Sustainability Literacy Counts: Raising Awareness through a Preparatory University Program

By Erst Carmichael and Neera Handa.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

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At a new age metropolitan university, which caters to one of the most diverse commencing student populations in Australia, sustainability is the content theme of a literacy-based preparatory program: UniStep. Sustainability is a significant issue because of the serious environmental and social impacts of global warming and climate change. This has been acknowledged by governments around the world and has been predicted by many renowned scientists. In this paper, we focus on the effect of using sustainability as the topic for teaching academic literacy, in particular its influence on student thinking, learning, and lifestyles. We draw on findings from a case study of 103 students who participated in the program. Online surveys and telephone interviews provided quantitative and qualitative data. The analysis of findings indicates that over half the students engaged with the topic of sustainability, such that it affected aspects of their thinking, learning, and/or behaviour. This paper argues that introducing students to the topic of sustainability early in their university studies is an important first step in developing sustainability education in the higher education sector. We conclude by suggesting that the UniStep program could be used as a model for preparatory and foundation courses in a wider context for developing students’ critical literacy and sustainability literacy. Likewise, a sustainability subject can also develop students’ critical thinking and academic literacy.Feedback from the students who attend the UniStep pre-semester program indicates high levels of student satisfaction. Students comment on the benefits of the skills they have learned, the non-threatening learning environment, and the benefits of the topic of sustainability. Research data demonstrates that they also have high levels of retention and progression throughout their degrees. Further qualitative research is currently underway investigating the impact of the course on increasing understanding about sustainability and on students’ lives.

Keywords: Sustainability Literacy, Critical Thinking, Higher Education, Academic Literacy

The International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 9, Issue 4, February 2015, pp.17-29. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 689.680KB).

Erst Carmichael

Lecturer, University of Western Sydney, Lawson, NSW, Australia

Dr. Neera Handa

Academic, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia