An NC-FEW community vision for FEW-Nexus-based education

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The National Collaborative for Food, Energy, and Water Education (NC-FEW) is a community of educators and education researchers from a wide array of disciplines. At its core, NC-FEW is a hub for people who are interested in expanding and improving Food-Energy-Water-Nexus (FEW-Nexus)-based education through research and/or practice. The purpose of this document is to provide a common vision of current challenges and emerging opportunities for FEW-Nexus-based education research and education for the NC-FEW community.

What is FEW-Nexus-based education?

The FEW-Nexus has served as a productive framework for science and engineering research communities to describe and aid in addressing complex coupled human-natural systems and the most significant global challenges of today and tomorrow. These challenges provide a rationale for sustained, systemic, and interdisciplinary educational efforts focused on food, energy, and water systems in a wide array of educational contexts. A consistent description of what characterizes "FEW-Nexus-based education," however, is not documented in the education research literature. For NC-FEW, we posit that the following are foundational to design and delivery of FEW-Nexus-based education:

  • There is intentional integration of food, energy, and water systems through interdisciplinary educational contexts.
  • Decision making about management of natural resources, which support sustainable use and development, in a complex system is centered.
  • The nexus perspective, which emphasizes connections between food, energy, and water systems, is utilized in consideration of tradeoffs in potential solutions.

NC-FEW community members over the past several years have advanced this work, moving beyond consideration of education in food systems, energy systems, and water systems separately (as is prevalent in the literature), to developing frameworks for how the FEW-Nexus can be leveraged to promote education that is inherently inter-/trans-disciplinary, supports complex systems thinking, and is grounded in real-world sustainability challenges involving stakeholders at local to global scales. Additional areas of focus for FEW-Nexus-based education identified through NC-FEW efforts include argumentation/evidence-based reasoning, citizen science, equity and environmental justice, informed decision-making, STEM/FANH science literacy, and civic engagement.

For NC-FEW, education is defined very broadly to include formal, informal, and non-formal contexts across all ages and stages of life. NC-FEW currently has three Working Groups that focus on advancing FEW-Nexus-based education in (1) Formal (school-based) PK-12 Education, (2) Higher Education (including 2 year colleges through graduate programs), and (3) In/non-formal Education and Communication. Within these contexts, particular efforts may be centered on learners/participants and/or educational practitioners.

Challenges in FEW-Nexus-based education

NC-FEW efforts (across the Working Groups and the community more broadly) center knowledge-generation through education research and evaluation as a tool to improve and expand access to FEW-Nexus-based education. Several practical challenges in promoting and implementing FEW-Nexus-based education have been identified. Many of these challenges share similarities with other interdisciplinary efforts, such as Integrated STEM education. Leveraging the unique opportunities afforded by the FEW-Nexus and previous work addressing these challenges in related arenas helps NC-FEW set priorities for future research.

  1. Lack of consensus of goals and outcomes for FEW-Nexus education
    1. Everyone is working from their own purpose/ goals
    2. What sets the FEW-Nexus apart from other things, such as systems thinking or interdisciplinary learning?
  2. Contextual factors
    1. Not all perspectives and ways of knowing are valued equally.For example, priorities and/or expertise that come from affected communities may be dismissed.
    2. "Silo-ing" of the different domains, disciplines, and/or subjects: The structure of knowledge and knowledge construction, given the different disciplinary practices and epistemic assumptions that may or may not align across "silos"
  3. Limitations of existing educational structures (system level)
    1. Little room to integrate new things in existing programs; sometimes limited by accreditations and the skillsets they are requiring
    2. Curriculum requirements in formal educational spaces and non-formal programs that align with formal educational standards
    3. Diversity of stakeholders (especially informal and non-formal settings)
    4. Limited opportunities to collaborate: funding/time/other resources available to fully integrate and collaborate in terms of NC-FEW content, disciplines, teams, etc.
    5. Professional/disciplinary training reflects silos, leading to limited perspectives on FEW-Nexus education 
  4. Lack of educational resources (support), including:
    1. Models for new courses and educational programs
    2. Interdisciplinary curriculum frameworks
    3. Opportunities for professional learning
    4. Effective ways to use the FEW-Nexus in education
    5. Funding for curriculum designers / communicators to put together modules
  5. Individual level barriers
    1. time to learn new things, engage in interdisciplinary collaborations, takes time and can have implications for career trajectories
    2. Educators don't have the time/freedom to do interdisciplinary work
    3. Educator knowledge of FEW-Nexus (e.g. self-efficacy)
    4. Identifying locally relevant FEW-Nexus phenomena; connecting with local expertise on FEW-Nexus issues

Opportunities to address challenges in FEW-Nexus-based education

A primary goal for NC-FEW is to address these challenges (among others) through advancing education research, often embedded in practice, grounded in the FEW-Nexus. NC-FEW community members have already begun this work. As an interdisciplinary collective, we can develop solutions to these common challenges that cut across educational settings and work to affect change at individual, structural, and epistemological levels. Generating opportunities for members to share their work, develop new collaborations, and build their capacity for conducting design-based education research are priority areas for NC-FEW. The collective expertise across the NC-FEW network is uniquely poised to generate new educational models and understandings that will help shape the future of FEW-Nexus-based education. Together, we can explore existing and generate new frameworks and models to integrate across domains, disciplines, and ways of knowing and make connections across education settings in a way that promotes interdisciplinary thought and action. Where do you see yourself contributing?

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