Interdisciplinarity and sustainability in universities (2004-2007)
My PhD integrated multiple methods to investigate the integration of sustainability into university scholarship, and its implications for interdisciplinary collaboration. The best summary can be found here.
I studied curriculum and research, which are the elements of university life most challenging to control externally, as a result of academic freedom and the need for academics to negotiate the needs and demands of their university, department, students, discipline and careers. I began by looking into the history of universities in Australia (Sherren 2006a), the place of environment within them (Sherren and Robin 2006b), and the global literature on environmental and sustainability education (Sherren 2008a). An audit of Australian university webpages allowed me to assess the core and required content of sustainability and environmental degrees, and compare the results with the ‘ideal’ disciplinary content and pedagogical methods for sustainability based on the scholarly literature (Sherren 2006c), and expert surveys run at two sustainability conferences (Sherren 2005; 2007). While ethics courses were more prevalent in sustainability than environmental degrees, social sciences were often considered ‘elective’ and humanities were not as visible as they should have been (Fischer et al. 2007). Statistical clustering allowed a typology of degrees to emerge, including the fact that the required courses in undergraduate degrees did not match their name (e.g. BSc, BA) as well as coursework graduate degrees, and that those degrees that were explicitly educating for sustainability had curricula that better matched the expert ‘ideal’ (Sherren 2008b).
I was involved in curriculum design processes at two universities, and used participant observation and interviews to understand those processes as interdisciplinary collaboration and university adaptation (Sherren et al. 2010a). Social network analysis of research collaborations at the same two institutions (paper co-authorship, student committee membership) provided insights about the process of curriculum design at each, as well as the larger challenges of creating interdisciplinary sustainability scholars (Sherren et al. 2009). Comparative work in Canada on courses and organizational structures for sustainability provided insight as to the challenge of, and tradeoffs involved in, locating and tackling sustainability in universities (Sherren 2008c). Consideration of the above in relation to institutional literature revealed that many of the barriers that face sustainability in universities (e.g. disciplines, organizational boundaries, cognitive limits) are somewhat intractable; each holds – on balance – value for the institution as well as the various constituencies within them (Sherren 2010b). I also contributed during my thesis to papers by fellow young scholars in the Fenner School, both ecologists, related to adult education for conservation and resilience (Fazey et al. 2007; Fischer et al. 2007).
While I no longer lead research in this area, I continue to serve on the committees of research students engaged in this work (e.g. Paul Sylvestre, MES 2013; Lauri Lidstone, MES 2014), and maintain interests in the impacts of organizational design on interdisciplinary (particularly sustainability) collaboration.
Fazey, I., Fazey, J., Fischer, J., Sherren, K., Warren, M.J., Noss, R., and Dovers, S. 2007. Adaptive capacity and learning to learn as leverage for social-ecological resilience. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 5, No. 7, pp. 375-380.
Fischer, J., Manning, A.D., Steffen, W., Rose, D. B., Daniell, K., Felton, A., Garnett, S., Gilna, B., Heinsohn, R., Lindenmayer, D., MacDonald, B., Mills, F., Newell, B., Reid, J., Robin, L, Sherren, K., and Wade, A. 2007. Mind the sustainability gap, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 22, No. 12, pp. 621-4.
Sherren, K. 2005. Balancing the disciplines: A multidisciplinary perspective on sustainability curriculum content. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, vol. 21, pp. 97-106.
Sherren, K. 2006a. Pillars of society: The historical context for sustainability and higher education in Australia. Chapter 1 In Sustainability in the Australasian University Context. Eds. Walter Leal Filho, and David Carpenter. Environmental Education, Communication and Sustainability Series. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Publishers, p. 11-32.
Sherren, K. and Robin, L. 2006b. Curriculum for a cause? Chapter 2 In Sustainability in the Australasian University Context. Eds. Walter Leal Filho, and David Carpenter. Environmental Education, Communication and Sustainability Series. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Publishers, p. 33-44.
Sherren, K. 2006c. Core issues: Reflections on sustainability in Australian university coursework programs. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 400-13.
Sherren, K. 2007. Is there a sustainability canon? An exploration and aggregation of expert opinions, The Environmentalist, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 341-47. (Now Environment Systems & Decisions) [open source]
Sherren, K. 2008a. A history of the future of higher education for sustainable development, Environmental Education Research, Vol.14, No.3, pp.238-56.
Sherren, K. 2008b. Higher environmental education: Core disciplines and the transition to sustainability, Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 190-6.
Sherren, K. 2008c. The entropy of sustainability: Observed tensions in Canadian tertiary innovations, Canadian Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 1-23. [open source]
Sherren, K., Klovdahl, A., Robin, L., Butler, L, and Dovers, S. 2009. Collaborative research on sustainability: Myths and conundrums of interdisciplinary departments, Journal of Research Practice, Vol 5, No. 1, Article M1, 29 pp. [open source]
Sherren, K., Robin, L., Kanowski, P., and Dovers, S. 2010a. Escaping the disciplinary straitjacket: Curriculum design as university adaptation to sustainability. Journal of Global Responsibility, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 260-78.
Sherren, K. 2010b. The pieces we have. Environments, invited commentary on sustainability in universities, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 51-9. [open source]