Art workshop on sustainability

In education for sustainability, sustainable pedagogical approaches are required. Pedagogy includes the learning environment and context in which the learning takes place, the learning community (the teachers and the students), and reflections on learning (assessment). Sustainability issues, that are inclusive in societal needs, are considered to be the pivotal contexts for sustainability pedagogy. Local contexts are important to encompass by utilizing information, experiences and expectations of the local communities, as well as global, real-work contexts. Real-world connections and students’ work is viewed as central in sustainability education. Sustainability education should address past, present and future scenarios, expectations and assumed challenges. Along with the expectations of the communities, academic expectations and cultures must be responded to in order to make a change at different levels of pedagogy. To work with the wicked problems of sustainability, the input of several disciplines must be acknowledged. A key idea is to use transdisciplinarity.

The learning community, including the teacher and the students, are considered as active learners of products as well as processes of sustainability and its education. Processes contain creative and critical pedagogies. The starting point is the positive vision of the world we want to create together, which requires creativity. Critical pedagogy is used as a reflexive, transformative and transgressive tool. In order to use critical pedagogy, participants’ equality, action-competence to be critical and collaborative, responsibility and respect for the work at hand and the other participants, are crucial to promote. Pluralism in epistemology and methodology are considered important to address sustainability issues from a broader perspective. Pluralism is pragmatically used in order to “enlarge the space of the possible” by allowing learners to see beyond and contest the assumptions and ideology of a given theory or approach; pluralistic learning processes highlight dilemmas, deliberation and difference/disagreement in order to move beyond crude “anything goes” relativism, where all preferences are regarded as equally valid. These processes happen when learners ‘travel some distance beyond their own position in order to see reality from another point of view’ (Wals 2010).

There are several possible approaches on how and what to assess in learning, also in sustainability education. In addition to that, one should consider, who is assessing learning. Is it the teacher, the student (self-assessment) or the other students (peer-assessment) (see Falchikov, 2003)? It is important to use assessment as a reflexive and learning tool. Black (1999) wrote that there is a concern that the teacher’s feedback to students is often used for managing and social purposes rather than for learning. Besides the goals, it is necessary to assess the processes in different phases of learning. In order to promote transformative and transgressive learning, there is a need for critical discussions and creative attempts in assessment practices. Another aspect of assessment is that the student is not the only one to benefit, but also the teacher may use students’ reflections in transforming teaching.

Case studies

Pedagogical choices for sustainability in higher education are discussed in the following four case studies.

Teach me something: Respect for and about different forms of sustainability knowledge
by Ásthildur Jónsdóttir (Iceland Academy of the Arts)

Exploring transformative pedagogy in the context of a human rights and visual arts course
by Susan Gollifer (University of Iceland) and Ásthildur Jónsdóttir (Iceland Academy of the Arts)

Working with sustainable education in a social and educational research course
by Susan Gollifer and Caitlin Wilson (University of Iceland)

Open assessment when working with sustainability education
by Allyson Macdonald and Sydney Ross Singer (University of Iceland)


Black, P. (1999). Assessment, learning theories and testing systems. In P. Murphy (Ed.), Learners, Learning and Assessment. London: Open University Press.

Falchikov, N. (2003). Involving the students in assessment. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 3(2), 102-108.

Wals, A. E. (2010). Between knowing what is right and knowing that is it wrong to tell others what is right: On relativism, uncertainty and democracy in environmental and sustainability education. Environmental Education Research, 16(1), 143-151.