Free «Learning Through Participation and Sustainability in Higher Education» Essay Sample


Various disciplines in education command different learning requirements. While some disciplines, such as history, psychology, sociology and ethics take theoretical approach, other disciplines, such as engineering, medicine, information technology and science take practical approach. In other terms, studies take two continuums, inter alia, the acquisition perspective and participation perspective (Stubbs & Cocklin 2008). The acquisition perspective, which has dominated most disciplines in education, describes learning as getting knowledge, but with some limits since it has an endpoint. On the other hand, participation perspective, which is gaining support of late, encourages ongoing gaining of education through practical participation and therefore, encourages identifying oneself with a given community. In this report I will focus on Engineering as a discipline to illustrate the need and relevance of learning through participation (Mesure 2009).

According to Allie et al. (2009), learning in any engineering course has to take into account the engineering community discourse. One is needed to intimately identify himself or herself with a certain engineering community, which will literally emphasize the argument that students constitute their identity via close engagement in discourse. As we all understand, engineering is a practical lesson. It therefore means that all the theories that a student might have will be rendered useless and immaterial if the student fails to convert the theory into practicality while in the field (Stonyer 2001). In effect to this argument, many engineering materials are supporting assessing students’ success with reference to how practical a student has grown but not how much theory the student can write. The term community does not necessarily mean that undergraduate students identify themselves as full members of a given community of engineers, but through classroom participation they work towards being members of such communities (Phipps 2002).

Learning Through Participation

Learning through participation normally takes three perspectives, namely design thinking, being and acting. Design thinking typically deals with how the student understands the topic in question and how he or she will go about handling the challenge practically. Within this stage, there is a set of ideas, such as handling ill-defined challenges and pursuing a solution-focused approach of problem solving. Besides, this design thinking is a social process that encompasses thinking and working with different perspectives and sometimes it involves conflict and how to negotiate (Allie et al. 2009).

After perfecting in the above defined first stage, the student enters the second stage: becoming a professional, which is always incomplete and open-ended. Through this process a student is developed and refined into a professional who understands through practice that entails knowing, being and acting. This comprehensive understanding cannot be limited to ones cognition but enacted and embedded within the dynamic flow of activities, which is a professional practice. This therefore means that the professional way of handling challenges incorporates a students’ knowing and the way they act. This is what gives meaning to the practical skills and knowledge the students develop during their participation in learning (Allie et al. 2009).

After the above process, the students now become designers. They can investigate designs and how it has been experienced by other professional in and out of the engineering fields. This exploration of how professional designers from different disciplines go about their work, the students get to know different patterns of experience (Allie et al. 2009).

To attain this level of perfection, lecturers should device a way through which they can give the tacit knowledge they have about the discourse working in the engineering field. Some of the approaches they can use are creating a collaborative partnership between engineering lecturers and academic development personnel. This gives room for lecturers to explore their identities and roles as discourse educators (Springett 2005). This process can successfully take place in a joint planning process between academic practitioners and lecturers. In this session of teaching, materials are collaboratively prepared with an aim of making the engineering discourse explicit to the learners. The teaching materials will then be implemented in the lessons taught jointly by the lecturers and academic practitioners. The joint planning brings deeper awareness among students and lecturers. Other ways, through which lecturers will ensure that students participate in learning, include giving students the opportunities to participate in hand-on-skill activities, giving students practical assignments that require them to make inferences as per what they have observed, and encouraging innovativeness in classes (Allie et al. 2009).

Besides this, teachers can take approaches that encourage students to participate in learning. Some of these approaches include giving students time to think before anyone is called upon to respond, breaking a class into small discussion groups and asking for presentations, nonverbally inviting students to participate, encouraging class participation through discussion  and encouraging individual efforts in projects (Allie et al. 2009).

