J. Eussen (2021)
Positioned midfield, between the daily practice of education, the world of ESD research and society at large, the sensation emerged that an unarticulated body of thought with apparent universal qualities underlies and informs ESD-based Education. Specifically, in teachers’ practice, we noticed their craft might come across as methodical and systemic, appearing however pragmatic when dealing with uncertainty regarding the way their students learn. Teachers also act and judge intuitively and base their doings on a deep (even unconscious) understanding (sensing) of the learning process. Their knowledge is likely composed of a mix of correct and incorrect information without an empirical basis to determine which of the beliefs are correct and which are not (J. Berry & Chew, 2008).
Observations and insights generated during the OPEDUCA Project point to a sub-surface existence of alike ideas and convictions, a set of complementary expertise across the board. Learning theories and educational concepts seemed to amalgamate in the OPEDUCA Concept, including such believed to be antipodes. It is referred to as the existence of ‘A Learning Continuum for ESD-based Education’ that, practice informed and related to a relevant body of learning science, may contribute to the search for the identity and added value of ESD. Focussing on salient features there are 9 clusters of theories that provide a coherent whole for practitioners to build on and policy developers to relate to.
The following introduction to the various components of the Learning Continuum is taken from the doctoral thesis of J. Eussen (2022).
It hardly needs argument motivation is a crucial driver of performance (Broussard & Garrison, 2004; Lange & Adler, 1997), that a student's wanting to understand is grounded in intrinsic motivation (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993). As we observed in numerous practices, teachers tend to generate motivation by means of attractive offerings, such as a game-like setting, organizing ‘fun science’ or choosing issues of the students’ liking. They therewith seem to mix up cause and effect, reason and action, goals and means. Meaning should be understood from the perspective of the effectiveness of changes taking place in the learners’ cognitive structure during the process of knowledge generation (Ausubel & Fitzgerald, 1961). Meaning is important to the students but not per definition follows from (any) experience as such; the quantity and quality of impressions and their random appearance were seen to be relevant. The richness of phenomena in the real world is functional to the higher retention of learning (Maxwell, Stobaugh, & Tassell, 2016).
Usefulness proved an important aspect of meaning as it fed the students' motivation to indulge in a learning process because of ‘wanting to know’ (Bransford, 2000). We came to question however if ‘impact on others’, which is frequently mentioned in this respect, is a selective criterium of meaningfulness and therefore keep closer to a less social view.
When the student is filled with wonder, starts a discovery to experience and then later gains understanding, such aligns with the objectivistic approach the world is real, external to the learner (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). As noted, I do not regard knowledge as externally available to be acquired by a student passively to the real. Stimuli arriving at the learner’s senses following active observations deepen the experience, add confirming and conflicting data to the information conceived.
Understanding that socio-constructivist and socio-cultural learning theories are regarded as crucial elements of constructivism (Berger, 1966; Brookfield, 1986; Packer & Goicoechea, 2000), both the social as well as the experience factor are preceded by reaching a ‘sense of meaning’ (Berger, 1966) to inspire activation. One can turn around the argument, proposing that (the search for) meaning is informed by participative learning environments and that social processes can guide and bring students to meaning-making (D. Jonassen, Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, B., & Bannan Haag, B., 1995). The meaning a student considers herself to find can be wrong, or even better be incorrect first from the perspective of the (informed) observer and teacher (“Let's melt the icecaps so we have more fresh drinking water” as a 12-year-old advised). Learning takes place when the student gives such meaning to it, the issue close to the learner as a subjective value (Merriam & Clark, 1993).
A school’s quality as a safe learning environment is functional to allow for such constructive error. Following these considerations, in OPEDUCA learning can be furthered by social application but remains of and to the individual, is personal - others cannot make a meaningful experience happen, only enhance the likeliness it occurs. Normative activities that press values upon students while missing out on meaning I see as a root cause of failing Environmental Education and its wake weak interpretations of ESD.
