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ASI seed money project "The Evolving Canvas"

3 June 2024
The Evolving Canvas: Art, Nature, and Visual Thinking in Higher Education for Transformative Learning, Empowering Sustainability Leaders of Tomorrow

Every year ASI awards seed money to promising interdisciplinary projects. "The Evolving Canvas: Art, Nature, and Visual Thinking in Higher Education for Transformative Learning, Empowering Sustainability Leaders of Tomorrow" is one of four ASI seed money winners 2024.

Education for sustainability is deemed a "wicked problem", marked by multiple complex, context-based and uncontrollable variables that affect learning. Navigating complexity, uncertainty, and diverse perspectives is crucial for emerging sustainability leaders. Transformative learning theory has been suggested as an approach to overcome the constraints of conventional educational models. This approach calls for a profound shift in both consciousness and behaviour, actively challenging pre-existing beliefs.  

Recognizing the importance of dialogues and feedback is imperative for fostering alternative perspectives, voices, and actions to address sustainability challenges. Embracing diverse perspectives leads to new insights and ways of thinking, countering the prevailing trend of polarisation and promoting constructive dialogue. Current sustainability education models are however criticised for their failure to consider the inner dimensions, defined as our individual and collective mindsets, values, beliefs, world views and associated cognitive, emotional and relational abilities and capacities, crucial for transformative learning. This limitation hinders both the effectiveness of sustainability education and its role as a means for fostering reflection on cognitive and socio-emotional processes, contributing to a lack of critical self-awareness regarding broader societal issues. 

For this project, we are facilitating co-creation workshops where students and teachers collaborate to redesign courses, incorporating Art/Nature-Based Learning (A/NBL) and Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) into the existing curriculum of the Anthropology Bachelor's program and various courses offered by the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM). The goal is to initiate a transformative learning pathway that nurtures inner dimensions, fostering critical thinking, creativity, and diverse perspectives among students. As a result, students can undergo a profound transformation in their consciousness and empathy, equipping them with the essential soft skills to effectively navigate intricate sustainability challenges. 

To counter neoliberal trends and eroding attention to inner dimensions, this project promotes a comprehensive, culturally embedded education approach, thereby shaping the future of learning for empathetic sustainability leaders. By prompting individuals to engage with and reflect on their urban surroundings, the outcome of this project could not only deepen understanding, but also foster a profound connection towards the environment. This holistic approach contributes to the cultivation of sustainable behaviour, promotes environmental stewardship, and enhances the overall well-being of urban communities. Through our efforts, we aim to empower individuals to navigate and positively contribute to the distinctive challenges posed by urban living. 

Research Team

  • Dr Marije Schaafsma, Associate Professor, Faculty of Science, Institute for Environmental Studies
  • Dr Marina de Regt, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Pim van Tongeren, PhD Candidate Environmental Policy Analysis & Coordinator ERM Master, Faculty of Science, Institute for Environmental Studies
  • Dr Mario Torralba, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science, Institute for Environmental Studies 
  • Jessy la Faille, Supervisor, Trainer and Advisor, Center for Teaching & Learning VU
  • Fransje Damen, Coordinator of Teacher- and Head Training in Pedagogy - Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences 
  • Saskia M. van der Vies, VTS facilitator, coach and trainer