Abstract: Internationalization of Environmental Justice Education for Global Citizenship: A Pracademic University-Nonprofit Case Study (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Internationalization of Environmental Justice Education for Global Citizenship: A Pracademic University-Nonprofit Case Study

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Qing Tian, PhD, Associate Professor, Beijing Normal University, China
Bowen McBeath, PhD, Professor, Portland State University
Chen Wang, PhD, Professor, Beijing Normal University, China
Bin Xu, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Science and Technology-Beijing, China
Background/Purpose. Social work educational curricula view environmental justice education (EJE) as essential for educating social workers in social-environmental sustainability (Rambaree et al., 2019). EJE initiatives can involve pracademic partnerships involving universities and community-based leaders, by focusing attention on socio-environmental concerns and social enterprise practice methods (Mama, 2019). However, it can be challenging to build pracademic partnerships, given often-differing perspectives of university researchers and practitioners concerning EJE and nonprofit/NGO collaboration (Jones, 2019). It can also be difficult to share and integrate deep-rooted pedagogical understandings (i.e., practice theories and strategies) regarding environmental education and social work education. These intersecting and interprofessional challenges may negatively impact student learning, and may limit the development of communities of practice. In response to these concerns, the current study described the evolution of one pracademic community of practice, as international researchers, social entrepreneurs, and university students engaged in practice-based “green” learning.

Methods. The study reflected a 2018-2019 university-based EJE effort that linked international social work and environmental education researchers with Chinese social entrepreneurs focused upon environmental justice practice. The study extended prior research on a 22-year-old environmental education center (“EE Center”) involving a cross-sector pracademic collaboration connecting a Chinese university, an international environmental NGO (i.e., World Wildlife Fund), and British Petroleum. The study described the evolution of the community of practice in terms of curricular objectives, personnel, and pracademic partnership goals. A specific question concerned how the international researchers’ lectures meshed with the EJE efforts of the social enterprise partners to support student practice-based inquiry, problem-solving, and service learning in response to green agriculture (Chen & Zhang, 2016). A qualitative single case study design was used, involving reviews of official reports, agency documents, field observations, student projects, and student self-evaluations (Yin, 2017).

Results. Researchers from China, Japan, and the US delivered three types of lectures to Chinese and Japanese undergraduate and graduate students, concerning: HBSE and community practice in the built and natural environment; action research methodologies; and advocacy for social-environmental justice. Over two summers, the initiative transitioned from university-based lectures to field work co-led by researchers and social entrepreneurs in local nonprofit settings. As students learned about different countries’ approaches to social service delivery, civic engagement, and EJE, they gained opportunities for critical thinking via practice-based learning (by incorporating elements of design research into students’ small group projects). Additionally, as the pracademic partnership evolved, researchers began to compare/contrast different knowledge development perspectives to develop an integrated research-practice framework for EJE.

Conclusions/Implications. A community of practice emerged as: (1) researchers involved in the EE Center’s pracademic initiative developed an exploratory framework for global citizenship education (focusing upon international EJE as well as social enterprise/nonprofit development); and (2) students proposed innovative problem-solving strategies in response to the challenges identified by social entrepreneurs. To advance EJE-based communities of practice, social work researchers should be attentive to green perspectives on social enterprise/nonprofit development, as well as cross-national perspectives on social-environmental sustainability. Finally, supports are needed to promote cross-cultural dialogue, academic-practitioner partnership development, and continuing engagement in service learning.