As a concept that gained importance towards the end of 1980s, sustainability is used to mean to protect natural resources and to benefit from resources that are available in the most effective way. While the concept of sustainability was initially associated with ecology and environmental issues (Chapin, Torn, and Tateno, 1996) [1
], it is now seen that it is associated with a wide range of issues such as economics, living, development, and education. Considering definitions related to sustainability, it is generally expressed as a continuous development in a multi-dimensional area such as cultural, economic, social, environmental, energy, and transferring these skills and achievements to new generations (Brundtland, 1987; Hargreaves and Fink, 2006) [2
]. In fact, the definitions that have been show that sustainability is a concept that is born and developed within humans (Suzuki, 1997) [4
], and this concept is directly in connection with the learning and education process. Education and learning process has turned into a student and life focused structure in recent years. This focus has also brought the understanding of lifelong learning into the forefront and becomes the main reason of emergence of the sustainable learning term. This expansionary perspective in the education system has also influenced students’ achievements which have made some skills more important. In addition, the skills needed in individuals in the 21st century differ from the skills needed in the 20th century. There has been a need for a sustainable learning approach in the 21st century in which information and technology intertwined and the diversity of information sources increased (Dede, 2010) [5
]. This understanding has made the constructivist learning theory, an epistemological theory, even more important. Based on the constructivist learning theory, the individual makes sense of the new information by using cognitive processes. These cognitive processes include the reconstruction of the knowledge in a socio-cultural sense using the existing knowledge and experiences (Yurdakul, 2005) [6
]. Due to the dynamic structure of this reconstruction process, sustainable learning understanding is understood within the theory of constructivism. In order to be deemed successful in education systems, students should not only solve the academic problems, but also deal with the problems that they encounter in everyday life and provide solutions to these problems. This structural change caused the concept of self-sufficiency to gain importance in the process of education.
The concept of self-efficacy, which was defined by Bandura (1994) [7
] for the first time, was explained as the belief and capacity to perform an action. Individuals who have self-efficacy are able to predict their success levels as well as see their shortcomings and advantages in a situation that they encounter. In this way, individuals are able to have their own beliefs and judgments with respect to the ability to perform an action in a successful way (Bandura, 1994: 1997; Schunk, 2001; Maddux and Gosselin, 2003; Chun and Choi, 2005) [7
]. Thanks to the self-efficacy belief, individuals strengthen the sense of self system by stimulating their motives and self-regulation mechanisms in order to increase the ability to perform an action and this situation increases the competence of the individual by following a dynamic course. Therefore, self-efficacy skills are also considered as important as they increase the learning capacity of students and their motivation towards learning (Zimmerman, 2000; Schunk and Mullen, 2012) [12
]. It is known that the positive self-efficacy perception in individuals increases the motivation and develops their skills to cope with problems that they encounter. Positive self-efficacy is also an indicator of the individual’s confidence in his ability of organizing his knowledge and skills and putting these skills into practice in order to solve a problem or successfully complete a task (Eccles and Wigfield, 2002) [14
]. It can be inferred that negative self-efficacy perception causes individuals to be unable to make their own decisions and finalize their work.
The concept of self-efficacy has been associated with the education and learning process; therefore, the concept of academic self-efficacy has emerged. Academic self-efficacy is defined as the belief of an individual that he will successfully complete an academic situation given to him (Bandura, 1997; Zimmerman, 1995) [8
]. As a result of the studies conducted, it was determined that individuals, who have high academic self-efficacy beliefs, set higher targets for themselves and are consistent in their decisions (Pajares, 1996; Yılmaz, Gürçay, and Ekici, 2007) [16
], cope with new and difficult tasks more easily and are more willing to make an effort (Jerusalem, 2002, Akt. Yılmaz, Gürçay, and Ekici, 2007) [17
], are persistent and patient when they encounter with negative situations (Aşkar and Umay, 2001) [18
] and develop problem solving strategies (Schunk and Pajares, 2001) [9
]. In this context, the concept of academic self-efficacy has a structure that includes skills such as working independently, taking responsibility, solving problems, and self-evaluation. Zimmerman listed the characteristics of academic self-efficacy as follows (Ekici, 2005) [19
Academic self-efficacy is a judgment of an individual related to his/her ability to perform given actions and it is not a person’s physical, psychological, and personal characteristics.
