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Université Laval’s competence-based approach to identifying sustainable development courses and programs

  • Date de publication : 2020


Université Laval’s competence-based approach to identifying sustainable development courses and programs

Kendra Pomerantz, May 2020


It is increasingly important for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to integrate sustainable development (SD) themes into courses and program curricula. Given their benefits for operational success (Kerzner, 2011), assessment and reporting tools have thus been applied to the identification and tracking of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) content in HEI courses and programs (Sayed & Asmuss, 2013).

Most participating HEIs utilize a knowledgebased approach to identify SD-related courses and programs. Using this approach, they create a list of “SD-related topics” and then scan academic offerings for the presence of these topics. However, such an approach encourages an insertion of SD topics amongst existing academic curricula, as opposed to holistically integrating them across programs and courses (Figueiró & Raufflet, 2015). Thus, a knowledge-based approach to identifying SD-related courses and programs has serious drawbacks.

Furthermore, this indicator choice creates a gap between popular ESD measurement indicators and the desired approach to ESD suggested in the literature. In fact, much of the literature advocates for an approach to ESD based on Key Competencies for Sustainability (KCS). This refers to developing a student’s network of skills and knowledge necessary to adequately confront complex SD issues (Wiek, Withycombe, & Redman, 2011), as opposed to simply transmitting the current state of knowledge. Namely Wiek et al. identify five KCS: systems thinking, anticipatory, normative, strategic, and interpersonal.

In an attempt to bridge this gap between ESD indicators and the ESD literature on KCS, since 2012 Université Laval’s (UL) Advisory Committee on Sustainability Education 1 has researched, discussed and developed an SD course and program assessment and reporting framework based on these KCS.

This is accomplished using a questionnairebased method allowing faculty members to self-evaluate their courses and establish an SD designation. These evaluations can then be grouped to identify SD programs based on the degree to which students develop the KCS throughout their studies.

To date, this method has been used to identify 377 SD courses and 6 SD programs. While they still have improvements to make in terms of data gathering and encouraging faculty participation, UL offers a unique approach to HEI ESD assessment and reporting. This report therefore aims to contextualize, describe and discuss UL’s method, and to establish its comparative benefits and challenges as an alternative to the more typical approaches.