Sustainability in Higher Education

Currently, many people globally are rising up in support of the urgent call for the need to prepare a sustainable future. The widespread messages on pollution, hunger, poverty, health problems, global warming and many others have risen the need to find a sustainable solution to such changes. Sustainability in education is one of the approaches that if explored properly will ensure sustainable future. Business disciplines in education institutions have taken a front seat in ensuring sustainable education in higher learning (Tate & Linn 2005).

Tilbury & Ryan (2011) are of the opinion that the relationship between business education and business journalism become strong when it comes to issues dealing with sustainability. Many managements and businesses have focused on reproducing and upgrading the current practice, instead of questioning it and seeking alternative approaches that can transform business related activities so that it becomes more responsible in alignment with sustainability. There are several alternative business models that can be taught at the higher education levels to ensure sustainability (Tilbury & Ryan 2011).

Five Key Issues that are Central to Education for Sustainable Development

There are five key issues that should be handled in higher education to realize sustainability in development, namely Population, Environmental degradation, Poverty, Democracy, Human rights and peace and Development (Boud 2000).

Poverty has considerably been contributed by high rate of population growth globally. Statistics indicate that more than a billion people, which translates to third of the whole population, in developing countries are poor and struggling to live on less than a dollar daily (Brown et. al., 2005). Furthermore, hundred million people live just above the threshold poverty level and are always faced with the risk sinking below the threshold level (Tilbury & Ryan 2011).

The growth of world population led to a rising need in a proportionate increase in production of food and cloth. As a result, the world experienced industrial revolution and civilization. This, in turn, led to the increased production of poisonous by-products. For instance, combustion of chemical fuels and leakages of fossil remains lead to soil acidification, which, in turn, destroys plants, aquatic life and forests. Currently, the waste dumping challenges is one of the emerging issues in urban centers. All this combined has contributed to environmental degradation (Tilbury & Ryan 2011).

Human beings are not only posing danger to the nature but are also inflicting too much harm upon themselves, which has resulted in most of the world problems. Despite the fact that democracy has given the impressive progress in solving these problems, many of them are still outstanding. Most countries are democratic by name but do not practice democracy (Doppelt 2009). Citizens’ votes are only counted during elections but not during society operations. Inequality has dominated in most life spheres thus leading to segregated development. Most governments have selectively granted human rights basing on religious, ethnic and political lines. These have resulted to rising resistance in governments and internal wars at extreme ends. If the government grants its citizens democracy, peace and human rights, then development is eminent. The only challenge will be the rate of development, which is usually measured using gross national product (Doppelt 2010).

Strategies to Address the Issues

The international community has made efforts to integrate the above concerns into business education discourse. This has had little impact on the practical education practice. Many urgent questions have not been attended to in relation to the priorities of academic institutions, which give learning experience and qualification to the world’s future managers, entrepreneurs and leaders. According to Tilbury & Ryan (2011), some identified strategies to address the above concerns are as explained below:

New modules tackling the above concerns have been introduced in academic institutions. This has been done at suitable levels in the institutions’ curriculum to give more emphasis on ethics and sustainability (Carless et al. 2011). The knowledge of corporate social responsibility is instilled in students and thus students understand that they have a responsibility to play towards sustainable development. In these modules, several topics, such as poverty and its sustainability, effects of population growth to the economy, effects of environmental degradation to sustainable development and others are taught (Jawitz et al. 2001). It is, however, discouraging to note that these modules are elective and optional units, which attract a small number of students who are interested in sustainability in business. In other terms, other remaining program components that constitute the crucial part of business education reproduce unsustainable thinking modules (Tilbury & Ryan 2011).

Another strategy is encouraging processes that focus on innovativeness, rather than on improving current education needs and assisting students to go past habitual bodies’ struggles to reconcile and negotiate tensions between sustainability imperatives and business goals (Case et al. 2007). This strategy will encourage the whole community to carry on their practices in line with business education. This, in turn, encourages professionals, educators, businesses and government agencies that stimulate widespread of the learning and professional skills of students (Tilbury & Ryan 2011).


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