Innovative Higher Education

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 107–124 | Cite as

Educating Students in Real-world Sustainability Research: Vision and Implementation



Readers are invited to imagine students helping to solve real-world sustainability problems brought to them by societal stakeholders and simultaneously learning about and contributing to sustainable changes in society. Effective sustainability research education engages students in just that. Higher education institutions are implementing this vision of education in entire curricula, individual courses, and extracurricular research activities. In this article, we build on the literature to describe a vision of sustainability research education and present an evaluative scheme for measuring its effectiveness. We apply the scheme to two sustainability research-education projects in Switzerland to test its applicability and to identify achievements of the projects and the areas where improvement is needed. Areas for improvement include collaboration between academics and practitioners, joint problem definition, and the guidance of students to participate successfully in collaborative, real-world projects.

Key words

Sustainability research education Participatory research Transformative learning Interface management Evaluation 



The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers and Marcia Nation and Kathryn Kyle (Arizona State University) for helpful comments on previous versions of this article. We would like to thank the advisory board of Seed Sustainability, namely Gabriela Wülser, Christoph Kueffer, Thomas Camerata, Renat Heuberger, and Roger Baud, for their long-standing fruitful collaboration with us. Arnim Wiek acknowledges the support of the Swiss NSF grant PA0011-115315.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Decision Center for a Desert CityTempeUSA

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