Sustainability education: What works?

This PhD project will investigate whether, and if so how, online units such as ‘Living with Fire’ have tangible impacts on attitudes and behaviours

Education for Sustainability has a critical role to play in helping us navigate the sustainability crisis. However, to do this, sustainability education must do more than transmit knowledge. Rather, it must empower and motivate students to take action in their own lives and communities.

A key question for sustainability educators, then, is ‘how can we design units that change behaviours (and/or the antecedents of behaviours: knowledge, self-efficacy, and attitudes), so that students can be effective agents for sustainability in their communities’? And a key action for sustainability educators is to evaluate whether units designed to facilitate such changes are successful in doing so.

This project explores these questions, primarily using units offered as part of the University of Tasmania’s Diploma of Sustainable Living. The two units, Backyard Biodiversity and Living with Fire, are fully online and reach a wide audience of non-traditional adult learners. Both are explicitly designed to support students to make changes in their personal lives, utilising a pedagogy of authentic experiential learning grounded in global sustainability concepts.

But are these units achieving their goal of ‘transformative learning’ – do they support students to become agents of change? If so, why and how? What can we learn from these units about creating impactful online learning programs?

In this project, you will use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate the impacts of Backyard Biodiversity and Living with Fire on student attitudes, self-efficacy and behaviours with respect to managing local biodiversity and wildfire. In doing so, you will help fill key knowledge gaps around the effectiveness of online Education for Sustainability. There will also be scope for you to expand your project beyond these two units to investigate broader questions about online sustainability education.

Fire Centre Research Hub, The University of Tasmania
Private Bag 55, Hobart TAS 7001, Australia
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‘The Fire Centre acknowledges the Palawa and Pakana people as the traditional and ongoing custodians of lutruwita (Tasmania), paying respect to their culture and identity which has been bound up with the Land, Sea, Waterways and Sky for generations. The Fire Centre commits to being culturally inclusive and respectful in our relationships”
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