It is an indispensable element of ESD that students’ interpretation of phenomena follows sense-making (D. Jonassen & Strobel, 2006). Building from the Dimensions of (Education for) Sustainable Development, students were able to sense they are dealing with things making ‘a difference in how people live and the kind of life they are capable of living’ (Fink, 2013). Students were enabled to gradually re-boot and re-bond with Earth to from there face the complexity of Well-being, to go through a phase where cognitive development and ethical reasoning meet (“No, let’s not melt the ice-caps but produce fewer fashion”). This allows for meaningfulness and enhances their understanding of how Welfare relates to the encompassing value domains 'Earth' and 'Well-being'. Therewith the application of OPEDUCA conflicts with contemporary (2022) ideas of ESD which, although speaking of inquiry and construction, tend to hand students a literally "ill-defined problem" while including a solution (“We require more clean energy”- “Solar-cells can collect solar-energy” - “Let us have solar panels on our roof”).
Taking self-determination into account (Deci & Ryan, 1985), understanding that students are intrinsically motivated and that such motivation can flourish when autonomy, relations and competencies are met as psychological needs, there is one reason why Flight for Knowledge starts out from a blank sheet of paper, only holding the key-word of a future defining theme. The white landscape is assumed to invite students to doodle, draw, stroll around, presume, be confused and make mistakes. We therewith treasure the cognitive disequilibrium and its associated affective state of confusion to be beneficial to learning as it can promote greater effort directed at resolving the felt dissonance (Lehman et al., 2011).
We should not command students to copy our ‘solutions’ and therewith implicitly accept our historical and present unsustainable behavior but respect their creative power (to, as an example, one day construct sheets of solar-cells processing hydrogen attached to vertical constructions while leaving the horizontal to city gardens.
The process of seeking and finding meaning, being allowed to make mistakes and appreciate the logic of critical reasoning, also regarding one’s own learning process and -progress, we presume a root for the gradual development of meta-cognition. The teacher not to tread on the root but water it intermediately, touching the content and process of the student's construction gently. It is, therefore the OPEDUCA instruments provide for an array of opportunities for feedback, appraisal and (joint) reflection.
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As described, each OPEDUCA instrument first sees to a mental activation of the student, to be understood as an ‘awakening’ for development in an involved way. Although the importance of an active state of mind was broadly shared in daily practice, observations and interpretations differed. Students showed a variety of attitudes and tempers, some growing silent and pulling back into themselves for the time being while others made their active state noticeable. Social interaction by ways of the Study-Teams engaged over 80%, which however not meant they were activated. Interaction could lead to an active mode over engagement, engagement however can possibly be the result of an already present active mode. If so, a student's individual progress in their individual construction of Fields of Knowledge provided an indication.
I gather the students’ active participation in the learning process to result in an increase in the intellectual potential to make acquired information more readily practical in problem-solving, the enaction of the learning activities in terms of the intrinsic reward of discovery itself, learning the heuristics of discovery and making the material more readily accessible in memory (Bruner, 1961). The manifestation of these benefits related to the limited near-linear ability of our working memory to ‘trickle and instill’ data and their (changing) interrelations in our longer-term memory, allowing it to (unconsciously) perform the knowledge-generation process it is equipped for. The learning takes place within ourselves, is not placed nor stored outside of us – one cannot be handed or look up knowledge.
Whereas the intake, storing and processing of data and impressions might remain subject to different convictions and remains obscure, I argue the ‘outcome’ by ways of reflections, reasoning and notable action allow for more objective observation. Here is a reason why the OPEDUCA instruments see to a continuous flow of expression in a variety of ways, accumulating in a constant flow of articulation through presentations.
The multitude of first-hand experiences the OPEDUCA instruments comprise, always leave an impression but are regarded meaningful if they are effective openers, call for attention, awaken the student to be(come) active.
