Creating Transdisciplinary Teaching Spaces. Cooperation of Universities and Non-University Partners to Design Higher Education for Regional Sustainable Transition
2.1. The Need for Transformative and Transdisciplinary Teaching at HEI
2.2. A Multi-Level-Perspective on ESD Certificates
- Level of landscape: The socio-technical landscape forms a broad exogenous environment that as such is beyond the direct influence of regime and niche actors  (p. 23). It includes material aspects of society, such as infrastructure, but also cultural norms and values, such as the principle of freedom of science in academia or the paradigm of economic growth in politics.
- Level of socio-technical regimes: institutional aspects and actor networks in a socio-technological system. The rules and cognitive routines of socio-technical regimes account for the stability and lock-in of the socio-technical system.
- Level of niches: It is assumed that radical innovations often emerge outside or on the fringe of existing regimes, where niches act as “incubation rooms”—in a protected area against mainstream market selections  (p. 22). It is the space for learning processes and experimenting with new alternatives for sustainable practices. Therefore, niches are the “seedbed” for systemic changes .
4.1. Genesis and Arrangement of Teaching Cooperation
4.1.1. Initiative for Teaching Cooperation and Role of Regional Partner
- Teacher (Interview N°12 + 13)
- Co-teacher together with university member (Interview N°1–5, 9–11)
- Host for student excursions (Interview N°9 + 13)
- Expert for student’s questions and discussion (Interview N°8)
4.1.2. Decisions on Course Design
4.2. Methodological Diversity and Out-of-University Learning Spaces
- The real world-oriented learning process (2 codes): The direct visit and insider’s-views into the practical work of the regional partner, connect to real-life and daily experiences of students (Interview N°7).
- Horizontal discussion culture (2 codes): The change of the setting creates a more open and confidential dialogue space. “The concrete example opens other questions. It’s a more accessible discussion culture, a more informal setting where you stand near each other and discuss together about a certain topic or place.” (Interview N°13).
- Empowerment of regional partners (4 codes): The visit of a student’s group contributes to the visibility and acknowledgment of the work of regional partners. This was observed especially in the case of farmers of community-supported agriculture groups: "It’s a kind of acknowledgment that they (farmers) themselves can talk about their experiences and work, which is heard and reflected by the students, and transmitted. There’s nothing worse in the area of agriculture than having to work on your own and produce anonymous vegetables for an anonymous market." (Interview N°9). On an epistemic dimension, the dialogue with students contributes to making the practical, experience-based knowledge of the regional partners visible. This was also seen in the case of migrants engaged in a Fairtrade initiative (Interview N°10).
- New perspectives for the regional partner (3 codes): The learning process between students and regional partners can lead to mutual learning. The regional partners gain new perspectives and inspirations for their work (Interview N°11). Some consider it fruitful to take time during seminars to discuss topics more profoundly, for example on sustainable alimentation (Interview N°8). Additionally, such visits can facilitate a direct connection between the results of the seminar and the work of regional partners (Interview N°5).
- Possibilities for transformative learning processes (7 codes): In most cases, the out-of-university learning spaces represent living examples of sustainable practices and alternative world visions. In a hands-on-learning process, students can discover how different actors put their visions into practice as well as the challenges they face. The teachers have to do this transfer—to connect real-life experiences with conceptual perspectives, for example with the issue of strategies for socio-ecological transformation. This potential was highlighted for example by the city walks for projects on alternative housing or economies (Interview N°13). Such visits and direct interaction with this kind of ‘niches’ of urban transformations can contribute to a change in students’ perspectives on their own environment and create motivation for a long-term engagement.
4.3. Favorable Factors and Challenges for Transdisciplinary Teaching Formats
4.3.1. Classroom Level
4.3.2. Level of Cooperation of Regional Partners and Teachers
4.3.3. Level of Certificate Coordination
- Partners without intrinsic (or acceptable extrinsic) motivation
- Partners only interested in good public relations
- Partners with inacceptable financial claims (in relation to budget and usual remuneration of the university)
- Partners not willing to critically reflect on their own institutional practices
- High amount of time needed for teaching projects (especially in the case of small start-ups or voluntary local initiatives) (9 codes by 6 people)
- Diverging expectations (5 codes by 4 people): some local initiatives have high expectations for the student’s contributions which are often not compatible with the usual amount of time and requirements of the course
- Fear of too much transparency/negative publicity (3 codes by 3 people)
- Difficulties finding initiatives for practical activities (e.g., interviews (2 codes)) or integrating students in practical activities (e.g., agricultural work (1 code)).
