Challenge-based, interdisciplinary learning for sustainability in doctoral education
Journal article, 2022

Purpose: Doctoral candidates possess specialized knowledge that could support sustainability transitions. Doctoral education, however, often focusses on discipline-specific topics and working methods, making it difficult to “see the bigger picture”. This summer school on wood construction gathered doctoral candidates from different fields to explore how solutions to complex sustainability issues could be found by working together across disciplines and by engaging multiple stakeholders. The purpose of this study is to report the pedagogical approaches taken and to understand whether these fostered the candidates’ ability to develop systemic solutions and professional competency.
Design/methodology/approach: Twenty doctoral candidates from various backgrounds participated in a two-week summer school organized by a consortium of four universities. Interdisciplinary groups worked on real-life challenges using a systemic approach to co-create tangible solutions. To support the creation of socio-technical innovations, stakeholders and experts from different fields were involved. The participants completed two questionnaires during the summer school to help elucidate their learning experiences.
Findings: The doctoral candidates showed strong willingness to cooperate across disciplines, though they found it important to connect this learning experience to their research. The candidates reported that the experience enhanced their ability to work in a multidisciplinary capacity. The experience identified a solid basis for interdisciplinary learning principles that could be replicated.
Originality/value: The summer school focussed on an innovative learning experience based on a systems thinking approach and the development of interdisciplinary capacity in the research-business ecosystem.

Doctoral studies

Wood construction

Systems thinking

Higher education

Summer school


Climate change mitigation



Chiara Piccardo

Aalto University

Yutaka Goto

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Building Technology

Deniz Koca

Lund University

Pasi Aalto

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Mark Hughes

Aalto University

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

1467-6370 (ISSN)

Vol. 23 7 1482-1503

Subject Categories


Pedagogical Work




More information

Latest update

3/7/2024 9