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Peer-Review Record

Teaching Down to Earth—Service-Learning Methodology for Science Education and Sustainability at the University Level: A Practical Approach

Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 542; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020542
Reviewer 1: Anonymous
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
Reviewer 3: Anonymous
Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 542; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020542
Received: 13 November 2019 / Revised: 19 December 2019 / Accepted: 8 January 2020 / Published: 10 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Technology & Engineering Education )

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

Dear authors 

 

I have read your manuscript multiple times (both in its initial form and its resubmitted version) and, although I sincerely admire your tenacity and perseverance, it still seems to me that the article is bellow the standards of Sustainability.

The changes you made are visible and your efforts are admirable, but I am afraid that the true problems lie on a more fundamental level (related to the overall structure of the article and its potential impact on an international audience) and are thus rather unfixable.

 

As such, with the risk of repeating some of my earlier remarks, my assessment is as follows: 

1. The theoretical framework still seems unconnected and and disjointed as you fail to show the logical thread between (a) Sustainable Development Goals in higher education, (b) Education for Good Living and (c) Service learning. I am not saying that there is no potential connection between the three, but that the connection is not justified.  

2. The research objectives are still partially fuzzy/unclear. The working hypothesis 'Service-Learning, as an active-based learning methodology, can be used to achieve SDG comprehension, understanding, and promotion among university students' is not correctly build from a methodological point of view. This is rather the objective of the study and not its hypothesis. 

 

3.  There are some errors vis a vis the writing style, grammar mistakes and even phrases which are not correctly build. 

For example, you use SL as the abbreviation of Service learning but on line 199-200 you confuse Service learning with self-learning 'Figure 1. Ideas tree for visualizing the multiple implications of self-learning (SL), sustainable  development goals (SDGs), and Higher Education. Source: Own elaboration.' SL is clearly used before multiple times for service learning

4. It is still unclear how the Rovira, García, and Serrano evaluation was was used/implemented in this article/research. The methodology seems to imply numeric values to its dimensions (as shown in Figure 2), but the article only provides a narrative analysis.

 

5. I am not sure on the relevance and added value of the SWOT analysis. 

6. Overall, I do not believe that the current article has the empirical work behind it to warrant publication in an international journal as a research article. I believe it would be better received as a reflective piece/letter to the editor or essay (in a shortened form) or as a book chapter (as is).  

7. Although I generally encourage on point and condensed papers, my opinion is that further work is required before the manuscript can be considered suitable for publication in a Thomson Reuters (Social Sciences Citation Index - SSCI) journal. In its current form the paper does not present an academically convincing argument for the claims of the authors.

 

 

Author Response

Reviewer #1

 

I have read your manuscript multiple times (both in its initial form and its resubmitted version) and, although I sincerely admire your tenacity and perseverance, it still seems to me that the article is bellow the standards of Sustainability.

 

The changes you made are visible and your efforts are admirable, but I am afraid that the true problems lie on a more fundamental level (related to the overall structure of the article and its potential impact on an international audience) and are thus rather unfixable.

 

Thank you very much for your kind efforts and your interest in our work. Thank you again for your consideration when you say we have made visible and admirable efforts. We agree with you in the vision that this paper is different from what is usual to find in academic literature. However, we think the need for new and more applied pieces of research is evidently an improvement in the methodological investigation, even more when we are dealing with specific didactics such as science education. In this sense, we feel the novelty of our work lays on the fact that we collaborate with a pedagogical contribution through the analysis of the applicability of Service-Learning methodology in a common, traditional subject such as the environmental sciences. We present this new tool, which was rarely analysed in terms of knowledge acquisition, transversal competences development and citizenship education (the three of them joined) not from a theoretical point of view (where almost everything works), but from the specific and particular application inside a wider project of know-reflect-act. We also feel the multiple criticisms that arose during the first review undoubtedly made our work more accurate, more useful and with a higher quality that surely will help other researchers to contrast their investigation. This is what we tried to do. We hope the result will fit our own expectations and, obviously, yours.

 

As such, with the risk of repeating some of my earlier remarks, my assessment is as follows:

 

The theoretical framework still seems unconnected and disjointed as you fail to show the logical thread between (a) Sustainable Development Goals in higher education, (b) Education for Good Living and (c) Service learning. I am not saying that there is no potential connection between the three, but that the connection is not justified.

 

Thank you for your comment. According to your suggestion, we include a specific point (1.1.3) between the three concepts.

