Detecting a Sustainable Mindset through Using Content Analysis of Teacher-produced Learning Journals

Published: 
June 1, 2019

Source: Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, vol.21, no.1, pp. 35-47

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

During 2018, 35 teachers, who were recruited globally, participated in a teacher training course offered by the ProfESus European project.
With the aim of “discovering a sustainable mindset for future-oriented professionals in guest-oriented businesses”, the project was to enable home economics teachers to train their students to adopt sustainable practices.
The main intention was to help the students of these teachers to spread sustainable home economics practices into their personal and future working lives.
The ProfESus course is a 15-week and four-module blended learning course in which participants, mostly teachers or student-teachers, are required to keep learning journals for the first 14 weeks (representing nine entries and three modules). The corpus used by the authors in this analysis draws on the learning journals of 19 participants, not all of whom completed journals for the whole 14-week period but they completed at least seven out of the nine main required entries.
The authors thought that studying the journals could be used to answer the following questions which are in an increasing order of complexity:
1. Does the ProfESus course lead its participants to reflect on sustainability?
2. Does the ProfESus course lead its participants to reflect on the pedagogy of sustainability?
3. Does the ProfESus course lead its participants to reflect positively on sustainability?
4. Does the ProfESus course lead its participants to reflect on strong sustainability that increases over the lifetime of the course?
They believed that by obtaining responses to these questions, the developers of the ProfESus course could improve its quality.
The type of data analysed was the text which the participants wrote in their learning journals.
The set of learning journals used in the analysis could be easily delineated according to the participants and the distance into the course that each learning journal entry related to.
The analysis was used to determine whether a sustainable mindset could be inferred from the learning journals.

Results and Discussion
The first research question which was addressed was “Does the ProfESus course lead its participants to reflect on sustainability?”
Since the aim of the course was to prompt teachers of home economics to embed sustainable work practices in their students, the authors expected that participating in the ProfESus course would lead to much reflection on the concept of sustainability and related concepts.
The analysis software identified 55 concepts composing thirteen overall themes.
There were 5 sustainability related concepts in the top 20 concepts including sustainable, sustainability, waste, food and values.
This is a result which would not be expected in a random collection of learning journals for educators not selected for sustainability.
The authors compared these results to a similar processing in the same software of three documents that are specifically related to sustainability education, that were key texts used in the ProfESus project on the topic of sustainable education pedagogy.
Comparing the top 20 key concepts of the learning journals to the top 20 concepts in the three key texts, it was seen that eight key concepts appear in both lists, and of those only two, sustainable and sustainability, are directly connected to the main aim of the course.
The comparison indicates that the participants of the ProfESus course were writing about sustainability to the same degree when compared to the authors of the key texts.
Therefore, the authors conclude that the course did lead to the participants’ engaging in the idea of sustainability.
The second question which was addressed was “Does the ProfESus course lead its participants to reflect on the pedagogy of sustainability?”
The main theme map generated by the software tool in illustrates a very strong focus on learning connected with sustainability, i.e. all concepts are related either to learning or to sustainability and nothing else.
The next step taken by the authors was to find out if the concepts of sustainability and learning were strongly linked.
Sustainability in the context of education and pedagogy was the focus of the course.
They started by exploring what the concepts of sustainable and sustainability are most strongly linked to.
Choosing sustainable as a concept, they found seven of the concepts associated with sustainable which were associated unequivocally to education and learning.
There is a possible connection to other sustainable topics such as world, change, better, future and environment.
The most noteworthy result of this search is that the most tightly connected concept with sustainable is mindset.
They note that this was a clear indication that the course had succeeded in linking the topic of sustainability with the need for competence in sustainability to be connected to a mindset.
This was a major aim of the course, i.e. the knowledge of sustainability was not sufficient on its own but must be accompanied by an associated mindset.
Finally, they checked the connections in these areas by looking at extracts from the learning journal texts that were deemed by the software to link the two concepts.
They found that the participants did write about sustainability in relation to learning.
The specific concept of “sustainability” shows a tighter connection to pedagogical concepts.
As with the concept of” sustainable”, the concept of sustainability is closely linked to teaching and learning.

Values
The authors note that the concept of values is one of the main themes in the learning journals with 92 hits which shows that the message that sustainability is not just about knowledge has broken through.
Values are important components of the sustainable competency model applied in the ProfESus course (the others being knowledge about sustainability, sustainable skills and collaborative abilities).
Consequently, this shows that evidence of the necessity for sustainable competencies is visible.

Mindset
The authors state that the concept of “mindset” is critical to training students to act sustainably by default.
The concept “mindset” occurs most often in connection with “sustainable” and, secondly, with the word “change” and several times in connection with “teaching” and “learning”.
The authors feel that this is encouraging as it supports the conclusion that sustainability has been successfully linked with the importance of mindset in the minds of the participants.
Thus, a closer examination of the four most prominent sustainability concepts shows its close association with pedagogical concepts.
Moreover, it demonstrates that the two themes have been linked in the learning journals.
The third research question which was addressed was “Does the ProfESus course lead to “positive reflection on sustainability?”
The authors note that it is difficult to interpret the results of the sentiment analysis in the content analysis tool because there are several favourable and unfavourable interpretations.
In a learning diary, individuals can be positive or negative about the course.
The authors report that the analysis shows a strong favourable sentiment (255 instances) and a low unfavourable sentiment (74 instances) across the 19 learner journals.
They note that the unfavourable comments are not directed at the course, but they are directed at seemingly unsolvable sustainability problems.
Hence, it seems that even the unfavourable comments can be seen as positive for the course.
Of the 74 extracts, only three were mild criticism of the course.The authors state that there is a strong positive association between sustainability and educational concepts as a result of the ProfESus course although the exact nature of this positive mood is less clear.
The final question which was addressed in the current study was “Does the ProfESus course lead to deeper reflection on sustainability over the lifetime of the course?”
This question was answered by examining how the main concepts changed over time through comparing journal entries in the early stages of the course to those from the end of the course.
The authors note that there are clear differences in the main theme maps at the early stages of the course compared to the late stages.
This may simply reflect different course content at each stage.
By the late stage of the course, the participants seemed to be more concerned with specific aspects of sustainability such as plastics and waste, whereas at the beginning they were more concerned with the differences that were presented to them in terms of everyday processes, pedagogy and organisations.
This shows a more nuanced understanding of the concept of sustainability over time although it does not provide evidence of an actual increase in sustainable behaviour.
The authors note that examining the themes at the end of the course shows that the concepts of plastic, tobacco, waste and food are all mentioned in relation to a specific lesson, training idea or community initiative.
They conclude that a 15-week course is most likely not long enough to promote strong sustainability based on competence, but there are clear signs of steps in the right direction. 

Updated: Jan. 29, 2020
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