Course and Program Development for Sustainability: Part 2

Jesper Nordén, program coordinator at a Swedish gymnasium school (year 10-12) in Borås, reached out for advice about our perspectives of what is important for pre-university education regarding economics and entrepreneurship. We were invited to a meeting with several different teachers at the school who also teach in languages and creative arts. The program development the teachers are doing at the school recognises the importance of intra-personal thinking using self-awareness and mindset reflective activities in the classroom.

We also discussed the importance of building confidence in competence to be able to implement the knowledge the students have acquired. High on the school’s agenda is how writing skills and comprehension are very important competencies, but also learning by doing. Giving opportunity to reflect through writing activities and coupled with taking action in communities to get involved with what is needed can address the whole student through transforming mindsets to become transition agents for sustainability (Öhman & Sund, 2021).

At a KLIV workshop, Tom Korsman, associate professor at the department of Ecology and Environmental Science at Umeå University, presented the work he has been doing with a master program in environmental science that specialises in sustainable development. The development of the master program has considered the Agenda 2030 and the sustainble development goals (SDGs), as well as the visions of a sustainble future and the challenges that need to be addressed. Tom has analysed the program in relation to the courses’ focus on each SDG. The program has been able to address many SDGs, in an interdisciplinary approach where social science knowledge and approaches to education are combined with natural science knowledge and approaches.

Tom reflected over the advantages and challenges that this interdisciplinary approach has been experienced by the students and the teachers. Altogether, Tom, who has more than 30 years of experience, says that working with this master program development is one of the best experiences he has had as a teacher. A similar experience was had by Terese Thoni, program coordinator at the Environmental Science department at Lund university, who taught on a similar interdisciplinary master program Climate Change Strategy. The students come from a mixed background and are really engaged in the interdisciplinary activities or role play that she provides in her class.

With lecturers at universities across Sweden and Norway, I have been listening to different presentations about didactic models that can be used to reflect on program development of education for sustainability in higher education. Anna Mogren, assistant professor at Karlstad university, presented a study by Shephard and Furnari (2013) that have created an assessment tool that revealed whether teachers were one of four dimensions, active, passive, optimist or pessimist. A replication of this study at Karlstad University with Swedish students found that 35% of students were passive-pessimist while 50% of students were passive-optimist. This staggering amount (85%) of passive students indicates that we have a lot of work to do to help create action for sustainability.

In this week’s discussion forum, we ask: What learning didactic models have you implemented while developing course or programs for sustainability education? Have you found activities that can help connect sustainability to your discipline in a way that students can engage and act? How do we know about the learning outcomes of education for sustainability? When we develop programs, how do we transform the student mindset to become an active-optimist?


Öhman, J., & Sund, L. (2021). A Didactic Model of Sustainability Commitment. Sustainability, 13(6), 3083.

Shephard, K., & Furnari, M. (2013). Exploring what university teachers think about education for sustainability. Studies in Higher Education, 38(10), 1577–1590.

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