Rebekah L Tauritz (PhD Graduate 2019)

Thesis title: Certain you're not sure? An inquiry into pedagogical strategies for teaching children how to manage uncertain knowledge about sustainability challenges

Background

Background

I have been actively involved in the field of environmental education since 2005 when I began doing volunteer work in this field. I studied 'Environmental Policy Design' for a year at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. I was subsequently awarded a BSc degree in 'Forest- and Nature Conservation' at Wageningen University.

While volunteering as an education developer at the local environmental education centre in Wageningen I found out that environmental education was no longer 'just an enriched biology lesson'. Reflecting on the consequences of our decisions and actions is now an important part of it. After obtaining my BSc degree I enrolled in the MSc program Applied Communication Science at Wageningen University where I developed an academic perspective on environmental education. My Master's thesis examined the educational youth project 'Slippery Litter' and developed a model for measuring the extent to which student engagement with the subject (litter) and with the educational process were affected by participation in environmental education projects. I received my MSc degree with honors and placed second for the Rachel Carson Environmental Sciences Thesis Award 2008 – 2009. After graduation I found employment as a project leader at a Dutch foundation contributing to the transition to a more sustainable society by developing education- and participation projects. I continued this work through my own company, Konekto Consultancy. In 2012 and 2013 I participated in a pilot study initialized by the University of Applied Sciences Leiden and Dutch Fieldwork Foundation (Veldwerk Nederland), exploring the relationship between 'Green schoolyards' and children’s educational, motor and social development.

My PhD trajectory at the University of Edinburgh between 2014 and 2019 gave me the opportunity to explore teaching strategies primary school teachers employ when teaching about urgent and rapidly changing sustainability challenges facing society today. These challenges require people to possess uncertainty competences, which are defined as the knowledge, skills, strategies, dispositions, and values needed to handle knowledge uncertainty. There was a considerable lack of research specifically addressing teaching uncertainty competences in primary education and there are even fewer studies that provide teachers with clear guidelines regarding how such competences can be developed. I set out to find answers by employing an interpretive, multiple case study focused on Scottish children in the upper primary years. The findings indicate that a combination of complex and controversial topics, specific learning activities, teaching resources, and the employment of ‘language of conditionality’ – all purposely designed to welcome uncertainty into the classroom – may improve the development of uncertainty competences. The study found that the classroom teacher who primarily used language of conditionality created space for the children to explore multiple perspectives, come with creative answers, question the certainty of knowledge, and practice dealing with uncertainty. The teachers were often not aware of the ways in which their use of language of conditionality influenced learning. The research suggests there is value in incorporating this aspect of language choice and the discussion of uncertainty competences in teacher education. Many lessons were learned that apply to learners of all teaching levels and cut across academic disciplines.

Currently I am investigating the strategies teachers in higher education employ to prepare students for handling so-called 'wicked problems'. I am also involved in a research project that examines the potential role of outdoor education in responding to the growing problems of children’s and teens’ addiction to mobile devices.

Professional/teaching experience

2017 - Present 

Researcher in the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh                                       

2014 - 2019       

PhD candidate in the Outdoor & Environmental Education Group of the University of Edinburgh

2012 – 2013

Junior researcher at the University of Applied Sciences Leiden and Dutch Fieldwork Foundation           

2011 – 2014

Owner and Environmental Education & Communication consultant at Konekto Consultancy

2005 – 2014

Volunteer educational designer at environmental education centre ‘Het Groene Wiel’, Wageningen

2009 - 2012

Project leader environmental education and communication at Dutch Foundation SOM Nijmegen

2008

Internship environmental communication and education at Dutch consultancy organization SME Advies

2007 – 2008

Member advisory committee at environmental education centre ‘Het Groene Wiel’

2007

Student-assistant Presentation skills (for international students) at Wageningen University

Research summary

  • environmental education
  • education for sustainable development
  • how children learn to handle uncertain and complex information
  • safe learning environments
  • value reflection
  • personal development
  • transformation processes

Research activity

In the world of environmental/sustainability education it is often said that adults need to become more capable of handling uncertain knowledge regarding complex environmental challenges such as climate change. The more researchers learn, the more it is realised how much is not yet understood. Nonetheless, citizens, companies and governments, among others, must constantly make difficult choices and must therefore use the available knowledge to the best of their ability. We need to prevent people from shutting down in the face of these complex issues, as this could have serious negative consequences for society. One of the goals in sustainability education in primary schools might be laying the foundation for the development of uncertainty competences: specific sets of skills, knowledge, attitudes and abilities needed to handle uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity in diverse contexts (Tauritz, 2012). But how do you teach pupils how to handle uncertain knowledge? What comprises a learning environment conducive to the development of these competences? And what does this require of teachers? These questions lie at the heart of my research.

I was awarded a grant from the Moray Endowment Fund to carry out my PhD research.

Publications

Tauritz, R.L. (2019). Certain you’re not sure? An inquiry into pedagogical strategies for teaching children how to manage uncertain knowledge about sustainability challenges. PhD Thesis, The University of Edinburgh.