As we in principle argued education (certainly through the lens of ESD) concerns an ongoing learning process throughout the entire formal system, granting students learning pathways, years of time to draw from and connect with real-life experiences, enhance meaningfulness and build a sense of purpose. Providing more opportunity over longer stretches of time to let (conflicting) data trickle in, to gradually collect, interpret and store information as well as conceptual relations in memory. I projected this as the gradual construction of vast ‘roots’, expanding and reaching ever deeper. This time element is essential for ESD as it allows the student to generate an understanding of and from within herself, learning to value values. From there a youngster can gradually develop an identity and sense of agency to be(come) active when noticing undesirable currents depict the future. Engagement increases over time and might manifest itself for example during Fridays for Future marches or a political debate, is however not installed on such occasions. Values considered inherent to sustainable development cannot be forced upon youngsters in a relatively short term and from a normative standpoint.
In daily educational practice, we noticed misinterpretations regarding ‘active, action and activity'. When referring to an active state we consider the mind awake, open, involved. Psychical action off all sorts can provide distraction the (subconscious) mind needs while impressions trickle into our working memory continuously but it is not merely outward observable action that enhances learning. We observed it to contribute, however for brief time intervals only - until action became a (senseless) distraction.
In some cases students told us they eventually felt more comfortable with rest, finding peace of mind. Distraction, either by play, continuing instructions, games or hectic classrooms, seemed contra-productive as (e)motion stood in the way of contemplation, senses over-challenged.
We noted teachers, especially in secondary, only seldom installed moments of silence (to think and for example read). The time indicated for ‘individual learning’ practically often meant students were sitting behind screens, mostly connected to the internet. Teachers often interpreted a student's searching, clicking and scrolling as ‘being active’, not questioning a possible overload of the senses. Besides the notion the internet can be critically qualified as a two-dimensional frozen state also containing outdated and subjective information, its ever-changing continuous flow of short texts and rapid visualizations also creates an illusion of action to our senses and the observer.
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A sense of wonder, imagination, urge to discover and desire to understand and develop oneself, are powerful drivers to learn. Pondering the growing popularity of these terms, I am however critical regarding the ‘learning’-suffix, bringing us for example to ‘discovery-learning’. Such are mere attributes of an encompassing Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL), following the interpretation of imagination as the tool that puts the human mind ahead of the animal (Bronowski, 1967). If a tendency to create arises from the ability to picture what is not (yet) there, the students first have to discover what is already there or not, what can be created. As ‘dis-cover’ says, it regards phenomena already existing, not new to the world like in ‘invention’, the term we noticed teachers often mistake it with (Columbus set foot on an already existing continent). When the student goes her way, wondering about what she observes and finds, open for awe, it is consequential of the Why, What, How, Who and When; seeking meaning through and about the world as it is and unfolds, is what inquiry-based learning comprises. The student can only wonder when observing, discover when moving and experience when within reach of matters. As recounted, the OPEDUCA instruments functioned as intended also in this respect, suited to map and follow the observation, questioning, reasoning, looking at an issue from multiple angles, alone and jointly.
Obviously, the OPEDUCA Concept builds strongly on the real, is phenomenological as we see thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas and behaviors arise because of our contact with the world. Our existence is a network of relations, our being not locked up inside but spread throughout worldly interactions in which our existence continually unfolds (Fisher, 2002). Thereto each OPEDUCA instrument entangles the learning with experiences grounded in the real, meeting the relevance of context by means of situated learning (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).
The Fields of Knowledge concept builds on the conviction a student first has to relate new observations to an existing body of information, the latter seen as qualitative footholds to pin the newly observed to, anchor it (Ausubel & Fitzgerald, 1961; Novak, 1998). A process more effective when the new set of data and information is clear and relatable, also in this sense meaningful.
We could observe that extensive experience with objects and surroundings offers a rich base for the development and application of verbal and non-verbal capacity, prerequisites for further cognitive development (J. Clark & Paivio, 1991). Such real-life learning goes far beyond attempts to have a school resemble real life; the authenticity and meaningfulness of the real with its pallet of experiences, less defined problems and multiple approaches and solutions cannot be exhibited in either material or virtual confinements. Facilitating students to not merely learn about but be in touch with phenomena and authentic problems increases sensemaking, makes relevance be felt and usefulness valued, the concept of meaning underpinned from various sides.
