1/2015, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Nordic transdisciplinar adventure education for sustainable development


The Society’s commitment is Finland’s national equivalent of the decisions made in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio in 2012. The commitment is divided into eight objectives. One of them is equal prospects for well-being. In that it is mentioned that sustainable development will be integrated in education of all fields and lifelong learning (Ministry of the Environment 2014).

Graduates from universities are in a central role for sustainable development because they are future leaders for all labor markets (Holm 2014). During the last decade, 2005–2014, the UN has focused on enhancing education for sustainable development at all levels of education (UN DESD 2011). In higher education the goal is that graduates would be able to take the social, environmental and economic costs and benefits into consideration when making decisions (Sibbel 2009).

At Novia University of Applied Sciences the overall sustainability goal was to implement sustainable development in the curricula of all degree programmes during 2010–2014 (Holm 2014). In the Bachelor of Humanities program the traditional discipline-centered teaching approach is replaced by project-based learning where theory and practice blend in logical entities and the student takes his/her own responsibility for learning and ardently seeking knowledge that is crucial in accomplishing the goals within a particular study program. Working in study groups teaches students how to work in groups and collaborate with others (Svartsjö 2014). The lecturers of the degree programme have identified participation, tolerance, equality and environmental responsibility as keywords for relevant sustainability aspects for the education (Holm 2014).

For taking all sustainability aspects into account systematic and holistic thinking is needed. Competencies that are aimed at are self-learning, problem -solving and creative as well as critical thinking. It requires cooperation among disciplines and transdisciplinary education (Rieckmann 2012; Sibbel 2009; Svanström et al. 2008; van Dam-Mieras et al. 2008). Trandsdisciplinar education differs from multi- and interdisciplinary education by that the cooperation goes beyond the disciplines and involves also users, problem owners and stakeholders (Lozano 2006). According to Lozano (2011) creativity is recognized as a key skill for sustainability. It is also crucial that individuals who are working for sustainable development share their knowledge and engage in collaboration with different sectors of society (Ferrer-Balas et al. 2010; Lozano 2011).

Multi, inter and transdisciplinar education is challenging in higher education because curricula in is based on disciplines. It is up to the faculty to explore new methods. This article includes a case where it was done in an intensive course. The transciplinar Nordic adventure course was planned and realized in cooperation among the degree programmes for bachelor of Humanities at Humak University of Applied Sciences and Novia University of Applied Sciences in Finland, the Department of Arts, Communication and Education at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden, the degree programme for Social Education at University College Lillebaelt in Denmark, and the degree programme in Sport and Health Sciences, Leisure Studies and Social Education at University of Iceland. The group was an interdisciplinary group from humanities with participants from four Nordic countries.

Figure 1. Nordic recycling tree. Task done by students at the course.

Action research was chosen as methodology, which has been identified as suitable for embedding education for sustainable development in curricula (Cebrián et al. 2012). Action research is based on the four phases diagnosing, planning action, taking action and evaluating (Coghlan and Brannick 2007), a division that we follow in next session.

Realizing the course

The objective for this network and the course was to increase awareness of sustainable development with the help of adventure education.

General objective were to exchange knowledge, skills and ideas and give opportunities for students and lecturers to network with other Nordic countries and learn from each other. The first goal for this network and the course was to develop instruction on adventure education in partner institutions. The second goal was to increase the mobility and awareness within students and lecturers of the network institutions. The third goal was to increase knowledge exchange within the partner institutions and other co-organizations.


The first intensive course was held in Turku in Finland in 2011, hosted by Novia University of Applied Sciences. Luleå University of Technology hosted an intensive course in Luleå in Sweden in 2012. Year 2013 the network concentrated on mobility and student exchange hosted by University College of Lillebaelt in Denmark. And according to the original plan, it was time for an intensive program again in 2014, this time hosted by Humak University of Applied Sciences in Finland.

Planning the course

Since the partner universities of this project have different focus areas in experiential and adventure education, one goal is that both students and teachers will learn from each other. Competence and quality development for this project take place when teachers from the different universities meet and plan intensive courses and take part in teacher exchange. Self-evaluation in developing competence and quality are emphasized. Both the students and teachers are asked to give both informal and formal feedback by group discussion and by filling an evaluation form in the end of the intensive week, which consist of qualitative questions.

