. “If we cannot create a firm link between these two educational areas, scientific education is in jeopardy of becoming purely a vehicle for enhancing the innovative and competitive potential of a country’s economy”, he says. “At the same time, without a firm link with the sciences, environmental education will never be able to find a responsible and realistic way of dealing with the contradictions and uncertainties that are raised in the scientific debate surrounding questions of sustainability.” The authors of the article in Science give a number of examples of environmental education, which cover the area where science meets society. Among them is the American concept of Edible School Gardens, whereby schoolchildren grow their own food in an educational garden while simultaneously learning about the things they grow in science lessons. The Dutch version is known as Groene schoolpleinen (‘green school grounds’). Another good example is YardMap, based on IT and citizen science. Citizens, both young and old, analyse biodiversity in their own neighbourhood by means of digital photos, special apps and Google Maps. The aim is to identify the areas with the greatest potential for boosting biodiversity. Action plans designed to ensure that the YardMaps are kept fully up-to-date are drawn up and implemented on the basis of studies and in consultation with scientists and local partners (including the municipal authority, garden centres and an NGO). The various YardMaps are linked via social media. The Dutch Natuurkalender works in much the same way. Creating closer ties between citizen science, scientific education and environmental education will help citizens and scientists to take a meaningful and practical approach to the pursuit of sustainability. Wals: “It’s not just about linking up the content; it involves developing new competencies such as dealing with complexity, uncertainty and confusion, and devising and implementing meaningful local solutions”. This method of learning may also help to restore the damage to public confidence in science. The government will have to put more effort into stimulating and supporting the ‘hybrid teaching environments’ that blur the boundaries between science and society, school and neighbourhood, local and global, and shift the emphasis to the wellbeing of mankind and the planet. Transition Calls for transition and another way of thinking are becoming more urgent, says Professor Wals: “At the end of the day, the climate problem is as much in between our ears, as it is between the North and South Poles”. He backs this up with a remarkable conclusion: to his mind, the role of education and citizen involvement has been seriously underemphasised in the climate debate. In fact he wonders if we will ever be able to bring about a transition without committed, critical and competent citizens, who aspire to values that are not purely based on the material side of their existence but also on care for fellow human beings and, indeed, other species, here and elsewhere, now and in the future. Join in the discussion on #CitizenScience Publication Wals, A.E.J., Brody, M., Dillon, J. and Stevenson, R.B. (2014) Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education, Science, 344, p. 583-584. NOTE FOR EDITORS More information is available from Prof. Arjen Wals, Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development & Food Security, Wageningen University, tel. +31 (0)317 484184, arjen.wals@wur.nl or via Jac Niessen, science information officer at Wageningen UR, tel.+31 (0)317 485003, jac.niessen@wur.nl.

Taking a walk in the forest, bad for the economy – the colonalisation of time and attention in the digital age

American media-theorist Douglas Rushkoff sheds an interesting light on the digital age and its consequences for our relationship with the ‘now’ and with ‘others’. Companies are competing with each other for what he calls our ‘eye-ball’ attention. We are constantly seduced to use ICTs and it is turning us into restless creatures with short attention spans who are constantly providing clues to corporations as to what we like, prefer, desire, etc. “Big data” and constant streams of cookies are informing businesses (and, indeed, governments) about what we are thinking and these businesses and governments are anticipating this by offering us what we want, essentially guiding us into pre-fabricated futures. Do you find it hard to BE in one place without your mind wondering off to somewhere else?
In a fascinating near-monologue with powerful examples and a touch of irony and humour Rushkoff urges us to reclaim the now, the flow of time, the possibility of meaning and as sense of place and belonging. In his book Present Shock, When Everything Happens Now Rushkoff argues that we are all suffering from the five syndroms that belong to the ‘always-on-society’. We need to be reacheable 24/7 but are constantly alienated from the now and each other (and let me add the physical places of which we are part including nature, aw). A call for ‘digital detox’.

Note this is from Tegenlicht (April 13, 2014) from the Dutch TV station VPRO – click the link and wait for the programme to start – Rushkoff speaks to us in English (with Dutch subtitles. Very worthwhile if you have…. time… (NOTE The first minute or so is in Dutch when the interviewer introduces Ruskoff to the Dutch viewers, but then Rushkoff takes over – listen, shiver and learn).

Re-claiming time

p.s. this post links to an earlier post on “Growth fatigue and innovation saturation” from 2013.

How to educate in a Changing World? Curriculum Innovation in Tertiary Agricultural Education (TAE)

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Download the book here!

We live in turbulent times, our world is changing at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key interrelated challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Living in such times has implications for education and learning.
(Wals, A.E.J. and Corcoran, P.B. (Eds.) (2012). Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change, Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.)

