Global Knowledge Formation in the Extended Classroom: Transdisciplinary Network for Global Learning Towards Sustainability
The Young Masters Program (YMP) online about sustainable development and preventive environmental management strategies has reached out to more than 10 000 students in 120 countries since 1999, when the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) atLundUniversitystarted the education for young students between 14 and 18 years (Nordén, 2005a; Nordén, 2005b). Youth from different countries and cultures are working with a common content interactively and problem-oriented in an extended classroom (Hansson and Nordén, 2005). The YMP course is free of charge and supervised by the IIIEE.
The teenagers work in interactions across the globe to learn about sustainable development through exploring a learning environment with new ICT-mediated ways of communication including global interaction with ideas and descriptions, and a transdisciplinary approach focusing on social, economic and ecological dimensions of the students’ daily lives (Laurillard, 2002; Nordén, 2006).
Focus is in particular on the ways in which the meeting between the course content, the intercultural discussions and the students’ own life-experiences constitute a context for knowledge formation, with emphasis on the extended classroom that is supported by the course. The context of learning is particularly interesting in the diverse situations that distance learners are in and the diversity that the course itself incorporates.
The purpose of this research, using a phenomenographic approach (Marton, 1981; Marton & Booth, 1997), is to analyze and describe the ways in which these students have experienced their learning process in the field of sustainable development within the YMP. The data are collected from the students’ assignments and follow-up discussions where they reflect on the assignments in the course’s online meeting place. There are also data collected from the questionnaire about the students’ learning process. This material from the first part of the YMP online autumn of 2005 was analyzed (Marton and Booth, 1997; Booth and Hultén, 2003).
Different conceptions and differentmeanings of what are apparently similar concepts have to become the object of reflection, and this gives rise to knowledge formation (Pierce, 1934; Bateson, 1972; Hansson, 2000; Hansson, 2004).
In the YMP its value in linking distant partners internationally for information sharing, awareness raising and knowledge formation activities is shown. The varying meetings encourage the youth to reflect more on attitudes, to realize how their own actions and the actions of other people affect the environment. In front of all the students are young people meeting one another as young people do, living in a single world of youth with environmental, social and economic challenges; besides that they are meeting in the course, around the common issues concerning sustainable development as it is problemized in the course; and finally they are meeting as representatives of different cultures with different assumptions and values (Hansson & Nordén, 2005).
The purpose of our research is to analyze and describe the ways in which these students have experienced their learning process in the field of sustainable development within the ICT-mediated course YMP (Young Masters Program).
We are focusing in particular on the ways in which the meeting between the course content, the intercultural discussions and the students´ own life-experiences constitute a context for knowledge formation, with emphasis on the extended room that is supported by the course. The context of learning is particularly interesting in the diverse situations that distance learners are in and the diversity that the course itself incorporates.
The aim of the analysis was to find qualitative differences in the experiences of knowledge formation. The study has been influenced by a phenomenographic approach to the research (Marton, 1981, Marton & Booth, 1997; Marton, Hounsell & Entwistle, 1997; Booth & Hultén, 2003), where the goal is to capture the ways in which learning is experienced by the students, taking a second-order perspective on the object of study.
Twelve study groups form a team hosted in a virtual course room. Each of the virtual course rooms have a representation of different countries and different continents, e.g. in our study Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, China, Colombia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Mauritius, South Africa and Sweden.
The data are collected from the students’ assignments and follow-up discussions where they reflect on the assignments in the course’s online meeting place. The three modules
What are the Environmental Challenges?, What are the Social Challenges? and
What are the Economic Challenges? were analyzed.
Data was also collected and analyzed from the questionnaire on the students’ learning process. All data are from Part 1 of the YMP online taking place during the autumn 2005.
The YMP course online consists of two parts. Part 1 compromises eight modules of studies about sustainability. The students learn about biodiversity, gaining an understanding of the complexity of ecosystems and their natural balance, as well as social, economic and environmental challenges. They begin looking at their world from the perspective of sustainable development. By learning about Agenda 21, they join international efforts in planning improvements and will be able to take a stand on sustainability issues.
The young people take part in the extended classroom and learn by reading their assignments´ content in a critical way and by being obvious of different interpretations.
This material in the extended classroom is a great asset to students. The students become more aware of different aspects and ways of seeing problems. They are conscious – as well – of people having different interpretations of the same phenomenon. Experts are also very important persons in the process of forming knowledge.
The students stand for two domains of knowledge – ”science-based” knowledge as well as ”reality-based” knowledge. Being in two domains could be seen as beneficial for their understanding of the phenomenon which are important for sustainable development.
But, the ”reality-based” knowledge could of course be questioned – is it a contribution? This knowledge may not be believable?
The opinion hold by the students, when they are reflecting upon their shaped process for formation and transformation of knowledge, is that their “reality-based” knowledge is believable. Through new combinations different forms of knowledge is formed and become parts of new contexts of meaning. Thanks to the critical view – included in the collaboration, negotiations and exchange in the YMP students´ discussions – a transforming learning process contributes to a solid foundation of a “reality-based” knowledge.
The processes of knowledge transformation for sustainable development occur in the diverse educational settings of the YMP. The extended room in the YMP online shows its value in linking distant partners internationally for information sharing, awareness raising and activities for knowledge formation. The varying meetings engage the youth, in different processes of knowledge appropriation in relation to their social and cultural identities and interests. They start reflecting more on their attitudes, realizing how their own actions and the actions of other people affect the environment
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