Education in collaboration with cities: The intentions of transdisciplinary courses

N.L. Bohm*, R.G. Klaassen, Ellen van Bueren, Perry den Brok

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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In collaboration with their home cities, universities increasingly develop courses in which students investigate urban sustainability challenges. This paper aims to understand how far-reaching the collaboration with urban stakeholders in these courses is and what students are meant to learn from the transdisciplinary pedagogies.

This research is designed as a qualitative multiple-case study into the intentions of transdisciplinary courses in which universities collaborate with their home cities: Delft University of Technology in Delft and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions in Amsterdam. The study compares the written intentions of eight courses in course descriptions with the ideal intentions that teachers describe in interviews.

First, seven of the eight investigated courses were designed for urban stakeholders to participate at a distance or as a client but rarely was a course intended to lead to a collaborative partnership between the city and students. Second, the metacognitive learning objectives, such as learning to deal with biases and values of others or getting to know one’s strengths and weaknesses in collaboration, were often absent in the course descriptions. Learning objectives relating to metacognition are at the heart of transdisciplinary work, yet when they remain implicit in the learning objectives, they are difficult to teach.

This paper presents insight into the levels of participation intended in transdisciplinary courses. Furthermore, it shows the (mis)alignment between intended learning objectives in course descriptions and teachers’ ideals. Understanding both the current state of transdisciplinarity in sustainability courses and what teachers envision is vital for the next steps in the development of transdisciplinary education.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Accepted Author Manuscript


Funding Information:
This research would have been impossible without the willingness of all interviewed teachers to share their experiences and ideals. The contribution of Fenne Reinders Folmer has been crucial to the data collection and analysis. Wiebke Hutiri was willing to proofread and clarify the language. The funding from the 4TU Centre for Engineering Education and Nationaal Regieorgaan Praktijkgericht Onderzoek SIA, as well as the access to the wider network of City Deal Kennis Maken, has enabled us to carry out this research to the extent as it is presented in this paper.


  • Transdisciplinary learning and teaching
  • university-city collaboration
  • Urban sustainability
  • Higher education


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