 

The research objectives are still partially fuzzy/unclear. The working hypothesis 'Service-Learning, as an active-based learning methodology, can be used to achieve SDG comprehension, understanding, and promotion among university students' is not correctly build from a methodological point of view. This is rather the objective of the study and not its hypothesis.

 

We agree with the respected referee, so we have changed the redaction of this part of the article.

 

There are some errors vis a vis the writing style, grammar mistakes and even phrases which are not correctly build.

 

For example, you use SL as the abbreviation of Service learning but on line 199-200 you confuse Service learning with self-learning 'Figure 1. Ideas tree for visualizing the multiple implications of self-learning (SL), sustainable  development goals (SDGs), and Higher Education. Source: Own elaboration.' SL is clearly used before multiple times for service learning

 

This is clearly a mistake. For improving our English redaction, this article was submitted to the Language Editing Service from MDPI. Perhaps some inconsistencies have been included. We have fully checked the entire paper to correct any mistake.

 

It is still unclear how the Rovira, García, and Serrano evaluation was was used/implemented in this article/research. The methodology seems to imply numeric values to its dimensions (as shown in Figure 2), but the article only provides a narrative analysis.

 

 Thank you for your comment. We have revised the text and we hope this is now clearer.

 

I am not sure on the relevance and added value of the SWOT analysis.

 

SWOT analysis was included as a demand from other referee in the previous revision.

 

Overall, I do not believe that the current article has the empirical work behind it to warrant publication in an international journal as a research article. I believe it would be better received as a reflective piece/letter to the editor or essay (in a shortened form) or as a book chapter (as is).

 

We think we must remark the fact that this piece of research is involved in a wider project, as said before and as it will be indicated below. In this sense, we include specific paragraphs were this is pointed out. We think it is important because, as far as we know, no academic representation of such kind of works is found up to now.

 

Although I generally encourage on point and condensed papers, my opinion is that further work is required before the manuscript can be considered suitable for publication in a Thomson Reuters (Social Sciences Citation Index - SSCI) journal. In its current form the paper does not present an academically convincing argument for the claims of the authors.

 

We see the respected referee’s point of view and we understand it is perhaps difficult to identify the novelty and the potential of this piece of research, even within a Special Issue such as the one we are submitting to. Because of that, we have included new paragraphs as a justification of this aspect. We hope the editors and the referees find of the high quality we see in this piece of research and what we have tried to express in the new paragraphs the revised version includes.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration of our work.

Best regards,

 

José Blanco Salas

Corresponding Author

Reviewer 2 Report

The authors have addressed all the previous concerns.

Author Response

Reviewer #2

 

The authors have addressed all the previous concerns.

 

Thank you very much for your work on our piece of research.

 

Best regards,

 

José Blanco Salas

Corresponding Author

Reviewer 3 Report

Dear Authors,

Thank you for taking under consideration all the comments. I am impressed by the significant adjustments you have made, which significantly improved the article.

Thank you for the language proof and for adjusting the literature as well.

I have only small comments to the new version:

I am a bit confused by the "SL" abbreviation. In the lines 22 ans 199 "SL" is self-learning, and in line 143 (and others) "SL" stands for service-learning... Please revise that. Figure 1 feels a bit infantile because of the used graphics and fonts. It would be perferct for educational materials but is not serioius enough for a scientific paper. The content itself is good, but please make it look more "scientific" and less infantile. The presented SWOT analysis is in fact only a part of a proper SWOT analysis (first stage). Please present a full SWOT analysis as it is necessary to properly use full techniques in scientific papers.

Author Response

Reviewer #3

Thank you for taking under consideration all the comments. I am impressed by the significant adjustments you have made, which significantly improved the article.

 

Thank you for your kind consideration.

 

Thank you for the language proof and for adjusting the literature as well.

 

Thank you. It was a MDPI’s Language Support Office.

 

I have only small comments to the new version:

I am a bit confused by the "SL" abbreviation. In the lines 22 ans 199 "SL" is self-learning, and in line 143 (and others) "SL" stands for service-learning... Please revise that.

 

Ok.

 

Figure 1 feels a bit infantile because of the used graphics and fonts. It would be perferct for educational materials but is not serious enough for a scientific paper. The content itself is good, but please make it look more "scientific" and less infantile.

 

Ok.

 

The presented SWOT analysis is in fact only a part of a proper SWOT analysis (first stage). Please present a full SWOT analysis as it is necessary to properly use full techniques in scientific papers.

