Collaboratively crafting learning standards for tertiary education for environment and sustainability

Bonnie McBain, Liam Phelan, Anna Ferguson, Paul Brown, Valerie Brown, Iain Hay, Richard Horsfield, Ros Taplin, Daniella Tilbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: The aim of this paper is to outline the collaborative approach used to craft national learning standards for tertiary programs in the field of environment and sustainability in Australia. The field of environment and sustainability is broad and constituted by diverse stakeholders. As such, articulating a common set of learning standards presents challenges. 

Design/methodology/approach: The authors developed and used a staged collaborative curriculum design methodology to engage more than 250 stakeholders in tertiary environmental education, including discipline scholars, students, professional associations and employers and other environmental educators. The approach was adaptive, to ensure underrepresented stakeholders’ perspectives were welcomed and recognised. The project was commissioned by the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (ACEDD) and funded by the Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching. 

Findings: The collaborative approach developed and used for this work facilitated an inclusive process that valued diversity of perspectives, rather than marginalise diversity in favour of a perspective representing a minimum level of agreement. This is reflected in the standards themselves, and is evidenced by participant feedback, piloting of the standards and their subsequent application at multiple universities. Achieving this required careful planning and facilitation, to ensure a democratisation of the stakeholder consultation process, and to build consensus in support of the standards. Endorsement by ACEDD formalised the standards’ status. 

Originality/value: Collaborative curriculum design offered the opportunity to foster a shared sense of common purpose amongst diverse environmental education stakeholders. This approach to curriculum design is intensive and generative but uncommon and may be usefully adapted and applied in other contexts. The authors note one subsequent instance where the approach has been further developed and applied in transforming a generalist science program, suggesting the methodology used in this case may be applied across other contexts, albeit with appropriate adjustments: the authors offer it here in the spirit of supporting others in their own complex curriculum design challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-354
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number2
Early online date23 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2024


  • Collaborative curriculum design
  • Education for sustainability
  • Environmental education
  • Higher education
  • Threshold learning outcomes


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