Academic self-efficacy belief is related to different fields and it is multidimensional. Therefore, the belief in language self-efficacy is different from the belief in mathematic self-efficacy.
Academic self-efficacy measurements show contingency. For example, a student may be successful in a collaborative classroom environment, while he can have a lower achievement in a competitive classroom environment.
When the level of academic self-efficacy is determined, the performance of the student is taken as the basis.
When the related literature is reviewed, it is seen that researchers related to academic self-efficacy are mainly focused on three headings, which are performance, the choice of profession, and its effects on the education process (Akbas and Çelikkaleli, 2006) [20
]. Researches have shown that individuals who have developed academic self-efficacy manage their learning process with a more sustainable approach and become more successful. Within this context, the purpose of this study is to increase students’ academic self-efficacy levels through 20 weeks of education that is established in problem-based learning theory and transmitted in an inter-disciplinary manner. The project aimed to teach students to learn how to learn. Eventually, students will be life-long learners and gain sustainable learning skills. In order to observe the effect of Project Children’s University on academic self-efficacy, following research questions are addressed throughout the research;
What are the descriptive characteristics of treatment group students’ academic self-efficacy in three waves and control group students’ academic self-efficacy in wave 3?
How do treatment group students’ academic self-efficacy levels vary across three waves?
Null hypothesis: Treatment group students’ academic self-efficacy levels do not vary across three waves.
What is the difference between the treatment and control group students’ academic self-efficacy levels in wave 3?
Null hypothesis: There is no difference between the treatment and control group students’ academic self-efficacy levels in wave 3.
Under sustainable teaching and learning framework, students received education that was based on problem-based learning theory and in an inter-disciplinary manner throughout 20 weeks. The aim of the study was to develop students’ problem solving skills in which problems are simply related to daily life issues. All of the courses were given in labs, studios, and gymnasium. Mathematics, Science, Foreign Language, and Personal Development courses (i) were given with Music, Drawing, and Physical Education courses (ii). In this relational and holistic education approach, students will be able to find the connection between science and daily life; hence, they will learn how to learn and this learning will be sustainable.
Throughout 20 weeks, it was observed that the treatment group students’ academic self-efficacy levels fell continuously. However, Lv, Zhou, Liu, Guo, Zhang, Liu, and Luo (2018), [29
] stated that there is a high level of relationship between academic achievement and academic self-efficacy. On the other hand, Honicke and Broadbent (2016) [30
] reported that the relationship between academic performance and academic self-efficacy was moderate in the results of a research that included a total of 12 years data that were collected between 2003 and 2015. Because self-efficacy belief is an important source of motivation for individual success, the domain of its influence is not limited to only academic success, but also to skills related to social and emotional areas (Sachitra and Bandara, 2017) [31
]. Bandura (1999) [32
] found that academic self-efficacy was an important explanatory factor for feeling less depressed or coping issues with stress freely and easily. In this context, academic self-efficacy affects academic proficiency as well as social and emotional competence areas.
Students that were selected for the treatment group in this study were considered to be the most successful students of their class and schools. As a result of the selection process, treatment group students showed a high level of academic self-efficacy in Wave 1 because their answers were based on their experience in classrooms and schools where they were already considered as the most successful students. Throughout 20 weeks of the experiment phase, courses taught in the Project Children’s University were different from regular courses in their schools. In addition, the fact that almost all of the students from eight different schools were among best students of their classes caused the students to question themselves and see their shortcomings. They found that they were not successful enough to transfer their knowledge to the real world, especially in problem-oriented applications. All of these situations enabled students to make more rational self-criticism by creating awareness, and accordingly, they criticized themselves and found that they in fact do not have a really high level of academic self-efficacy. On the other hand, students attended the activities voluntarily with a high participation rate throughout the project. Moreover, observations and interviews with students, teachers, and parents indicated a positive development in other proficiency areas of the self-efficacy such as social and emotional competence. Since social and emotional competence are not easily measurable, measurement tools about self-efficacy focus mostly on the academic competence. Almost all schools in Turkey perceive academic success as the success in science, math, social studies, and Turkish language. These courses are the main courses in curricula and measured in high-stake exams. However, it is not possible to develop students in a holistic manner without lessons such as physical education course, which improves the orientation of students, music course that helps students understand and express their emotions, and the visual arts course, which gives artistic perspective and aesthetic skills. Considering solely basic courses and ignoring other courses as listed above cause students to grow up without skills that are covered in those courses. As mentioned by Bandura (1997) [8
], Pajares (1997) [33
], and Schunk (1981, 1982) [34
], a child’s development process should not only focus on the cognitive aspect, but also focus on a balanced social and physical aspect. All of the courses taught in Project Children’s University were designed to achieve a development in students in those three areas holistically. As a result of all these practices, students have not only questioned themselves, but have also started to question the acceptances that are considered as academic achievement in their schools. This increase in student awareness may be seen as another reason for the decrease in academic self-efficacy scores.