 

Thank you very much for your suggestion and we agree with you in the fact that SWOT analysis must be complemented with other aspects that are not included in this version. The reason we have not included them right now is because this paper is part of a wider research that includes a) previous field work (in Bobonaza valley, Ecuador), b) academic research and reflection here at the University and c) In-service stage, again in Bobonaza valley, which is currently on going. The current paper presents only the intermediate phase, further considerations will be included in future works. However, according to your suggestion, new ideas are included in the SWOT part for clarifying this point.

 

 

Thank you for your time and consideration of our work.

Best regards,

 

 

 

José Blanco Salas

Corresponding Author

 

Round 2

Reviewer 1 Report

Dear Authors, 

 

Your responses to my initial and secondary review questions and comments have made your research a lot clearer; it is now evident that some of the changes/improvements suggested by other reviewers from the 1st round made me asses your manuscript to harshly following the secondary review.

Furthermore, as mentioned before, the manuscript has once again been considerably improved. 

 

This manuscript is a resubmission of an earlier submission. The following is a list of the peer review reports and author responses from that submission.

 

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

The authors are tackling an important issue about the relevance of science-learning methodology for science education and sustainability at university level. The article is rather descriptive, but interesting and valuable. It has serious flaws concerning the structure and content:

The Abstract is chaotic and should better reflect the goals and outcomes. The structure is lacking a clear analytical framework and therefore the article is chaotic. I can't see a clear and well-structured mental flow. Literature review should better reflect the empirical part of the article. Chapter "Methods" is lacking clear objectives of this article. In the chapter 4 "Discussion and conclusions" I can't see where a proper discussion is. There is a description rather than discussion. Any obstacles in this type of learning? Any obstacles or threats met in the conducted project? Any authors who have different opinions or understanding of the matter? Any practical implications? In the "Funding" (line 463) authors state the source, but in the description of the project (Appendix 1) "Budget: This activity was performed without external funding" Can you please explain how this works?

Some specific comments:

line 34: "Student-learning" - shouldn't it be "student- centered"? Lines 55-56: What do you mean by "Furthermore, Degrees are thought many times as a mere content transmission." ? line 115: What are the "active educational methods" you mention? line 125: What are the "other educative methods" you mention? Figure 1 is of poor quality (difficult to read) and id not relevant to the content of the article - should be deleted. Line 206: "Basic Superior and High Level students" - when you mention country-specific level of studies, they should be explained, so that foreigner readers can understand. Figure 2 - I don't understand why this analytical visualisation is appropriate for the content and the objective of this illustration. Usually we use this type of illustration for visualisation of choices/different options and not a process. Maybe try another process visualisation tool. Table 1 lacks source Line 275-276: "It can also serve as a resource to awaken critical thinking and to fight for the right to 275 universal education." This sentence is very general. Awaken whose critical thinking? line 299: "Third step" - what were the previous two steps? The structure of the 3 chapter seems chaotic. Chapter 3.4: How does it relato to universities and what is the point of this chapter? line 314: If the aim pf the study was evaluation than the evaluation should show if it was success or not. One cannot state in the aim of the study that "make an  evaluation and reflection about it, and show the success of this SL project", because the primary assumption then is that it was a success. Why then evaluate? Lines 313-322: This content should be the framework of this article. Those ideas are not enough underlined in the article.  Lines 318-320: "but even focusing on the current challenges of the job market, society needs for professionals that address the current environmental challenges that deal with sustainability" - this statement does not reflect the the content of this article (job market challenges were not properly discussed in the previous parts) lines 320-321: " in a global vision of the local activities" please clarify what you mean by that Lines 403-404: "Carrying out multiple-perspective or interdisciplinary work is quite demanding" - this sentence is very general. What do you mean exactly? Lines 412-413: "Planification and proper scheduled activities are completely required in order to reach a successful SL experience" Who is responsible for planification and scheduling? Line 415: "Funny" is probably not the word you wanted here. Lines 415-416: "reach the competences and to develop another type of skills" What competencies? What skills? Lines 423-424: "The SL acts in two directions: on the community affected by the service and on the institution driving the project" - It affects the community and the University, but what about those, who conduct this research? Institution as a whole is something different then the people who actually perform the SL act.

The reference list provides different styles.

The article needs extensive professional language proof. It is hard to read it because of the language.

Reviewer 2 Report

The manuscript is of potential interest to the readership of this journal, but there are major issues that must be addressed before the article could be published.

/ * The literature review should be more carefully synthesised and structured. The use of sub-headings and signposting would help the reader to follow the argument being developed through the paper.

/ * There does not appear to be an explicit theoretical framework - this makes it difficult to explain the differences between outcomes of the research groups. Currently the manuscript appears to be somewhat descriptive and a theoretical.

