Research Output

An exploration of the impact of embedding ESD in the criminological curriculum

The spark for the project was of personal and professional nature for myself and my former colleague Dr Katja Hallenberg. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) “applies transdisciplinary educational methods and approaches to develop an ethic for lifelong learning; fosters respect for human needs that are compatible with sustainable use of natural resources and the needs of the planet; and nurtures a sense of global solidarity” (UNESCO, n.d.). The potential of higher education in advancing sustainability has been widely accepted and even partly realised in some disciplines. In the context of criminology, while specific theoretical approaches illustrate clear overlaps with the sustainable development agenda, a reorientation of core activities and curricula toward and embedded with sustainability is still an exception. But even big changes start small and modules that address sustainability have both strategic and symbolic value particularly in disciplines and departments where it has not previously been explicitly, or at all, addressed (McGoshan & Martin, 2014). This project seeks to assess the impact of and potential for embedding ESD in the criminological curriculum, specifically as part of a criminology undergraduate programme.
The research question here was ‘how can ESD be embedded in the criminological curriculum, and what is the impact of this for students as learners?’ This was achieved through the qualitative evaluation of the pilot year of a module entitled Criminology for a Just Society at Canterbury Christ Church University, which aims to facilitate a broad and nuanced understanding of sustainability and criminology’s potential to further it. Central to the module was a volunteering placement, and it was assessed through a critically reflective blog on this experience as well as a case study and end of module conference. A focus group approach was used with the five students undertaking the pilot year of the module, and the impact on students was explored in three key areas: how have understandings of sustainability and its links to justice developed; how has service learning impacted on students’ development; and what is the transformative impact of the module?
Students’ accounts demonstrated that the module had significant implications for their understandings of sustainability and its links to justice. This demonstrated 'deep learning' whereby students were able to critically discuss and develop their own meanings of these concepts. These understandings were further enhanced through the practical experience of a volunteering placement which was central to the module, indicating the importance of service learning for enhancing both academic engagement and personal development. Perhaps most significantly, students' comments illustrated transformative development and a desire to continue as an active participant in the sustainable development movement, and the emergence of critically reflective skills.
While we were extremely pleased with the impact of the module evidenced by the students, the end of this pilot year provided an opportunity to reflect on our pedagogic practice. Students' academic knowledge was clearly enhanced through the interdisciplinary and varied nature of the module content. Yet they did highlight the need for ‘more help’ (Abbie) with setting some of the specific issues discussed within the contextual framework of sustainability and justice. In future years we would therefore endeavour to provide a more detailed introduction to these issues. Similarly, the volunteering placements were successful in equipping students with applied knowledge and skills through service learning, yet a more structured system is needed for monitoring students in these settings. Where students encounter difficulties within their placements these ‘critical incidents’ (Eyler, 2002) are opportunities for personal development, but there is also increased need for pastoral support. Most significantly, there are of course challenges with implementing and engaging students in reflection, some of which were experienced within this module. A more structured and embedded approach to reflection, e.g. regular workshops in class on this, would help to keep students on track with completing the reflective blog. I am also keen to implement a similarly focussed module at Edinburgh Napier and evaluate its impact in this context.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    05 January 2016

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education


Haddow, C. & Hallenberg, K. (2016, January). An exploration of the impact of embedding ESD in the criminological curriculum. Paper presented at Teaching Fellows Conference, Edinburgh Napier University. (Unpublished)



Sustainability, sustainable development, criminology curriculum,

Monthly Views:

Available Documents