Tauritz, R.L. (2016). A pedagogy for Uncertain Times. In: Lambrechts, W. and Hindson, J. (eds.) Research and Innovation in Education for Sustainable Development. Exploring collaborative networks, critical characteristics and evaluation practices. Vienna, Austria: Environment and School Initiatives - ENSI.

Maas, J., Tauritz, R.L., Wal, A. van der & Hovinga, D. (2013). Green schoolyards. Scientific research into the effects on primary school pupils. [Groene schoolpleinen. Een wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar de effecten voor basisschoolleerlingen.] Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit.

Tauritz, R. (2012). How to handle knowledge uncertainty? Learning and teaching in times of accelerating change. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Tauritz, R.L. (2012). Transforming learning environments and learning tools. In: Conference Proceedings ENSI Conference. (March 26–28, 2009). ‘Creating Learning Environments for the future – Sharing knowledge on Research and Practice’. Leuven: KHL Leuven

Tauritz, R. (2011). Sustainable living: who, what, where? All the answers in one place. [In Dutch:  Duurzaam wonen: wie, wat, waar? Alle antwoorden op één plek.] Milieu 4(17) p. 34-35.1

Tauritz, R.L. & A.E.J. Wals (2009). A history of environmental education and youth participation in The Netherlands. In: Young people, education, and sustainable development: Exploring principles, perspectives and praxis. Corcoran, P.B et al. (Eds.). Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Tauritz, R.L. (2008). Zwerfafval als uitglijder?! Leerlingen uit het voortgezet onderwijs betrekken bij het zwerfafvalprobleem. (Slippery litter?! Involving secondary school students in the issue of littering) Unpublished MSc Thesis. (179 pages) Wageningen: Wageningen Universiteit.

Facilitator workshop ‘Practical strategies for … Teaching about Wicked Problems, Institute for Academic Development, University of Edinburgh. 7 March 2019.  

Invited participant at 5-day workshop “Risk Science and Decision Science for children and teenagers: helping tomorrow’s citizens making decisions about risk”, Lorentz Center, Netherlands, 8-12 October 2018.

Preparing students for dealing with wicked problems, University of Edinburgh Learning and  Teaching Conference, Scotland, 20 June 2018.  

Pedagogiek in onzekere tijden: kinderen leren omgaan met tegenstrijdige informatie. Invited speaker at the Benelux Conference “Learning to live within our planetary boundaries”, Netherlands, 22-24 November 2017.  

Words matter: teaching children how to manage contradictory information, Moray House School of Education and Sport, 17 October 2017.  

Pedagogical strategies for teaching how to manage contradictory and uncertain   environmental knowledge. 9th World Environmental Education Congress, Canada, 9-15 September 2017.  

Education for Sustainability: A Playground for Uncertainty and Complexity, exploring the  design principles required for a learning environment conducive to the development of   uncertainty competences, 3rd European Conference on Curriculum Studies, Scotland, 16 June 2017.    

Learning for Sustainability: A Playground for Complexity, 3-day Outdoor & Environmental  Education Research Meet: Issues of Diversity and Communication, Scotland, 13-15 April 2016.  

What’s the right answer?’ isn’t always the right question. Exploring learning environments conducive to the development of uncertainty competences. Presentation for Icelandic delegation visiting the Outdoor & Environmental Education Goup, University of Edinburgh, 19 October 2015.  

What’s the right answer?’ isn’t always the right question. Exploring learning environments   conducive to the development of uncertainty competences. Interweaving Conference Moray   House School of Education, Scotland, 2 September 2015.  

The Importance of Being Uncertain in Education for Sustainability, PhD Seminar Udeskole and Outdoor Education, Denmark, 28-30 April 2015.  

Groene Schoolpleinen: relaties met waardering, welzijn en concentratie (preliminary results pilot research ‘Green Schoolyards’), Nederlands Congres Volksgezondheid 2013 (Annual Dutch National Health Conference), 3-4 April 2013. R. Tauritz, MSc (SVN), Dr. J. Maas (VU) and Dr. Dieuwke Hovinga (HL).  

Groene Schoolpleinen, Educatief overleg van Stichting Veldwerk Nederland. R. Tauritz, MSc  (Stichting Veldwerk Nederland), Dr. J. Maas (Vrije Universiteit) and Dr. Dieuwke Hovinga (University of Applied Sciences Leiden), 28 September 2012.  

Groene Schoolpleinen: Onderzoek van A tot Z! Research/knowledge network associated with Lectorate Nature and Children’s Development, Stichting Veldwerk Nederland and University of Applied Sciences Leiden. 28 September 2012.  

Participant at 23rd Benelux work conference ‘Educatie voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling in de NME-praktijk: uitdagingen voor Hoofd, Hart en Handen’ in Oostende, Belgium. 24-26 November.  

Rapporteur at ENSI Conference. Creating learning environments for the future. Sharing  knowledge on research & practice in Leuven, Belgium, 26-28 March 2009.  

Slippery litter: Involving secondary school students in the issue of littering. Engaging Research   on ESD in Möschberg, Switzerland (ENSI Network), 22-25 September 2008.