Multidisciplinary Perspectives of Sustainable Development: Achieving the SDGs in Higher Education Through OBE

Multidisciplinary Perspectives of Sustainable Development: Achieving the SDGs in Higher Education Through OBE

Debbie Willison, Lindsey T. Corson
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4210-4.ch009
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Combining the authors' interest in developing student employability skills with the increasing need to embed education for sustainability into the curriculum led to the development, delivery, and enhancement of an innovative and unique elective module created at the University of Strathclyde. This model can be utilized by colleagues in the field of higher education in their own setting. Development occurred through existing research into employability concerns, UNESCO's Education Agenda, and the experience of the authors. This chapter describes the development of a multidisciplinary approach to enhancing student employability skills in a sustainable development setting. Elements in the design of the module are discussed; their inclusion is justified based on existing research. The authors also reflect on the enhancement of the module since its inception. This study will be a useful model for lecturers, tutors, career advisers, and other practitioners involved in employability activities.
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The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been promoting education for sustainable development (ESD) for many decades (UNESCO, 2010), leading the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 2005 to 2014 (UNESCO, 2016a, 2016b, 2017). Global issues require an urgent shift in lifestyle, including a transformation in the way the world thinks and acts. Young people need new skills, values, and attitudes that will lead to more sustainable societies.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) must also respond to this pressing need. Indeed, those in Scotland have been encouraged to do so by the Scottish Government (Education Scotland, 2016) by defining relevant outcome-based education (OBE) and introducing novel teaching and learning processes to empower learners. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects this vision of the importance of an appropriate educational response (UNESCO, 2020, 2021). The question of how HEIs can actively embed ESD more broadly across curricula, however, continues to challenge the HEI sector.

In contrast to how to embed ESD within curricula, preparing students for employment has been a key driver for HEIs for many years (Succi & Canovi, 2020; Tomlinson, 2017). A survey in the United Kingdom (UK) representing almost 200,000 employers commented that:

Employers are … very clear about what they need from the education and skills systems: skills, behaviours and attributes that ensure … graduates, are ready for the world of work. (CBI/Pearson Education, 2019, p. 6)

Numerous approaches have been developed, including the DOTS model (Law & Watts, 1977), USEM model (Knight & Yorke, 2004), and CareerEDGE model (Dacre Pool & Sewell, 2007). A plethora of resources have been designed to support the embedding of employability skills into curriculum (Clark, Selwood, & Muir, 2011; Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton, 2012; QAA, 2006, 2016). These resources support institutions in developing their thinking about embedding employability into their programs. However, there is a lack of specific practical resources developed for in-class use.

This scarcity of resources led to the development, by one of the authors, of a suite of practical employability tools (Scott, Willison, Connell, & Thomson, 2019). These resources have been shared with over 150 HEIs worldwide. A comparative study of how the resources have supported UK and Australian students has also been completed (Scott & Willison, 2021).

The authors’ interest in developing student employability skills and ESD coalesced in the development of an innovative module, “Multidisciplinary Perspectives of Sustainable Development.” Based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the module develops employability skills and competencies through novel teaching and learning processes ( The distinctive educational aims of the class seek to develop students’ knowledge and understanding of challenges facing the world as articulated in the SDGs. The students’ training in this module supports the concept of future-ready, globally aware graduates, which has gained prominence in recent years (Hristov & Minocha, 2017; Moore & Morton, 2017). This chapter explains how the module was developed and delivered. It can be used as an exemplar for colleagues in other HEIs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interdisciplinarity: The concept of learning a single subject from multiple perspectives.

Skills Development: The process of identifying, developing, and honing your skills gaps.

Employability: A set of skills and personal attributes that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations.

Project Management Principles: The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Jigsaw Learning: Students learn cooperation as group members share responsibility for each other’s learning by using critical thinking and social skills to complete an assignment. AU27: Reference appears to be out of alphabetical order. Please check

Competencies: The ability to do something successfully.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Adopted by the United Nations as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): A lifelong holistic and transformational learning process that empowers learners with the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes to take informed decisions and make responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society.

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