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Research about Higher Education for Sustainability at the University of Otago

The published research described here centres on the work of the multidisciplinary University of Otago Education for Sustainability Research Group. The research group came together initially in 2008 and since then has re-engaged periodically in various configurations (as indicated by the authorship below) to explore ‘higher education for sustainable development’, ‘higher education for sustainability’ and the more generic ‘environmental education’ and ‘sustainability education’. The research group’s work has focused on the development and application of tools and processes that may help university teachers to understand the impact that they are having on the sustainability attributes of students, and in turn help these university teachers to decide on their role in what is likely to prove higher education’s most significant challenge in years to come.

The research over the years has responded to developments in the University of Otago's strategic commitments to this broad area of student learning and university teaching, in the context of ‘researching the practices of higher education’. The University of Otago has for many years identified a range of graduate attributes to be fostered by the university including ‘global perspective’ and ‘ethics’. The university added ‘environmental literacy’ in 2013. In 2017/18 the University published its sustainability strategic framework, https://www.otago.ac.nz/coo/otago664842.pdf including a commitment to ‘nurture a culture of sustainability’ and to support ‘education for sustainability’ at the university.

We hope that the research described here will support the commitment of others in other universities and in other countries to research the practices of higher education and we always welcome opportunities for collaborative research either within the generic field of ‘education for sustainability’ or within the disciplines represented within our group. Expressions of interest could be made to any of the authors below or to Professor Kerry Shephard (kerry.shephard@otago.ac.nz).