The concept of self-efficacy as being aware of one’s goals and realizing what they can and cannot do to achieve these goals (Elias and MacDonald, 2007) [36
] is different from the concept of academic self-efficacy. In fact, this realization can be viewed as a process of self-balancing students. According to Medrano, Flores-Kanter, Moretti, and Pereno (2016) [37
], children with high academic self-efficacy have also shown success in balancing emotionally difficult situations. Lower academic self-efficacy scores throughout the study can be regarded as an indication that students have begun to understand the concept of academic self-efficacy. This development and change in the level of cognition of students can be seen as a big step as the beginning of the lifelong learning journey. Individuals who acquire lifelong learning skills are also accepted as individuals who learn how to learn (Olcum and Titrek, 2015) [38
]. Learning how to learn is a sine qua non for sustainable learning.
At the end of wave 3, we observed significant differences in academic self-efficacy domain scores among treatment and control group students. Having higher scores in self-efficacy in ability domain can be seen as a positive situation while having higher scores in context domain can be seen as a negative situation. Compared to control group students, treatment group students have higher levels self-efficacy in ability domain. Parallel to the findings of Lv, Zhou, Liu, Guo, Zhang, Liu, and Luo (2018) [29
] that indicate a high level of relationship between academic achievement and academic self-efficacy, our treatment group students showed higher academic self-efficacy in ability compared to the control group students because they were successful in academic achievement. On the other hand, context domain scores for treatment group students were higher than those of control group students indicating that treatment group students show lower academic self-efficacy for this particular domain. This result was unexpected. When we investigated this issue further with face to face interviews with treatment group students, we found that students were happy with how the faculty treated them, the quality of the instruction, and access to labs, studios, and gymnasium opportunities throughout 20 weeks. Students started blaming their schools for not being able to provide those privileges; therefore, they reflected lower academic self-efficacy levels in the context domain.
Under sustainable teaching and learning framework, students received education that was based on problem-based learning theory and in an inter-disciplinary manner throughout 20 weeks. The aim of the study was to develop students’ problem solving skills in which problems are simply related to daily life issues. Hence, students would learn how to learn. Eventually, students would be life-long learners and gain sustainable learning skills. Academic self-efficacy levels of the students were measured as an indicator for the sustainable learning skills, assuming that those learning skills are sustainable and has higher academic-self efficacy. Throughout 20 weeks, it was observed that the treatment group students’ academic self-efficacy levels fell continuously. Yet, compared to control group students, treatment group students still have higher levels self-efficacy. We may conclude that the objective of the project has not been achieved. Educational process designed in the project may be inadequate or the duration of the project may be so short to improve learner’s ability to learn how to learn. Nevertheless, we have observed many positive changes such as better inter-personal relationships among students, more positive attitude towards schooling, and increased self-confidence in self-efficacy of the students, in social and emotional areas that were not in the scope of this research. Since students we recruited for the treatment group already had higher levels of self-efficacy in ability domain of the academic self-efficacy, due to the ceiling effect, there was not much room for them to grow throughout the project. Replicating this study with a more heterogeneous student group may provide different results. Additionally, social and emotional characteristics of the self-efficacy should be monitored to measure growth of the students in a holistic manner with a more comprehensive study.
Due to the unreliable measurement process and non-converging statistical model issues, we failed to investigate the education quality domain of the academic self-efficacy construct. This particular domain was not apparent in the original version of the scale and measured using only three items. Therefore, the academic self-efficacy measurement tool was limited to measure only self-efficacy in ability and context domains. Besides, some parts of the original academic self-efficacy scale such as task difficulty and effort dimensions were not adapted to the Turkish version; hence, those parts are not studied in this study. In addition, the sample consists of students from Siirt city center only and the results should not be generalized beyond Siirt city center. Researchers should investigate the relationships listed above in other cities and countries and they should use a more comprehensive data collection tool.