Amongst others the situation of learning with(in) industry and the thematic spaces in school dedicated to Flight for Knowledge themes, that provide for context and Partners in Education going in and out, should be understood as a part of the real inside a school, being more than a classroom with windows to the world.
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Although perceivable as separate approaches to choose from, Inquiry-, Problem, Project-, Task- and Case Based Learning are parts of a continuum as such, ranging from a more liberal student-steered quest of inquiry to the more often observed teacher-directed assignments. Considering the variations in the implementation of the methods considered, many of the differences disappear altogether (Prince & Felder, 2006).
Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) in the context of the OPEDUCA Concept sees to learning with a mindset in the momentum of interest and focus (where the inquiry is). The student collects, interprets and assimilates data into information, the mind open to gather, place, get informed. This learning tuned to the person at the specific moment is entirely different from a school class in which a teacher tries to meet a multitude of mindsets with a single instruction, addressing a sole issue. As the term tells, IBL is about learning and should not be regarded as a teaching approach. It is not a minimally guided instruction as it requires teachers and educators to guide but not channel students’ learning. As observed in practice, such requires open questioning by informed educators, critical thinking and a continuous exchange of the learner also with herself. Teachers’ instruction does not rest in the core of the process but is a complementary source. IBL focuses on the conditions and basic ability of the students to formulate good questions, identify and collect appropriate evidence, present results systematically, analyze and interpret these, formulate conclusions and evaluate their value (Lee, 2004). Although literature mentions that differences in the amount of guidance lead to distinctions between structured inquiry, guided inquiry and open inquiry (Biggers & Forbes, 2012; Chinn & Malhotra, 2002; Kuhn et al., 2000), I argue only open inquiry meets the intention and quality of IBL. Moreover, ‘structured’ and ‘guided’ variations eventually offer room for teachers to escape to pure instruction.
Not as strict, the same goes for Problem Based Learning (PBL) where the art lies in the application of involved guidance, not teaching or lecturing. Noting that one of the most found characteristics of an effective learning environment sees to placing the acquisition and use of knowledge elements in the context of analyzing, explaining and addressing realistic problems (Bosch, 2003) we interpret ‘problem’ as ‘realistic, relevant. As introduced and reported on from practice, each OPEDUCA instrument has aspects of PBL as a pedagogy, while ‘Problem-based’ as such is an underlying principle. Studies have shown a robust positive effect of PBL on skill development, grasping interconnections between concepts, deep conceptual understanding, the ability to apply appropriate metacognitive and reasoning strategies, teamwork skills and class attendance, but have not reached any firm conclusion about the effect on content knowledge (Prince & Felder, 2006). From our practice we can relate to the latter; however, it is not the method as such which gives rise to questioning its effect on content knowledge but the way it is conducted. A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of PBL on knowledge acquisition and the development of problem-solving skills in college students found they may acquire more knowledge in the short term when instruction is conventional, but through PBL retain knowledge longer (Dochy, Segers, Van den Bossche, & Gijbels, 2003). This notion of persistence relates to our positioning of ‘problem-based’ as a principle of ESD.
The line towards domination of teaching is crossed when moving to Project Based Learning, the students being more confined and set free only temporarily. Project Based Learning is a more narrow conception, restricted in scope and time, using a more structured problem to drive the acquisition of new content knowledge (Lohman, 2002).
Task-based Learning is then to be seen as even more restricted while Case Base Learning is another grade simpler as it looks at specific well-defined matters (well-structured, rich contextual details being provided, students called on to apply material that is already familiar).
Observing this more fold of Inquiry-Based Learning, it is at least remarkable that, certainly when one states that sustainable development regards ill-structured problems, ESD is mostly applied by way of Case Based Learning flavored with Project Based pedagogy. We noted a range of ESD practices that honor teachers’ and consultants’ discomfort with less predictable learning processes or strangeness to matters so profoundly, ESD is degraded to choreographed schooling, not even education. Obviously, OPEDUCA differs substantially from shallow unworldly perceptions of ESD that are little more than attempts of Case Based Learning on pre-selected ‘problems’ using artificial simulations of the real.