4.3.4. University Structures
4.4. Understandings of “Sustainable Regional Development” and Its Barriers
- Process-oriented understandings (mentioned 18 times by 10 people) of sustainability and sustainable regional development focus rather on the design process of sustainable development than on the outcome e.g., interview partners value participatory processes that integrate different institutions and communities. Some mention approaches critical towards neo-imperialistic global structures, whereas others refer to normative perspectives, such as the concept of intergenerational justice.
- Practical/outcome-oriented understandings (mentioned 11 times by 6 people) focus on practical issues that need to be solved or implemented (such as sustainable mobility, waste management, sustainable value chain, fair trade, and supporting sustainable businesses).
- Concept-oriented understandings (mentioned 3 times by 3 people) were shown by two interview partners who referred to the SDGs or the “triple-bottom-line” model.
4.5. What Is the Impact of Teaching on “Sustainable Regional Development”?
4.5.1. Sustainability Awareness/Information Rising
4.5.2. Strengthening of Regional Networks
5.1. What Happens Inside the Niche of ESD Certificates?
5.2. What Are the Connections to the Other Levels?
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
- Wie ist die teaching cooperation zustande gekommen?(English translation: How was this teaching cooperation established?)
- Wie wurden die Entscheidungen zum Kursdesign und -inhalten getroffen? (English translation: How were the decisions relating to the course design and its contents made?)
- Auf welche Weise wurde der Praxispartner eingebunden, gab es dafür besondere Methoden? (English translation: How was the practice partner involved, did it involve any special methods?)
- Wie werden außeruniversitäre Lernorte integriert? (English translation: How were the out-of-university spaces integrated?)
- Was sind Faktoren für eine gute Zusammenarbeit zwischen Hochschule und lokale Initiativen? Welche Schwierigkeiten und Herausforderungen gibt es (in eurem Beispiel)? (English translation: What are the factors for a good cooperation between the university and local initiatives? What difficulties and challenges are there (as in your example)?)
- Thema Regime: In welchem institutionellen Rahmen bewegen Sie sich?/Welche Regeln/Institutionen sind ausschlaggebend für Ihre Arbeit? (English translation: Regime: In which institutional framework do you operate?/which rules/institutions are crucial for your work?)
- Was bedeutet nachhaltige Regionalentwicklung für Sie? (English translation: What does sustainable regional development mean for you?)
- Lock-in: Worin seht ihr Blockaden bzw. Barrieren für eine nachhaltige Regionalentwicklung? Wie sind diese mit anderen Ebenen verbunden? (English translation: Lock-in: Where do you see constraints or barriers to sustainable regional development? How are these connected to other levels?
- Hat der Kurs zu längerfristigem Engagement von Studierenden bei der lokalen Initiative oder in ähnlichen Kontexten beigetragen? (English translation: Has the course contributed to the long-term engagement of students in the local initiative or similar contexts?)
- Aus Sicht der Praxispartner: Die Kooperation mit einem Uni-Kurs erfordert viel Zeit und oft ehrenamtliche Arbeit. Inwiefern “rechnet” sich das für eure Arbeit? (English translation: From the perspective of the practice partners: Cooperation with a university course requires a lot of time and often voluntary work. To what extent does this add value to your work?)
- Inwiefern hat die Zusammenarbeit Auswirkungen auf Region? Werden die außeruniversitären Partner nun von Politik/Medien anders wahrgenommen? (English translation: To what extent does the cooperation have an impact on the region? Are the non-university partners perceived differently by politics/media?)
- Inwiefern hat die koop zu eurer eigenen Entwicklung beigetragen? (English translation: How has the cooperation contributed to your own development?)