The speed of change, physically, socially and culturally, is accelerating. Continued globalization and digitalization are not only affecting how we think, what we know, who to believe, how we act, they also affect the role of education in society. Higher education, for instance, and the science it produces, is no longer the sole authority of truth, if ever it was. Rather, science oftentimes represents just another point of view or an opinion in the public debate of controversial and ambiguous issues such as; the causes and impacts of climate change, the role of GMOs in food security, the use of biofuels, etc. Scientists can be found on different ends of the ongoing debates, although more might be found at one end than on the other. It is not easy to decide who is right, who is wrong, or who is more right than others, or what the best way to move forward might be.

What do we educate for in such a world when things change so fast and knowledge becomes obsolete before you know it? How do we prepare today’s graduate for the world of tomorrow? And more specifically, what are the implications for tertiary agricultural education (TAE) around the world? Again I would like to offer some thinking and reflection on existing practices that we did in the past that is still relevant today but now easily accessible thanks to open access and the digital age: Wals, A.E.J. (Ed.) (2005). Curriculum Innovations in Higher Agricultural Education. The Hague: Elsevier /Reed Business Information. In this book you will find contributions by Richard Bawden, Fabio Carporali, Paul Pace, Bill Slee and Sri Sriskandarajah. The opening section focusses on principles and stepping stones for curriculum development in a changing world, whereas the second part focusses on newly developed MSc programmes in a number of European Life Science Universities in the area of Integrated Rural Development.

You can download the book by clicking on the link below the book’s cover image above!

The educational appeal of vagueness: the case of biodiversity

Environmental Education & Biodiversity

Loss of biodiversity is back on the agenda having faded somewhat during the last 15 years or so with the rise of new urgent issues such as runaway climate change, loss of food security, the rise of micro-toxins in waters and soils, etc. With the renewed attention for biodiversity it might be useful to go back to the nineties when the topic was high on the international policy agenda and some effort was spent on making biodiversity meaningful for ordinary citizens. Two publications that I was involved in back then seem very relevant today.

The first one appeared in the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (I believe the only open-access EE journal): Dreyfus, A., Wals, A.E.J. and D. van Weelie (1999). The socio-scientific dispute character of environmental education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 4, 155-176. Download here: Canadian Journal of EE[

The second one is a book commissioned by the Dutch government titled “Environmental Education and Biodiversity” which I recently updated slightly to make it suitable for open-access publication. Full reference: Wals, A.E.J., (Ed.) (1999). Environmental Education and Biodiversity. National Reference Centre for Nature Management, Wageningen, 107 p.Download here: Book Environmental Education & Biodiversity

The book is more elaborate than the article and contains concrete stepping stones for making biodiversity meaningful. Here’s a brief abstract of the book which also applies – in part – to the article.

Despite all the confusion about biodiversity, one thing is clear: there is no one single perspective or definition of biodiversity that accurately describes it in all situations or contexts. Biodiversity can have different meanings depending on the user and the context in which it is used. Even within the scientific arena a great number of biodiversity meanings and interpretations can be distinguished. It is not uncommon to find that scientific, political and symbolic meanings are used interchangeably by the same person. Both the knowledge base and the value base of biodiversity are variable and to a degree unstable and questionable.

Although these characteristics of biodiversity can render the concept useless or reduce it to a rhetorical instrument, they can also add to its strength when handled with care. Certainly from an environmental education perspective, but also from a policy-making perspective, these characteristics offer some worthwhile advantages: 1) Biodiversity brings together different groups in society that are searching for a common language to discuss nature conservation issues in relation to sustainability issues. 2) This dialogue allows the socio-scientific dispute character of “science-in-the-making” to surface. Participation in such a dispute is an excellent opportunity to learn about a highly relevant, controversial, emotionally charged and debatable topic at the crossroads of science, technology and society. 3) Making such a concept meaningful to the lives of citizens requires a procedure that could be utilised when developing educational programmes that focus on similar topics (i.e. education for sustainability).

This book provides a justification and rationale for developing biodiversity as a leading concept for environmental education for human development. Furthermore it proposes a stepping stone procedure that recognises the socio-scientific dispute character of biodiversity and provides a tool for turning biodiversity into a meaningful and existentially relevant issue. The procedure includes the following steps: analysing meanings of biodiversity, determining one or more perspectives based on the general learning goals of environmental education, setting specific learning objectives, selecting (sub)themes for learning, contextualising biodiversity and establishing the value of biodiversity. The procedure is intended to help curriculum developers, teachers, educational support staff and environmental educators give specific meaning to biodiversity and to help learners critically analyse the way biodiversity is used in science, technology and society. The procedure is an intermediate product that offers direction in developing and implementing specific learning activities and materials for various groups of learners.