/ * The results section requires far greater organisation and structuring. The analysis is too general, and the reported results are somewhat selective. This section needs to be more carefully and systematically constructed.

/ * Further, the analysis and findings must be critical and interpretive rather than just descriptive.

/ * The final discussion and conclusion should make it clear how the findings contribute to new knowledge.

/* Research methodology based on research goals is poor on absent.

/* The academic writing needs work.

/* The discussion should be more concise and the outcomes should be discussed in relation to the existing research. The language style of this section has to improve.

/* Recommendations should also be given for practice and further research.

/* Some references within the paper body are not correct.

/* Similarity check with iThenticate revealed a similarity index of 16% which is considered high. A maximum of around 60 quoted words is accepted per paper. There are 3 papers with over 60 words (326 and 126). No previously copyrighted material can be used. Please see the attachment file.

/* In preparing a revised manuscript, please also include a table of how you have responded to each of the issues listed above point by point.

 I look forward to receiving your revised manuscript in the near future.

Comments for author File: Comments.pdf

Reviewer 3 Report

The abstract should be improved, informing the readers about the main aspects of the article (pertinence of the study; problem/objective; methodology; main results and conclusions).

The writing must be reviewed. Language problems were detected throughout the text.

Suggestion: create a specific section for the Introduction were the problem is clearly stated as well as its pertinence and actuality and transition sections 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 to another section, maybe named Theoretical background.

Review some of the references used. When discussing current issues the authors should used, at least, one current reference (examples: lines 37-38; line 41; line 53).

Some aspects need to be further clarified, like:

lines 45-46, previously the authors highlight XXI century competencies. Then they transition to sustainable development. How can we link the two themes? lines 54-55, why don’t the syllabus facilitate critical, innovative or creative learning?

In section 2. the authors should: 1) justify the adequacy of the action-research methodology in this particular study; 2) describe the steps/cycle of the action-research; 3) explain how the SL is articulated with the action-research

Reviewer 4 Report

Although the topic of the paper submitted for review presented personal interest for me as a researcher due to both its topic and empirical approach, unfortunately there are multiple shortcomings in the manuscript which determined me to offer a negative evaluation, as follows:

 

1.  The theoretical framework seems to be underdeveloped, especially when considering the richness of the literature dedicated to this topic. The literature review lacks a consistent narrative which should have been used toward building a consistent argument. Furthermore, some of the claims made in the manuscript are not fully developed as valid arguments and are not properly substantiated by referencing the works of other authors.

The main issue with your theoretical framework/literature review is that it seems to tackle multiple issues (SDG in HE; Sumak kawsay; service learning), without giving due consideration to most of the themes/ideas included in this section of your manuscript. 

 

A more comprehensive and coherent literature review should have been conducted. The current structure might have made some sense in the initial PhD thesis (assuming that this is inspired from it) but it makes the theoretical framework of the article fuzzy.

 

2. The manuscript seems to lack clearly stated research aims/goals/objectives, a research question or hypotheses. Overall, I am unsure what you tried to argue/achieve by this work - what was the end goal? To present the SL methodology? To summarize the PhD thesis? To argue why teaching should evolve and be more sustainable?

 

3. The methodology is unclear. Although the manuscript includes three pages of methodology, multiple issues are still left unclear or are irrelevant 

a. Figure 1 is not truly relevant for an international audience.

b. Figure 2 seems to be created from block of text / phrases. It can actually be read like a sentence

c. It is unclear how the scores for Figure three were computed 

d. Somehow, the exact methodology (data collection / field work) is not explained in the methodology. 

 

4. Some of the claims of the authors are problematic, since their are either unsubstantiated (no references are provided in support), lack academic/scientific credibility, are convoluted (hard to follow/understand) or seem to promote a subjective agenda.

 

5. The results are not presented in clear/structured/cohesive way.

 

6. The results seem biased. As there is no clear methodology on how you have reached these results / conclusions, most of the arguments made in the second part of the article seem biased or unsubstantiated. 

 

7.  I have serious concerns regarding the writing style currently employed, as in the current form most parts of the manuscript (around 25%) can create confusion for readers as they are unclear, do not fully respect English grammar rules, words are misused, there are some internal inconsistencies and punctuation marks are not properly used.

 

8. lthough I generally encourage on point and condensed papers, our opinion is that further work is required before the manuscript can be considered suitable for publication in a Thomson Reuters (Social Sciences Citation Index - SSCI) journal. In its current form the paper does not present an academically convincing argument for the claims of the authors. 

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