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|Name||University||Founding Year||ETCS Required||Composition|
|Certificate for ESD||Essen-Duisburg||2016||At least 8 ETCS||1 basic, 1 project and, 1 thematic seminar or|
1 basic and 2 thematic seminars
|Studium Oecologicum||Tubingen||2009||At least 12 ETCS||At least 1 basic seminar and 2 thematic seminars|
|Landscapes||values and visions (e.g., freedom of science, SDGs), broader institutional infrastructure: financing system||various (values, visions, etc. depending on the actor’s context)|
|Regimes||HE policies, curricula, teaching standards, module manuals||various (e.g., regional and national policy, culture, industry, technology depending on actor’s context)|
|Niches||cooperation via certificate|
|No.||Role of Interview Partner||Organization/Business||Seminar||City||Relation to SDGs|
|1||Teacher and project partner||Project for a sustainable neighborhood||Sustainability reporting for local organizations and businesses (2019)||Essen||12|
|2||Project partner||Free-of-Plastic shop||Sustainability reporting for local organizations and businesses (2019)||Essen||12|
|3||Project partner||Networking and conference business||Sustainability reporting for local organizations and businesses (2019)||Essen||12, 11, 17|
|4||Teacher and project partner||Urban agriculture project||More than Honey (2018)||Essen||15|
|5||Teacher||Independent teacher/NABU||More than Honey (2018)||Essen||15|
|6||ESD Certificate Coordinator||University of Duisburg-Essen||Not applicable||Essen||Not applicable|
|7||Certificate project coordination, teacher||University of Tübingen||Towards a local food policy council (2020) and others||Tübingen||2, 11|
|8||Project partner||Initiative for a local food policy council||Towards a local food policy council (2020)||Tübingen||2, 11|
|9||Project partner and teacher||Community-supported agriculture project (coordinator)||Towards a local food policy council (2020), Community-supported agriculture (2016–2019)||Tübingen||2, 11, 12|
|10||Project partner and teacher||Cacao cooperative and fairtrade activist||Fair chocolate (2019, 2020)||Tübingen||12, 17|
|11||Project partner and teacher||Journalist and fairtrade activist||Fair chocolate (2019)||Tübingen||12, 17|
|12||Project partner and teacher||Non-governmental organization (Global Learning)||Utopies and transformation/Global Learning in practice (2020)||Tübingen||4,12|
|13||Project partner and teacher||Solidary housing cooperative||Socio-ecological transformation in the city (2020)||Tübingen||11, 12|
(Involving Regional Partners)
|Integration of Out-of-University Learning Space||No. of Cases|
|Expert talk||Fairtrade-store, local initiatives||4|
|Hands-on: practical work in situ with regional partner||Urban gardening project, community-supported agriculture field, the editorial department of the local newspaper||4|
|Excursions||Fairtrade store, local initiatives, abandoned coal mine converted into a biodiversity hotspot||3|
|Interviews||Visit local initiatives and start-ups, such as plastic-free shops||2|
|Audio-walk/city walk||Visit community housing projects||2|
|Label-rally (topic Fairtrade)||Fairtrade-store||1|
|Exposition visit||Exposition about cocoa trade in the municipal library||1|
|Creation of fact sheets||Not applicable||1|
|Creation of a poster exhibition||Not applicable||1|
|Creation of a concept for neighborhood development||Community housing project||1|
|Public survey||International chocolate festival||1|
|Collective mapping||Not applicable||1|
|Level of Interaction||Favorable/Challenging Factor||No. of Codes by Person|
|Classroom level||Mixture of theory and practical engagement||10 codes by 6 people|
|Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary setting||5 codes by 3 people|
|Different backgrounds and motivations of students||3 codes by 3 people|
|Level of cooperation of regional partners and teachers||Co-design by the university and regional partner||15 codes by 6 people|
|Empathy and mutual confidence||14 codes by 7 people|
|Adaption of course design to university requirements||8 codes by 3 people|
|Feedback-loop and long-term continuity of teaching cooperation||10 codes by 5 people|
|Level of certificate coordination||Criteria for the selection of cooperation partners||6 codes by 3 people|
|Difficulties to find regional partners and teachers with similar interests||21 codes by 9 people|
|Difficulties to find students||6 codes by 1 person|
|Bureaucratic burdens for the quality development of the course program||4 codes by 3 people|
|Level of university structures||Limited funding and working conditions of university and freelance teachers||4 codes by 4 people|
|Lack of integrative approaches of sustainable development within HEI||4 codes by 2 people|
|Missing science-society-contact||2 codes by 1 person|
|Direct Impacts||7 Codes by 5 People|
|Introduction of cup deposit system||1 code by 1 person|
|Audiotour about renewable energy||1 code by 1 person|
|Media debate on Re-labeling of fairtrade products||2 codes by 2 people|
|Foundation of food policy council||3 codes by 3 people|
|Indirect Impacts||70 Codes by 7 People|
|Sustainability awareness/information rising||58 codes by all|
|towards students||26 codes by all|
|towards project partners||16 codes by 7 people|
|towards society||14 codes by 8 people|
|towards local politics||2 codes by 1 person|
|Strengthening of regional networks||12 codes by 7 people|
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Hoinle, B.; Roose, I.; Shekhar, H. Creating Transdisciplinary Teaching Spaces. Cooperation of Universities and Non-University Partners to Design Higher Education for Regional Sustainable Transition. Sustainability 2021, 13, 3680. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073680
Hoinle B, Roose I, Shekhar H. Creating Transdisciplinary Teaching Spaces. Cooperation of Universities and Non-University Partners to Design Higher Education for Regional Sustainable Transition. Sustainability. 2021; 13(7):3680. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073680Chicago/Turabian Style
Hoinle, Birgit, Ilka Roose, and Himanshu Shekhar. 2021. "Creating Transdisciplinary Teaching Spaces. Cooperation of Universities and Non-University Partners to Design Higher Education for Regional Sustainable Transition" Sustainability 13, no. 7: 3680. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073680