Work-integrated Learning part of climate change degree

In the last in a series of workshops hosted by the Southern African Regional Universities Association, or SARUA, about work on the Southern African masters degree in climate change and sustainable development (CCSD) a comprehensive assessment strategy for the programme, which incorporates Work-integrated Learning modalities to foster integration of theory and practice, was discussed.

Dr Desiree Scholtz, SARUA CCSD associate, said: “Learning is not just theoretical, especially for this qualification. It is about ensuring that the knowledge and content that’s selected will translate into useful applications to solve the problems of the world. The assessment strategy provides a long-term perspective with the opportunities for reflection, evaluation and change.

“Assessment is an integral part of learning and teaching; it speaks to life-long learning. We don’t assess knowledge and skills only, but we need to be assessing competencies and ‘graduate-ness’ for the profession and attributes ...

“People have values, norms and dispositions and we need to incorporate that in our assessments so that students learn to be professional in this particular field,” she stated.

Theoretical tools such as constructivism and constructive alignment were critical, she added, to ensure assessment strategies do not happen in isolation but with a shared understanding and with collaboration between faculties and lecturers who are involved in the different parts of the programme.

Principles of assessment

Dr Marianne Bester, SARUA CCSD curriculum specialist, further explored the assessment strategy with more focus on the purpose, principles and methods of assessment of the masters degree programme.

Effective assessment design would enable students to work towards, and successfully achieve, the intended learning outcomes of a module in terms of discipline-specific knowledge, practice-based skills and competencies, as well the qualities and attributes of a professional practitioner in sustainable development and in mitigating the impact of climate change.

She noted that assessment criteria were fundamental because, upon the completion of modules, students should be able to communicate principal theoretical perspectives on CCSD clearly and effectively to non-specialist and specialist audiences through presentations, research reports, or apply relevant knowledge of CCSD to solve complex and unfamiliar case-based problems and recommend appropriate solutions in that area of specialisation.

“It is important to ensure that your assessment is both valid and appropriate for its intended purpose, that it is reliable and generates the results that are accurate and consistent across a cohort – and over time, that it is fair to accommodate students, in terms of giving [them] a reasonable chance to succeed. It is important that it is inclusive and supports the needs of students.”

Work-integrated Learning

Scholtz also discussed the importance of Work-integrated Learning (WIL) as part of the assessment strategy and the different types of WIL needed for this particular masters degree.

“Work-integrated Learning is a profound, high-impact pedagogy that promotes independent thinking, self-regulated learning and adds value to communities to improve the lives of others through acquired knowledge, skills and attributes. As such, some of the WIL practicum should be incorporated as a project in one or other subject in this programme,” Scholtz said.

“An important component of WIL is [that it is] about learning in the workplace and taking learning into a different context. That is an important distinction to make. So, wherever students are, that is where the learning will happen, whether it’s the classroom, municipality or government sector.”

Workplace learning can, for instance, constitute learning about contracts, portfolios, journals, internships and ‘sandwich’ courses.

Scholtz mentioned work-directed theoretical learning, which is classroom-based and may include guest lecturers, for example a government official may do a presentation on sustainability and food security.

Problem-based Learning involved solving real-world problems and involves work-simulated problems, case studies and scenarios. Project-based Learning, on the other hand, referred to guided learning, and includes integrated trans- and interdisciplinary industry projects with study and site visits, authentic tasks and field work.

With this type of service learning, students would be assessed based on the projects conducted in the communities where they are based, for example assisting communities with campaigns on mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“When we are working with communities, we bring in indigenous knowledge systems to solve the problems that these communities face in climate change and sustainability. Service learning and community engagement are mutually beneficial for the students and communities they serve.

“We need to prepare students before they go into the workplace. There are a number of literacies besides academic literacies that students need to be familiar with, especially when working in communities and new environments,” Scholtz said.

Assessment rubric needed

Professor René Pellissier, a researcher and the head of the SARUA CCSD programme, focused on the assessment criteria applicable to the development of a research proposal and the completion of a research project at masters degree level as part of the programme.

She stated that, in the research project for this CCSD masters programme, students must combine critical skills acquired in the foundational and elective courses, which include climate science literacy, systems thinking, ability to integrate information from different sources and disciplines, disaster risk reduction analysis, interdisciplinary and analytical thinking, public participation skills, understanding linkages and communication.

“In terms of our specific curriculum, we went from the perspective that, as the world continues, there is an increasing demand to build capacity in the field of climate change and sustainable development to address African needs.

“Secondly, the research that we build should be used for policy- and decision-making for implementation and also that sustainable development should not be undermined or held back by climate change.

“Our curriculum wants to conduct further academic research in climate change and then provide some understanding of how, within the workplace, the CCSD programme gets applied in terms of policy and practice, so that is the vantage point for us.

“We have a research module built into this course to help students to learn about research methods, but they can’t do this in a vacuum. They need to be able to interpret the data and come up with conclusions, and apply critical thinking to consider issues or problems within specialised fields,” Pellissier stated.