"Where’s the link"? Sharing experiences of mainstreaming sustainable development in different disciplinary curricula

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How can university lecturers establish the link between their disciplines and sustainable development? This is quite a challenge when one considers that links may seem less than obvious on the one hand, and on the other when people’s motivation to establish such a link is low. Participants in the workshop provided very interesting examples from their own experience and listed challenges related to their concrete attempts to integrate sustainable development into their teaching. The convenors then provided a simple analytical framework to organise a reflection on types of disciplinary contributions to sustainable development: a classification based on the well-known distinction between systems, target, and transformation knowledge. Asking oneself how one’s discipline contributes to a systemic understanding of the world (systems knowledge), to a participatory development of visions of what ought to be (target knowledge), and to transformation towards sustainable development, is an empowering way of reflecting on the relevance of one’s discipline to society.

Our main conclusions were that it always seems possible to identify thematic or methodological links to SD in scientific disciplines, provided a person is basically interested in engaging with SD. The real challenge is to overcome motivational barriers. In addition, it is important to define criteria that help to identify and characterise the link to SD. Finally, institutional and science policy changes are necessary to support the process of overcoming the motivational barriers.

The workshop was part of the project “Systematising integration of ‘sustainable development’ in tertiary education: Capitalising on experience with diverse curricula at the University of Bern”, funded under the sd-universities programme. The University of Bern wants all faculties to expose their students to sustainable development at some stage of their curricula. The sd-universities project is developing experience-based guidelines and tools to help faculty staff at the University of Bern to implement this requirement.

Report on participants’ experiences and insights from the workshop (pdf)
Presentation by the convenors (pdf)
Karl Herweg, University of Bern
Anne Zimmermann, University of Bern
Lara Lundsgaard-Hansen, University of Bern


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