Skip to main content

2018 Transformative Learning Conference

March 8–9, 2018

Oklahoma City, OK


To search by presenter, enter presenter name into Keyword field. Do not use the Person field to search by presenter for a session.

Sustainability Education as Transformative Learning: A Student Panel

Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 10:25 AM–11:15 AM CST
Young Ballroom A

The areas of sustainability and transformative learning share many commonalities, particularly in terms of how they affect individual students' educational journey. TL at UCO, with its emphasis on creating ethical and engaged citizens, and sustainability, which emphasizes the interplay between environmental, economic, and social issues, both require critical reflection in the individual learner. This inward thought can then be used to inspire in students a desire for change and action.

This student panel allows participants to hear the ways in which UCO students' work in sustainability has transformed their personal and/or professional lives. 

Learning Outcomes

Participants will:

1.) Learn how co-curricular sustainability projects, as well as coursework that utilizes sustainability pedagogy, can be transformative in nature and can have a profound effect on students day-to-day habits, as well as their chosen career paths, hobbies, and deeply held beliefs.

2.) Hear several examples of how critical reflection of one's self and society from a sustainability framework can propel students towards a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that affect individual and societal change.

3.) Be introduced to ways in which they might be able to bring together the disciplines of transformative learning and sustainability on their campuses. 


Sustainability at UCO (which encompasses The Office of Sustainability and Sustainability Studies minor) utilizes Sustainability pedagogy (Burns, 2009), among other theories, as the foundation for its programs and coursework. The Burn's Model for Sustainability Pedagogy emphasizes place-based learning (Sobel and Orr), experiential education (as posited by Kolb), Critical Theory (Friere, hooks), and, most prominently, transformative learning theory (particularly Mezirow and Baumgartner, but also Dirkx). Much of the curricular and co-curricular sustainability work at UCO begins with an analysis of the current paradigms in place, and how these paradigms help or hinder sustainability. Because of this, critical reflection is paramount to the student's understanding of these paradigms, and, perhaps more importantly, their place within them. It is not enough to simply identify and describe an existing problem. One must always consider the nature of the problem, the history and evolution of that problem in society, and the ways in which one has individually exacerbated or helped alleviate the symptoms of that problem. This requires a deep look at how one interacts with the mechanisms of modern society and the natural world. The ultimate goal, according to Burns, is to teach in a way that “empowers and inspires learners to be able to solve complex problems and make changes that regenerate and sustain places and communities” (2009). This closely aligns with transformative learning theory’s emphasis on inquiry, reflection, analysis of current paradigms, and the focus on experiential education as a means to teach students. Sustainability at UCO strives to make the entire campus, and, indeed, the communities in which our students live and work, living laboratories. Students are asked to focus on problems they experience each and every day, from what to eat for dinner, to how they travel to school or work, to how to be more inclusive in their thoughts and actions. In this way, students are encouraged to rethink modern society using their own experiences, and their own communities as a case study.

This student panel will expound on the ways in which students learn and are transformed from the projects they do within the realm of sustainability while at UCO. These projects, which focus on energy, food, transportation, peer education, gardening, and other issues, showcase the model of transformative education through a sustainability lens. Students will share their experiences, and time will be allotted for participants to ask questions and brainstorm ways in which they can build sustainability-minded programs that utilize codified theory from the area of transformative learning. Participants could be faculty, staff, or students from many different disciplines and backgrounds who are interested in hearing a student perspective of how transformative learning and sustainability can be utilized in tandem to create meaningful learning experiences for students.


Bergeå, Ola, Karlsson, Reine, Hedlund-Åström, Reine, Jacobsson, Per, Luttropp, Conrad. (2006) Education for sustainability as a transformative learning process: A pedagogical experiment in EcoDesign doctoral education. Journal for Cleaner Production, 15(15-16), 1431-1442.

Burns, H. (2011). Teaching for transformation: (Re)Designing sustainability courses based on ecological principles. Journal of Sustainability Education, 2.

Dirkx, J. (1998). Transformative learning theory in the practice of adult education: An overview. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 7, 1-14.

Mezirow, Jack, Taylor, Edward W., and Associates. (2011). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco. 1st ed.

Moore, J. (2005). Is higher education ready for transformative learning? A question explored in the study of sustainability. Journal of Transformative Education, 77-91.

Singleton, J. (2015). Head, heart and hands model for transformative learning: Place as context for changing sustainability values. Journal for Sustainability Education, 9.

Singleton, J. (2015). Head, heart and hands model for transformative learning: Place as context for changing sustainability values. Journal for Sustainability Education, 9.

Format of Presentation

50-Minute Interactive Session

Conference Thread(s)

Critically Reflecting in Transformative Learning

Primary Presenter

Eric Hemphill, University of Central Oklahoma

Secondary Presenters

Katrina Lacher, University of Central Oklahoma
Mary Taylor Bixler, University of Central Oklahoma
Devon Westbrook, Univeristy of Central Oklahoma
Blake Taylor, University of Central Oklahoma
Mariah Wilson, University of Central Oklahoma