The course was 3 ECTS. Studying was based on adventure education, environmental education, and experimental learning methods (Priest & Gass 1997; Rohnke & Butler 1995).

Learning objectives:

  • work effectively in multicultural groups
  • experience adventure and outdoor education
  • experience environmental education
  • understand the educational goals behind the adventure activities
  • understand the purpose of reflection
  • understand how to use activities to promote sustainable development

Course delivery

The intensive course was organized at Humak University of Applied Sciences in Finland, Tornio campus in May 19th–23rd, 2014. The Tornio campus is located just on the border between Finland and Sweden, next to Haparanda. The nature in that part of Finland is ideal to use for this course, because different adventure education tasks were possible to actualize in that area.

Specific teaching material was prepared for the course. The focus was on different skills and methods that you can use for working outdoors and for creating adventures. The transfer effect of different skills was also a topic of the material.

The students were given a pre course task. They were asked to search information in various references and answer questions about: what is experimental learning, what is adventure education, what is environmental education and what does sustainable development mean?

Figure 2. Icelandic folktale. Task done by students at the course.

The students were divided into multinational teams and the learning environment was partly nature and wilderness. The program was also a lot about learning from each other. The student shared their knowledge about different aspects of sustainable development in their home countries, during the activities outdoors and indoors.

Participation in adventure activities was voluntary and was adjusted to students´ comfort level. Different team building methods were used by the students. Social media was a tool that one could see is familiar for this z generation youngsters to use for communication. Here is an example of a Youtube video that some students made during the course which shows how students are familiar with using pictures and video.

Group dynamic exercises that were used were those that are common in youth work and in teambuilding. One example that was applied was Mikka Aalto: Ryppäästä Ryhmäksi that can be translated to from a bundle to a group. Interesting was to see that a lot of the methods where the same in the different Nordic countries.


Evaluation of the learning outcomes was done during the intensive week. The evaluation was divided into assessment of student learning and student feedback.

The assessment of the students work was done by evaluating students’ small group tasks, their performance and ability to link experiences to bigger concepts.

One of the tasks for the student groups were to collected rubbish in the city to make environment art (see Figure 1, 2, 3 and 4). The art work was left at the Campus so that community members could experience them during the weekend at a flea market, which was organized the weekend after. The idea aim was to visualize the learning and share it with the community.

Figure 3. Recycling man. Task done by students at the course.

During the whole week the students worked with reflections, discussions and through learning journals. This was an important part of the whole sharing and learning goal of the course. The project itself was evaluated in the end of the intensive week both by students and lectures.


By conducting this case we found that sharing skills and ideas gives opportunities for students and lectures to learn from each other and from the experiences that takes place during a course like this. When the group is multicultural and -disciplinary it gives a dimension of understanding sustainability in a broader way.

The objective was that through these personal experiences students will gain methods for their toolboxes which they can utilize in their future.

Figure 4. Time glass of life. Task done by students at the course.


Mona Bischoff, Master of Political Sciences, Head of Degree Programme, Novia University of Applied Sciences, mona.bischoff@novia.fi

Tove Holm, Training Manager, Ph.D., SYKLI Environmental School of Finland, tove.holm@sykli.fi

Cebrián, G., Grace, M. & Humphris, D. 2012. Developing people and transforming the curriculum: action research as a method to foster professional and curriculum development in education for sustainable development in higher education, in: Leal Filho, W. (Ed.), Sustainable Development at Universities: New Horizons. Peter Lang Scientific Publishers, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 273–284.

Coghlan, D. & Brannick, T. 2007. Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization (2nd edn), Sage, London

Ferrer-Balas, D., Lozano, R., Huisingh, D., Buckland, H., Ysern, P. & Zialhy, G. 2010. Going beyond the rhetoric: system wide changes in universities for sustainable societies. Journal of Cleaner Production 18, 607–610.

Lozano, R. 2006. Incorporating and institualization of SD into universities: breaking through barriers to change. Journal of Cleaner Production 14 (9–11), 787–796.

Lozano, R. 2011. Creativity and organizational learning as means to foster sustainability. Sustainable development.

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