The further IBL, PBL and the derivates based on it are stipulated and pressed in a format, the less effective the approaches appeared to become in terms of student involvement and learning outcomes. Scholars are seen to (over-)structure and define practices by ways of a time plan, framework and exercises, apparently answering to teachers’ conservatism by offering them a straitjacket disguising conservatism. It became clear such suffocation of students’ creative engagement and restriction of teachers’ professional development stands opposite to ESD. As noted earlier, it is the attitude and capacity of the teacher that makes the difference, dictates the effectiveness of the approaches. I argue the teacher better chooses for clear IBL and PBL or remains in the traditional instead of hiding an instructive regime behind a new phrase.
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Inquiry being the art of questioning and raising questions calls for critical thinking skills, a disposition fundamental for the student’s learning and overarching ESD. Critical Thinking regards claims and any relationship between them, including the understanding of explanations, drawing inferences, analyzing the structure of argumentation, evaluating evidence, understanding hypothetical arguments and assessing the credibility of data and information provided. Proficiency in Critical Thinking can be understood as being inquisitive, well-informed, open-minded and flexible, being prudent in making judgments, willing to (re-)consider, thinking orderly in complex matters, wanting to find relevant information, focussed in inquiry and persistent in seeking results (Van Den Brink-Budgen, 2011).
As each discipline, subject and ongoing study of phenomena it consists of is rich in elements we have a thorough understanding of while others still await such, what we at a certain moment frame as ‘facts’ underpinning ‘knowledge’ does not remain valid per definition. Therefore, learning is qualified to be critical, to think over again, question, debate, discuss, (re-)search, apply, reconsider, (re-)search once more. Consequently, this ability or even disposition to think critically is elementary to learning, Critical Thinking being the nerve system of the entire student’s OPEDUCA-based learning (Eussen, 2020; Van Den Brink-Budgen, 2011).
Seeing Critical Thinking and analytical skills also as values that respect diversity, difference and equity, they are crucial elements for raising and educating future competent citizens. It is essential to be critical of our perception of the present and future as well as about the way it is brought to us.
A critical constructive mindset enables us to unwind and untangle matters, leading to a better understanding of phenomena while preventing delusions and subjective revisions of what is true. Facing reality in a welcoming way lessens feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Especially in times societal systems tend to waver and fail and notions such as ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ came to service and effect, it is eminent that students need critical minds and the skills to bring them to use. Pointing to the continuum of data to wisdom, it is important students are aware knowledge is constructed in certain contexts, per definition questionable and contestable, partial to begin with and eventually theirs to (re-)create. This conviction I place at the heart of ESD. A critical consideration, certainly when derived from real-life learning, grounds a student's ratio, enables her to validate content and therewith enhances the competence to withstand false impressions and prejudice following own former and others’ present ignorance. Especially in light of ESD, we should strive for a student to not be easily deceived. A spiraling sensation that led us to even more profoundly reject the idea that "students no longer need to truly know anymore" since we do not know what the future will be like. Such complementary to my conviction that the facilitation and enablement of students to close a possible content gap is strategic in the light of sustainable development (De Graaf & Kolmos, 2003).
Embedded in the OPEDUCA Concept, Critical Thinking is not a supplementary feature, having students ‘exercise’ it when dealing with a specific issue; Critical Thinking is ever present to allow students to reflect on their own educational surroundings. In the case of sustainability, this also means reflecting on a situation when a clear normative qualification or collective goal is promoted. The learner questioning not because she must doubt everything but to make questioning phenomena a habit to be expressed most constructively. This will allow her to enjoy a learning process and accompanying education that takes us into the depth of things (Sterling, 2001), a condition and mindset in turn essential to make issues studied meaningful to the learner; learning to see the meaning of things is a condition and a consequence of ESD.
What should concern us is the possible decline of people’s capacity to manage competing claims, triggered by an endless supply of information via the internet and (mass-)media. To counter shallowness and further a student’s critical thinking capacity, the OPEDUCA instruments tap into the real and call for direct and personal observations through meeting a variety of people with an array of opinions, convictions, experiences, functions, roles and interests. We consider Critical Thinking to have a countervailing effect regarding the abundance of unfiltered opinions and content a student receives. A more wide- and open-eyed real-life learning we saw also matches youngsters’ inclination to not believe everything to being with, the teachers’ capacity to withhold from instruction while persistently joining the questioning crucial.
I regard the Dimensions of ESD as functional to critical thinking and vice versa to take students beyond the narrowness of the present and look beyond, observe the longer-term viability of today’s decisions and reason back from future perspectives to critically discuss and judge them. Given the many i.e. masses we as humans are, a small misunderstanding is likely to inform unsustainable behavior with massive and therewith potentially dramatic effects.
As Partners in Education obviously had other insights and convictions to share, doing so from a different composure and choice of expression (“This is how it is done”, “We don’t agree with that”), and due to the fact practice often differs from (textbook-)theory, especially such exchanges in students' OPEDUCA Region proved most valuable to provoke and enhance students’ critical thinking skills. It also stood out that external educators were seen to have a more natural inclination to ‘echo’ students’ questions, next to which they (implicitly) created the fascination of a ‘hidden’ truth ("Not going tell you everything … unless you ask for it"). Students proved sensitive to a distinct (if not concealed) transfer of disciplinary content as if not-telling ignited a wanting-to-know.
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Taking the first clusters together, they obviously characterize the OPEDUCA Concept as both constructivist and instructive, inductive as well as deductive, cognitive and non-cognitive. As we conceptualized, our practice proved to be manifestations of inquiry- and problem-based individual learning in a collaborative setting, merging inductive constructivist approaches with instructive pedagogies, putting differences to complementary use. A student is not expected to learn something out of anything, nor is she regarded as an empty box in need of being filled. The interplay of induction and deduction can be respected, acknowledging that in practice neither teaching nor learning purely rests on one or the other. Students used new observations to infer rules and theories (inductive) and assessed theories to deduce consequences and applications that can be verified experimentally (deductive), good teaching helps to do both (Prince & Felder, 2006). Through each of the OPEDUCA instruments, the students were observed to construct, add new data and information to existing insights through inquiry in a continuous process of collecting, interpreting, recording, sharing and debating. Students were seen to engage themselves in an active process of discovery and peer-supported development, blended learning contributing to higher forms of education (Van Merriënboer, 1997). At the same time, the ‘First Principles of Instruction’ can be considered close to the concept, comprising the provision of authentic problems sequenced from simple to complex, activation as helping students to connect what they already know with what is to be newly learned, demonstration of what is to be learned, application and then integration of what is learned into their lives (Merrill, 2002). Obviously with the substantial difference the teacher leads in the latter and the student in OPEDUCA.
The OPEDUCA Concept can be classified as constructivist since it has characteristics of decades-old ideas (Piaget, 1977; Steiner, 1902; Vygotsky, 1980) which consider the development of levels of increased complexity from dichotomous to reflectionist thinking, students becoming competent to reach reasoned conclusions (Bloom, 1956; Perry Jr, 1999). Although constructivist aspects can be found in each OPEDUCA instrument, a strict classification would be too narrow because the student is not kept away from instruction in order to build learning capability. Instruction in OPEDUCA should also be understood as the instructor living by example, not only projecting what she knows but also why and how she came to know. The implicit transfer of a love for learning is an inherent quality that enhances the effective projection of concepts and content. On the side of the student, the transmitted has been seen to be observed in an again constructive manner. Hence, I see a teacher’s instruction as the credible performance of own skills, competencies and ability to reason through concepts and understand content i.e. phenomena. Such to support the students’ evolving capability of learning by search, question and critical reasoning and to enhance their sense of metacognition. A process for which the narrative quality of the teacher/educator is a determinant. We came to speak of 'Constructive Instruction'.
