Understanding Approaches to ESD Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Authored by: Stephen Sterling , Paul Warwick , Lynne Wyness

Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415727303
eBook ISBN: 9781315852249
Adobe ISBN: 9781317918110


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To begin a review of the purpose(s) of ESD research, we must first ask the basic question of the purpose of research generally. Definitions of research normally centre on it comprising systematic investigation which contributes to knowledge or understanding of phenomena or a problem. A distinction is commonly drawn between pure or basic research which focuses on understanding phenomena and issues, and applied research where the primary emphasis is on research which contributes to the solution of problems or some systemic improvement rather than knowledge for its own sake. Some commentators see action research as a third category as it is predicated on the researcher being part of the research process which itself is committed to personal or social change. ESD research as an area of interest is perhaps unusual because it accommodates and crosses these categories. It also engages in philosophic research regarding cultural, worldview and ethical dimensions of sustainability education – critically important dimensions of ESD research, but not within the scope of this chapter.

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