Bild på Arjen Wals och Peter Grootenboer.
Arjen Wals och Peter Grootenboer.

Arjen Wals and Peter Grootenboer appointed as Honorary Doctors


Arjen Wals and Peter Grootenboer have been appointed as Honorary Doctors by the Faculty of Education. Arjen Wals is a leading scholar in Education for Sustainable Development and Peter Grootenboer is a leading scholar in practice theory and action research. They have both been essential in developing these areas of research at the Faculty of Education.

Portrait on Arjen Wals.
Arjen Wals.

Arjen Wals is professor of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and he also hold the UNESCO Chair for Social Learning for Sustainability. He is appointed as Honorary Doctor because he is a leading scholar in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and because he has contributed to establish the research group in that area at the Faculty of Education.

"Quality education is foundational for learning to live in harmony with the Earth. Schools, universities, communities, governments and businesses all need to develop the qualities and capacities that help people become more sensitive, mindful and competent in dealing with the grand sustainability challenges of our time, including climate urgency, massive extinction of species and extreme wealth inequality. My quest is to co-research and co-design learning processes and learning environments that can help people create a new normal that makes living more lightly and equitably on the planet the default, rather than the exception", says Arjen Wals.

You hold the UNESCO Chair in Social Learning and Sustainable Development. What does that mean?
"I am a part of a global network of UNESCO Chairs who all research, teach and advocate education and learning in the context of sustainable development. My specific area is that of social learning which basically is about cultivating and inviting a diversity of perspectives and voices in order to stimulate creative out-of-the-box think, and to actively engage different stakeholders and actors in co-creating solutions to complex challenges for which there are hardly any ready-made answers. One main point here is that it is easier to utilize diversity when there is trust and social cohesion between the participants, as without it, diversity can become a barrier for joint learning. This is why trust building and developing social cohesion is so crucial in social learning."

Arjen Wals has been cooperating with the Faculty of Education since 2012. As a visiting and guest professor ha has contributed to the thematic research group in Education for Sustainable, helped to establish the International Masters in ESD, participated in the ESD-writing group, supervised PhD-research and was the co-Chair of the 2015 World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC) with over 750 participants from more than 70 countries.

– As an Honorary Doctor I will continue to work with colleagues at the University of Gothenburg on advancing environmental and sustainability education, says Arjen Wals.

Peter Grootenboer

Portrait on Peter Grootenboer.
Peter Grootenboer.

Peter Grootenboer is professor at Griffith University, Australia, and a leading scholar in the field of practice theory and action research. He is appointed as Honorary Doctor because he “has conducted innovative work in using the Theory of Practice Architectures in research projects to improve teaching in schools” and because he since long has maintained close contact with scholars and doctoral candidates at the Faculty of Education.

– The research and development work that I have undertaken, often in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Gothenburg, has focused on the actual ‘happingness’ of education as it unfolds in time and space. This requires an ontological approach that centres on the practices of education, and gives primacy to the site of learning where students meet the curriculum. This sees teachers as the key educational professionals, because it is largely their practices that enable and constrain the learning of students. Therefore, action research is used to facilitate and support the continuous development of learning and teaching in response to the local conditions, arrangements and needs.

In what way may scholars and research projects improve teaching in schools?
– It requires collaborative efforts from teachers and researchers (and often school leaders, students and parents as well). In the end, all the intentions and desires for education are funnelled through teachers’ practices in the classroom, and so involving teachers as integral participants in research and development projects is critical. This ameliorates the often cited ‘theory-practice gap’. In essence, education is site-based and so there is no ‘best practice’ that is universally successful. Teaching practice needs to be understood and developed locally, and this can be achieved through collaborative action research.

What do you want to contribute with as honorary doctor?
– I have been working with academics from the University of Gothenburg for over ten years, and in particular Professor Karin Rönnerman, her colleagues, and her doctoral students. Our work has been underpinned by practice theory, in particular the Theory of Practice Architectures, and centred on educational middle leading. As it is now my privilege to be an honorary doctor of Gothenburg University, I hope to continue this work, and in particular to work with scholars and researchers to understand and advance educational practices through developing Swedish educational middle leaders – through research and fieldwork, but also by having presentations, workshops and seminars on the university campus.