Teaching Environmental Management Competencies Online: Towards “Authentic” Collaboration?

Bell, Simon; Lane, Andy; Collins, Kevin; Berardi, Andrea and Slater, Rachel (2017). Teaching Environmental Management Competencies Online: Towards “Authentic” Collaboration? European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 20(1) pp. 22–44.

URL: http://www.eurodl.org/index.php?p=current&sp=full&...


Environmental Management (EM) is taught in many Higher Education Institutions in the UK. Most this provision is studied full-time on campuses by younger adults preparing themselves for subsequent employment, but not necessarily as environmental managers, and this experience can be very different from the complexities of real-life situations. This formal academic teaching or initial professional development in EM is supported and enhanced by training and continuing professional development from the major EM Institutes in the UK orientated to a set of technical and transferable skills or competencies expected of professional practitioners. In both cases there can be a tendency to focus on the more tractable, technical aspects of EM which are important, but may prove insufficient for EM in practice. What is also necessary, although often excluded, is an appreciation of, and capacity to deal with, the messiness and unpredictability of real world EM situations involving many different actors and stakeholders with multiple perspectives and operating to various agendas. Building on the work of Reeves, Herrington and Oliver (2002), we argue that EM modules need to include the opportunity to work towards the practice of authentic activities with group collaboration as a key pursuit. This paper reports on a qualitative study of our experiences with a selected sample taken from two on-line undergraduate EM modules for second and third year students (referred to respectively as Modules A and B) at the Open University, UK where online collaboration was a key component. Our tentative findings indicate that on-line collaboration is difficult to ensure as a uniform experience and that lack of uniformity reduces its value as an authentic experience. Whilst it can provide useful additional skills for EM practitioners the experience is uneven in the student body and often requires more time and support to engage with than originally planned.

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