Abstract of the article in French
Résumé
L’éducation relative à l’environnement dans un monde postmoderne devra être sensible à la nature mal définie des principaux concepts naissants, tels que la biodiversité et la durabilité. Malgré toute la confusion qui entoure ces concepts, une chose est claire : il y a plus d’une façon de considérer ces concepts ou de les définir. En d’autres termes, il n’existe pas une seule perspective ou définition de la biodiversité ou de la durabilité qui les décrive avec exactitude dans toutes les situations ou tous les contextes. Bien que cette définition approximative rende de tels concepts inutiles ou les réduise à un instrument rhétorique d’un point de vue moderne, elle les rend intéressants dans une perspective postmoderne. En reconnaissant la nécessité de respecter le pluralisme (respect des différentes façons de voir, d’évaluer, de comprendre, etc.), la présence constante d’éléments d’ambivalence et d’incertitude dans la prise de décision environnementale et la nécessité d’apprendre dans ce riche contexte, les éducateurs en environnement dans un monde postmoderne trouveront une valeur dans la nature mal définie de ces concepts naissants. En se servant de la biodiversité comme exemple, les auteurs illustrent l’attrait pédagogique de la définition approximative. La biodiversité réunit différents groupes de la société à la recherche d’un langage commun pour discuter de la conservation de la nature en relation avec les enjeux postmodernes de la durabilité. Le seul fait que ces groupes avec des antécédents divergents se concentrent sur un concept commun, bien que la signification du concept varie pour chacun des groupes, ouvre la porte au débat socioscientifique. Ce débat fournit une excellente occasion d’apprentissage sur un thème hautement pertinent, litigieux, émotif et discutable au carrefour des sciences, de la technologie et de la société. Une attention spéciale est accordée au rôle des connaissances scientifiques dans des débats de ce type.

Creating Transdisciplinary Dialogue & Phronesis in Pursuit of Sustainability

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This book is the result of a rather interesting writing process initiated by the editors about two years ago when they decided that the focus of the book, transdisciplinary dialogue, should also be its process… In order to realize this they invited about 30 scholars from quite different disciplinary backgrounds who did not know each other (most of them anyway) very well or at all, but all had an interest in trans- and interdisciplinarity and a shared concern about the well-being of people and planet. During a joint ‘thinkshop’ held at Cornell’s Field Station in upstate New York, the participants jointly conceptualized the book and created writing ‘duo’s’. I myself formed a duo with Science Historian Scott Peters and bonded with him around the concepts of phronesis, post-normal science and transformative learning (find a link to our chapter at the end of this post). Author-teams were also asked to include a piece of art in their work that somehow captures the spirit of their joint writing venture. On the publisher’s website the wonderful book that resulted is described as follows:

Environmental educators often adhere to a relatively narrow theoretical paradigm focusing on changing attitudes and knowledge, which are assumed to foster pro-environmental behaviors, which, in turn, leads to better environmental quality. This book takes a different approach to trying to understand how environmental education might influence people, their communities, and the environment. The authors view changing environmental behaviors as a «wicked» problem, that is, a problem that does not readily lend itself to solutions using existing disciplinary approaches. The book as a whole opens up new avenues for pursuing environmental education research and practice and thus expands the conversation around environmental education, behaviors, and quality. Through developing transdisciplinary research questions and conceptual paradigms, this book also suggests new practices beyond those currently used in environmental education, natural resources management, and other environmental fields.

Contents: Marianne E. Krasny: Introduction. Tales of a Transdisciplinary Scholar – Joseph E. Heimlich/Mary Miss: Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Participation – Jeppe Læssøe/Marianne E. Krasny: Participation in Environmental Education: Crossing Boundaries under the Big Tent – Martha C. Monroe/Shorna Broussard Allred: Building Capacity for Community-Based Natural Resource Management with Environmental Education – Scott Peters/Arjen E. J. Wals: Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research – Barbara A. Crawford/Rebecca Jordan: Inquiry, Models, and Complex Reasoning to Transform Learning in Environmental Education – Joseph E. Heimlich/Mary Miss: Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Appreciation – John Fraser/Carol B. Brandt: The Emotional Life of the Environmental Educator – Leesa Fawcett/Janis L. Dickinson: Psychological Resilience, Uncertainty, and Biological Conservation: Junctures Between Emotional Knowledges, NatureExperiences, and Environmental Education – Joseph E. Heimlich/Mary Miss: Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Place – Timon McPhearson/Keith G. Tidball: Disturbances in Urban Social-Ecological Systems: Niche Opportunities for Environmental Education – Richard C. Stedman/Nicole M. Ardoin: Mobility, Power, and Scale in Place-Based Environmental Education – Marianne E. Krasny/Megan K. Halpern/Bruce V. Lewenstein/Justin Dillon: Conclusion. Do «Arranged Marriages» Generate Novel Insights?

You find a sneak preview of the chapter I co-authored with Scott Peters – titled: Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Trans-Disciplinary Environmental Research here: FinalPeters&Wals2013<