Findings in neurological and psychological research support constructivism and inductive teaching, noting that all new learning involves the transfer of information based on previous learning (Bransford, 2000). This aligns with the student's construction of Fields of Knowledge, the ongoing expansion of the business cases and exchanges in Global as they place new information and improve the link to existing cognitive structures. A process that also allows for (temporary) misconceptions to surface first, to be adapted during the collaborative learning in Study-Teams by ways of peer-to-peer questioning, comparison and argumentation. An eventual intervention of the teacher only to follow after the students observed and reflected on real-world phenomena related to the matter, brought near and explained by educators.
The teacher is considered capable and at hand to stimulate the students’ inquiry, proposing ways to search and provide interim and halfway explanations. A role that requires extensive understanding of the matter at hand to witness the information-producing process within the learner giving birth to bits of knowledge. For this reason, the application of OPEDUCA goes beyond the idea of guiding students by coaches.
As is the case throughout the operational working of the various OPEDUCA instruments, instructional guidance is relevant for the introduction of context for content and concepts (likely to be) addressed during the study of a theme. Further guidance primarily regards students’ learning strategies and rests in the realm of personal attention. The stretches of time during which the students depend more on themselves and collaborate with peers and educators free teacher-capacity for such resolute, individual, pedagogical attention and (constructive) instruction.
To further clarify our notion of constructivism in relation to instruction I proposed the term ‘Constructive Instruction’ also to avoid the immobilizing gaze at an ever-swinging pendulum between more traditional and innovative pedagogies in the education discourse and the disturbing consequences of such for practice. There is no need to denounce the relevance of instruction as long as it is not framed and scheduled in contemporary schoolish settings but seen as a craft of the teacher. Instruction as such then not the issue but it's delivery in time and place.
The constructive use of instruction as embedded in each of the OPEDUCA instruments springs from content and concepts students’ can relate to through the narrative quality of the teacher who explains elements in an applicable context, taking relationships to other disciplines into account (Biggs, 1996). In case a teacher instructs it is initiated by and functional to the student's learning process, to open a direction of questioning. It is not the instruction of content that requires change but rather the sophistication with which one tackles the theme (S. Drake, 1991). Teachers lacking that quality were found on either side of the scale; on one end there are those who consider themselves ‘liberated educators’ (often referred to as 'coach'), who had students more randomly choose issues of their own liking to study, on the other those rigidly sticking to their subject and trying to press curriculum elements in through rigorous instruction.
Since students in OPEDUCA are per definition not on the same page, a constructive way of instruction is a distributed one. The variation of students’ focal points of attention and tempo is not a problem of classroom management but an opportunity for individual attention.
Constructive instruction being an educator quality, it requires the teacher to step down from the directive and be the informed presence students call for. As students worded this most simply but clearly: “She knows what she’s talking about and is near”. This teacher's presence is to be understood as the continuous opportunity to join students’ discussions and considerations, presence preferably comprising a team of complimentary teachers/educators. Moreover, since constructive instruction builds on narrative capacity, informed by authenticity, practicability and personal real-world experiences, it is essential to involve Educators (i.e. Partners in Education from the real) in this capacity.
It is understandable critics of constructivist approaches find little to no evidence that lesser guidance is more effective in terms of learning outcomes than guidance through instruction and thus claim the other way around. This however only holds if they define a student’s ‘performance’ through the lens of education and schooling in terms of present-day tests and examinations. The machinery built for processing students through schooling functions best when using original parts, feeding it resources modeled and molded according to the specs, for as than the traditional process will encounter the least friction, reach the highest efficiency and the effectiveness imagined when putting it all to work. Reasoning from such a preposition makes critics’ observations of constructivism self-fulfilling prophecies.
As the OECD emphasizes when referring to the OPEDUCA concept, competencies should not come at the expense of content knowledge and a deep grasp of substance since both are needed when looking toward future requirements. (OECD, 2016; Paniagua & Istance, 2018). Content must be learned deeply and thoroughly understood while transversal competencies are developed. As we regard the cognitive and affective yin and yang of ESD, the OPEDUCA Concept has been seen to allow simultaneous development.
