Project

Interdisciplinary Thinking in Environmental Sciences Courses and Curricula

Professionals in the environmental domain require boundary crossing skills, such as interdisciplinary thinking to be able to develop sustainable solutions to environmental problems. In this research project we investigate what (i) active teaching and learning strategies, and (ii) education in environmental systems analysis contribute to the development of these skills. The research is based on a systematic literature review combined with experience within the environmental systems analysis group. We use examples from our own educational practice to operationalize and illustrate our literature-based findings.

The complexity of current environmental problems requires scientists and decision makers with boundary-crossing skills, such as the abilities to change perspective, to synthesize knowledge from different disciplines and to cope with complexity. These abilities are generally referred to as interdisciplinary understanding or interdisciplinary thinking. Essential of interdisciplinary thinking is the way a complex problem is approached: using and integrating knowledge from different disciplines or areas of expertise in a critical and creative way. Since environmental sciences programmes at universities prepare their graduates to deal with the complex problems of today and of the future, interdisciplinary thinking should be a major learning outcome of environmental sciences programmes, next to domain specific knowledge and social skills. The immediate question is how this learning outcome can be achieved?

Systems approaches in general and environmental systems analysis in particular are considered to be a promising way to educate students to tackle environmental problems in an integrated way and to enhance interdisciplinary thinking. Also specific teaching methods and active learning strategies are put forward as a way to enhance interdisciplinary thinking.

Aim

The aim of this research is to contribute to the understanding of how interdisciplinary thinking as a learning outcome of university courses and curricula in environmental sciences can be enhanced by:

  • systems approaches in general and environmental systems analysis in particular and by
  • specific teaching methods and learning strategies.

This research will provide guidelines (heuristics) for developers of courses and curricula in environmental sciences.

Research questions

To obtain this aim the following research questions will be answered:

  1. Which unifying concepts and methodologies are promising for environmental sciences curricula and courses that aim to enhance interdisciplinary thinking?
  2. Which characteristics (i.e. concerning content as well as concerning learning and teaching strategies) are promising for environmental sciences courses that aim to enhance interdisciplinary thinking?
  3. What can courses in environmental systems analysis contribute to enhancing interdisciplinary thinking?
  4. Which criteria should be taken into account when designing environmental sciences courses and curricula at university level that aim to enhance interdisciplinary thinking?