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University students as Change agents?
A Comparative Study of the Role of Students in Higher Education for Sustainable Development in Germany and Sweden.
Master thesis in Sustainable Development 299: Uppsala Universitet <Department of Earth Science>

Facing the ongoing social, economic and ecological crises, many describe quality education as one of the key drivers for actually creating a better and more sustainable future for all. In 2014, NESCO published the final evaluation report on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), stating that the previous ten years (2005-2014) had shown progress in globally integrating the principles and practices of sustainable development (SD) into all levels of learning. Yet, at the same time, the report indicates that most if not all countries still lack a general implementation of education for sustainable development (ESD) across their education systems. Moreover, the desired changes in behaviour of people, allowing for a social transformation wards a more sustainable future, would first and foremost require a transformation of educational institutions like schools and universities, ideally based on the active participation of all actors involved. In the context of higher education, it has explicitly been emphasised that the capacity of students to act as so-called ′change agents′, by co-creating their own learning environments, should be rticularly considered. Rooted in the idea of experience-based learning, one can eventually argue that students need the experience of being able to achieve change in learning, in order to foster their confidence to initiate change in society at large as well. However, previous research on the implementation of ESD and the connected transformation of learning environments at universities has mainly focused on the relevance of teachers as agents of change and largely ignored the role of students in this regard. Therefore, this Master thesis is designed to contribute to closing this gap. Concentrating on sustainability-related study programs at leading universities in Germany and Sweden, this thesis represents a comparative case study, investigating the role of students as change agents in the planning and organisation of learning and teaching situations in higher education for sustainable development (HESD). Based on the statements of experts, working with the national implementation of ESD in higher education, as well as teachers and students from two selected Master programs in Lüneburg, Germany (′Sustainability Science′), and Uppsala, Sweden (′Sustainable Development′), this thesis examines how the different actors conceive of the tudents′ role in HESD, with a special focus on their active and critical behaviour in class. It is analysed if and how active and critical participation on part of the students is actually seen to contribute to changing their own learning environments. In order to compare the educational approaches applied in the two programs and how they actually leave space for students to have an impact on the design of course formats or the selection and development of topics, the present study refers to the concept of different ′selective traditions′ in environmental education (EE). On the basis of various categories, such as the ′main method of teaching′, ′planning and democracy′ or the ′role of students′, this concept allows for a distinction between different learning and teaching cultures, that indicate varying degrees of change agency on part of the students.
The findings of this research demonstrate that the ′Sustainable Development′ Master in Uppsala involves students more in the actual planning of the program, since certain courses directly ngage students in the active tansformation of their own learning environment, recognizing their capacity as change agents. Although experts and teachers from both countries generally acknowledge the great potential of active and critical students, the aforementioned trend is also reflected in the actual students′ behaviour. Whereas the German students are perceived to stay away from classes, in case their expectations are not met, Swedish students rather seem to get together, show shared commitment and initiate change. However, the results further show that he degree to which students act as agents of change in HESD not only differs between the examined institutions and course formats, but also depends on individual personality traits and the establishment of a critical learning culture.
Inhaltsverzeichnis :

1 Introduction/Problem Background

2 Research aim

3 Research questions

4 Structure of Thesis

5 Literature Review
5.1 Environmental Education (EE)
5.1.1 (Selective) Traditions in EE
5.1.2 Educational Traditions in Germany and Sweden
5.1.3 (Selective) traditions in EE in Germany and Sweden
5.2 Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
5.2.1 Sustainable Development (SD)
5.2.2 ESD as a Political Issue
5.2.3 Competences and Pedagogies in ESD
5.2.4 ESD and Change
5.2.5 Change Agency in (H)ESD

6 Theoretical Framework
6.1 Discourse Theory
6.1.1 Discourse as Social Structure
6.1.2 Selective Traditions in EE as Discourses
6.2 Didactical Theory
6.2.1 Didactic Situations
6.2.2 Didactic Contracts
6.3 Students as Change Agents

7 Research approach
7.1 Methodology
7.1.1 Discourse Analysis
7.2 Methods
7.2.1 Interviews
7.2.2 Coding (MAXQDA)

8 Empirical Findings – Results and Analysis
8.1 Educational Traditions in HESD
8.1.1 Germany - UNESCO
8.1.2 Sweden - SWEDESD
8.1.3 Comparison of Educational Traditions
8.2 Didactic Contracts in HESD
8.2.1 Germany – Leuphana University Lüneburg:
8.2.2 Sweden – Uppsala University / SLU
8.2.3 Comparison of Didactic Contracts
8.3 Relation between Educational Traditions and Didactic Contracts

9 Discussion
9.1 Conclusion
9.2 Critical Reflection/Outlook



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