  • Kerry Shephard, Kim Brown, Sean Connelly, Madeline Hall, John Harraway, Jonny Martin, Miranda Mirosa, Hannah Payne-Harker, Nyssa Payne-Harker, Jenny Rock, Elizabeth Simmons, and Isak Stoddard (2017). Empowering students in higher-education to teach and learn. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 52(1), 41-55.doi: 10.1007/s40841-016-0072-x
    This article, co-authored by Otago students, explores the nature of student empowerment in the context of sustainability education.
  • Shephard, K., Bourk, M., Mirosa, M., & Dulgar, P. (2017). What global perspective does our university foster in our students? Environmental Education Research, 23(3), 398-414.doi: 10.1080/13504622.2015.1126806
    Exploring how university teachers understand and promote ‘global perspective’.
  • Shephard, K., & Brown, K. (2017). How democratic is higher education for sustainable development? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 38(5), 755-767. doi: 10.1080/01596306.2016.1150254
    Using philosophical hermeneutics to interpret how democracy is understood and used in the context of 'higher education for sustainable development'.
  • Shephard, K., Brown, K., & Guiney, T. (2017). Researching the professional-development needs of community-engaged scholars in a New Zealand university. Sustainability, 9, 1249. doi: 10.3390/su9071249
    Published in a special issue of Sustainability on Adult and Community Education, this article describes research that explored how community-engaged scholars become community engaged and what limits their community engagement. The discussion emphasises particular links between learning in community-engaged settings and reflection on that learning that may be crucial to students developing critical thinking skills and dispositions relevant to sustainability.
  • Strack, M., Shephard, K., Jowett, T., Mogford, S., Skeaff, S., & Mirosa, M. (2017). Monitoring surveying students' environmental attitudes as they experience higher education in New Zealand. Survey Review. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/00396265.2017.1399526
    Application of research tools and processes, developed by the University of Otago Education for Sustainability research group, within the discipline of Surveying.
  • Innes, S., Shephard, K., Furnari, M., Harraway, J., Jowett, T., Lovelock, B., Strack, M., & Skeaff, S. (2016). Greening the curriculum to foster environmental literacy in tertiary students studying human nutrition. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/19320248.2016.1255693
    Application of research tools and processes, developed by the University of Otago Education for Sustainability research group, within the discipline of Human Nutrition.
  • Shephard, K. (2015). Individual change: Researching educational outcomes achieved by higher education for sustainable development. In M. Barth, G. Michelsen, M. Rieckmann & I. Thomas (Eds.), Routledge handbook of higher education for sustainable development. (pp. 261-272). London, UK: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9781315852249
    Describing how universities could research long-term changes in the sustainability attributes of individual, but anonymous, students, if they wish to evaluate the extent to which they were meeting their commitments to, for example, educate for sustainability.
  • Shephard, K., Harraway, J., Lovelock, B., Mirosa, M., Skeaff, S., Slooten, L., Strack, M., Furnari, M., Jowett, T., & Deaker, L. (2015). Seeking learning outcomes appropriate for 'education for sustainable development' and for higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(6), 855-866. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1009871
    Describing how universities could research long-term changes in the sustainability attributes of cohorts of students, if they wish to evaluate the extent to which they were meeting their commitments to, for example, educate for sustainability.
  • Shephard, K. (2015). Higher education for sustainable development. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 131p. doi: 10.1057/9781137548412
    Reporting on the development of a grounded theory for higher education for sustainability and exploring the application of a resulting strategic plan, with a focus on encouraging skills and dispositions for critical thinking.
  • Shephard, K., Harraway, J., Jowett, T., Lovelock, B., Skeaff, S., Slooten, L., Strack, M., & Furnari, M. (2015). Longitudinal analysis of the environmental attitudes of university students. Environmental Education Research, 21(6), 805-820. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2014.913126
    Fitting nearly 5 years of student data to a longitudinal mixed-effects model of change and encouraging institutions to ask themselves if their educational efforts are, in the long term, and for all students, having an effect on student’s values, attitudes or dispositions.
  • Jowett, T., Harraway, J., Lovelock, B., Skeaff, S., Slooten, L., Strack, M., & Shephard, K. (2014). Multinomial-regression modelling of the environmental attitudes of higher education students based on the Revised New Ecological Paradigm Scale. Journal of Environmental Education, 45(1), 1-15. doi: 10.1080/00958964.2013.783777
    Measuring changes in the sustainability characteristics of anonymous students over time.
  • Shephard, K., Harraway, J., Lovelock, B., Skeaff, S., Slooten, L., Strack, M., Furnari, M., & Jowett, T. (2014). Is the environmental literacy of university students measurable? Environmental Education Research, 20(4), 476-495. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2013.816268
    Developing and piloting an instrument to evaluate the environmental literacy of students.
  • Mann, S., Harraway, J., Broughton-Ansin, F., Deaker, L., & Shephard, K. (2013). Seeking richer descriptions of learners’ sustainability attributes and learning needs. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 14(1), 90-100. doi: 10.1108/14676371311288976
    Statistical cluster analysis to record how sustainability attributes distribute within cohorts of students.
  • Strack, M., Jowett, T., Shephard, K., & Harraway, J. (2013). What impact do higher-education experiences have on the environmental attitudes of surveying students? New Zealand Surveyor, 302, 36-42. Application of research tools and processes, developed by the University of Otago Education for Sustainability Research Group, within the discipline of Surveying.
  • Shephard, K., & Furnari, M. (2013). Exploring what university teachers think about education for sustainability. Studies in Higher Education, 38(10), 1577-1590.doi: 10.1080/03075079.2011.644784
    Using Q Methodology to explore what higher education teachers think about their role in ‘higher education for sustainability’.
  • Harraway, J., Broughton-Ansin, F., Deaker, L., Jowett, T., & Shephard, K. (2012). Exploring the use of the revised New Ecological Paradigm scale (NEP) to monitor the development of students' ecological worldviews. Journal of Environmental Education, 43(3), 177-191.doi: 10.1080/00958964.2011.634450
    Detailed statistically-based-research on the use of the New Ecological Paradigm Scale in the University of Otago to explore changes in the sustainability attributes of students as they experience higher education.
  • Shephard, K., Harraway, J., Lovelock, B., Skeaff, S., Slooten, L., Strack, M., & Jowett, T. (2012). Monitoring changes in the sustainability attributes of higher education students in a New Zealand university. In W. L. Filho (Ed.), Sustainable development at universities: New horizons. (pp. 117-126). Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang. Developing a range of statistical approaches to monitor changes in the sustainability attributes of cohorts of students as they experience higher education.
  • Shephard, K., Smith, N., Deaker, L., Harraway, J., Broughton-Ansin, F., & Mann, S. (2011). Comparing different measures of affective attributes relating to sustainability. Environmental Education Research, 17(3), 329-340. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2010.542450
    Research to compare different approaches (essentially qualitative vs. quantitative) to explore the sustainability-attributes of students, resulting in more confidence in the use of the New Ecological Paradigm Scale.
  • Buissink-Smith, N., Mann, S., & Shephard, K. (2011). How do we measure affective learning in higher education? Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 5(1), 101-114.doi: 10.1177/097340821000500113
    Documenting what higher education has discovered about assessment of ‘learning in the affective domain’; a synthesis of the literature.
  • Shephard, K. (2010). Higher education's role in ‘education for sustainability’. Australian Universities' Review, 52(1), 13-22. A review to contextualise our research for broader audiences.
  • Shephard, K., Mann, S., Smith, N., & Deaker, L. (2009). Benchmarking the environmental values and attitudes of students in New Zealand's post-compulsory education. Environmental Education Research, 15(5), 571-587. doi: 10.1080/13504620903050523
    Recording an early attempt to measure the sustainability attributes of undergraduate students.
  • Shephard, K. (2008). Higher education for sustainability: Seeking affective learning outcomes. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9(1), 87-98.doi: 10.1108/14676370810842201
    Making the case that conventional Education for Sustainability and for sustainable development are quests for affective learning outcomes, rather than conventional cognitive educational objectives; comparisons with values-education in medicine; and providing tools to enable university teachers to decide for themselves how far up the affective domain they wish to teach.