UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation of sustainability-oriented courses : student views and experiences Hunter, Kshamta Bhupendra


With an increased awareness of climate change and environmental concerns, and a worldwide call for the integration of sustainability into the curriculum, universities are looked upon as agents of change to incorporate and integrate sustainability into their operations, research, teaching and learning. To address this call for leadership, institutions of higher education are incorporating a focus on sustainability into their mission statements, policies, practices and courses. In 1997, the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, was the first Canadian university to adopt a sustainable development policy, and today, UBC continues the pursuit of sustainability education leadership by preparing its students to be global citizens. This study investigated students’ learning experiences in UBC courses that teach about sustainability, as well as students’ perceptions and views towards what is valued for their understanding of sustainability concepts and pedagogies. The study examined students’ understanding and awareness of sustainability and their views on their own learning through an in-depth qualitative analysis approach that involved focus groups, one-on-one interviews, classroom observations, and document analysis. Findings indicate two factors play a role in students’ understanding and integration of knowledge of sustainability concepts and their motivation to engage in sustainability-related activities: 1) multi-disciplinary environments and peer interactions that involved project-based group work and 2) philosophical and holistic discussions of sustainability-related issues. Data analysis also indicated that while participating in sustainability-oriented courses increased students’ interest in sustainability, students felt restricted in their exploration of the issues due to the strict degree and program requirements imposed by the university departments. Findings from this study inform future course design and the development of a comprehensive and cohesive sustainability curricula at UBC and other institutions of higher education.

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