Others can support, guide and facilitate but only the person can steer once the self is activated, self-direct, envisions a future goal and a road toward it. In practice, the OPEDUCA Concept was seen to allow for moments of reflection for students to mirror and understand their progress in learning. Continuous participation in feedback- and feedforward loops that hold an abundance of opportunities to mirror one’s position and progress, provides for an introspective look at one’s learning process and way of learning. I hold this functional to the development of metacognitive capacity, being the awareness of one's own learning process, knowledge- and competence development - the ability to understand, control and manipulate one's cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985).
I choose not to upfront judge on the existence of metacognitive ability from opposing positions and with contradictive argument as it is more important to support the learner in this regard, irrelevant of present (presumed) capacity. Whether or not the learner already has metacognitive ability is not the primary issue, what counts is its development. It is an attribute of the pupil’s development towards student, first supported and guided, then becoming more self-reliant, unfolding metacognitive capacity to understand where the change originates within oneself, independent from physical age. In OPEDUCA a student does not have to be his own teacher, nor is he supposed to maliciously analyse own progress or the lack of such. What we point out is the students’ gradually growing notion and interest in knowing where she stands, what is memorized, and which concepts are understood. We regard this part of the motivation spectrum, believing that being aware of oneself and one’s performance feeds further motivation. In practice, we found the presumption students can steer their own learning only just if not interpreted as ‘student-controlled education’; the student is taught how to manage the wheel and then take it in hand, is however not required to invent the steering mechanism. Considering possible off-road adventures or worse, minimally-guided learning is not only ineffective for most learners, it may even be harmful for some (Clark, 1989). I, therefore, do not promote a future in which teachers must raise their hand to speak to the students.
As argued in principle, I see the seed of transition towards sustainable development to rest in the individual, brought to turnaround power by living by example, exerting leadership and the motivation of likely-developed minds in support of all. Joined with the principle also learning is of the person, ESD is personal.
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As frequently addressed, the learning envisioned sees to the student's social development by way of connections, learning cooperatively and collaborative, team- and community-based. Acknowledging we cannot justify learning theories that dissociate the mind from the body and the self from the social context, I differ between the social and personal - we position the learning process more in the social and interactive sphere than in traditional education while holding ownership, process control and results more personal. Amongst others, the Study Teams are to be understood as instrumental, as a parallel construct that joins the application of the personal and social. They offer a supportive environment for the individuals’ learning to apply debate, discussions, explore misconceptions, give and receive feedback and have value for the student's development of metacognitive ability.
Although limited accountable, we found students working in small and varying Study-Teams, collaboratives in a cooperative process, show improved results when it comes to social skills, critical thinking as well as content knowledge (Sawyer & Obeid, 2017). Social aspects such as lending mutual support, acceptance and self-esteem were more clearly seen to improve. Operational elements, such as the omnipresent exchange of ideas and information, presenting intermediate findings to each other and the (im-)material construction of joint presentations, all contributed to more social cohesion among the students.
Despite our positive experiences, I tend to be critical regarding the positioning of ‘social learning’ in the function of ESD. Although it comes across as sympathetic and democratic, it seems to build on a notion of ‘social relevance’ and ‘fairness’ informed by all-too-common norms and values, proposing imponderable benchmarks. As social learning positions knowledge construction as an active process conducted by groups or communities, it becomes subject to consensus achieved and (partially) the result of political struggles, to negotiations undertaken by individuals who are implicitly regarded to have knowledge in some prior or superior way.
Surely a student should not be served the picture of a future-capable stand-alone soul without continuous connections to the social, the learning as presented builds on reflections, scrutiny and critics, born from the social. However, I regard such more an aspect of valorization, not in the first place of validation, and question the conviction that because of the need for societal interaction, knowledge is not constructed by individuals but by an interactive dialogic community (Longino, 1993). It is up to the individual to participate in the social realm to further organize and sharpen the mind, to then give back to a community which should remain open to new insights and a change of views, to new practice resulting from that, for only such will contribute to a knowledge-based society of use for sustainable development.
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The OPEDUCA Learning Continuum ©