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Action Competence in Health/Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development Revisited: Theoretical, Analytical and Empirical Perspectives

The aim of the course is to critically revisit, discuss and reflect on the present, past and future perspectives of the educational concept “action competence”, and through that, to enhance students’ knowledge and competences to use the concept as a theoretical/analytical framework in research within health/environmental education and education for sustainable development, as well as an conceptual approach in educational development projects.

Info about event


Wednesday 23 March 2011, at 10:00 - at


Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen NV

Course provider:
Research Programme for Environmental and Health Education, Department of Curriculum Research, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University

Deadline for Application: 1 March 2011

Course Date: 23-24-25 March 2011

Place: Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen NV

4 ECTS points with a finalized concept paper and oral presentation during the course, 2,5 ECTS points without a paper/presentation

In case your university is not part of the PhD School network within humanities, we'll forward a request for online payment.
Indicative price for participants outside the PhD network DKK 1.200 per ECTS point.

Link to Registration: https://webshop.dpu.dk/default.aspx?id=4577


  • Venka Simovska, Professor (mso), DPU (course responsible)
  • Karsten Schnack, Professor, DPU
  • Soren Breiting, Associate professor, PhD, DPU
  • Monica Carlsson, Associate professor, PhD, DPU

Limit: Max 20

Course language:
English (possibility for writing and small group discussion in a Scandinavian language)

This course deals with the concept of “action competence” as an educational ideal, aim as well as an approach within health, environmental education and education for sustainable development. The concept has its roots in the continental educational theory, as well as in critical theory (Frankfurt school). The course will critically discuss the origins, rationales and development of the concept; its contextualization in different fields of research (e.g. environmental education, health education/promotion and education for sustainable development); as well as in a variety of institutional or socio-cultural settings (e.g. primary schools, secondary schools, local community work, formal and informal educational institutions in Denmark, Scandinavia, Europe and in developing countries). Selected critical issues related to the transformation of the concept over time, across different contexts, and fields of research, as well as issues related to its use as an analytical strategy in empirical research, will be considered. Further, the action competence approach will be discussed in relation to related concepts such as empowerment, mental ownership, participation and agency - from two key perspectives: learning-teaching and social change related to health promotion and sustainable development.

Students are expected to send an abstract of their PhD study as a part of the registration. If applicable, the abstract should reflect on the action competence perspective in relation to their study. There is a required reading prior to the course (see the reading list). To maximize their benefit from the course, students will be offered an option to write a concept paper (2-5 pages) during the course, discussing one selected issue (problem statement) emerging from their reflections on content of the course and relating it to their own study. Presented paper during the course brings 1,5 additional ECTS credit.

The course will use a variety of teaching forms in an integrated format. These include: input by lecturers, student presentations, buzz groups, small-group assignments/discussions and plenary discussions. One workshop session will be devoted to students’ presentations and feedback (both peer and lecturers feedback).

Reading list

  • Breiting, S. & Wickenberg, P. (2010). The progressive development of environmental education in Sweden and Denmark. Environmental Education Research, 16 (#1) .
  • Breiting, S., Hedegaard, K., Finn Mogensen, Nielsen, K. & Schnack, K. (2009). Action competence, conflicting interests and environmental education . Copenhagen. DPU, Aarhus University.
  • Carlsson, M. (2009) Shape Up research: Case Study report Vienna. Research Programme for Environmental and Health Education, Danish School of Education. (parts on IVAC and action competence, 30 p.)
  • Carlsson, M. & Sanders, D. (2008): School councils as an arena for pupils’ participation in collaborative environmental education projects. In: Reid, Al.; Jensen, B.B. Nikel, J. & Simovska, V. (eds.): Participation and Learning. Perspectives on Education and the Environment, Health and Sustainability. Springer, UK.
  • Carlsson, M. & Jensen, B.B. (2006). Encouraging Environmental Citizenship – the Roles and Challenges for Schools. In: Bell, D. and Dobson, A. (eds.), Environmental Citizenship: Getting from Here to There? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, UK.
  • Jensen, B.B. & Schnack, K. (1997). The Action Competence Approach in Environmental Education. Environmental Education Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, (pp. 163-178).
  • Mogensen, F. & Schnack, K. (2010). The action competence approach and the 'new' discourses of education for sustainable development, competence and quality criteria, Environmental Education Research, 16: 1, 59-74
  • Schnack, K. (2008). Participation, education and democracy: implications for environmental education, health education, and education for sustainable development. In: Reid, A., Nikel, J., Jensen, B. B. & Simovska, V. (eds). Participation and Learning: Developing Perspectives on Education and the Environment, Health and Sustainability: Springer.
  • Schnack, K. (2003). Action Competence as an Educational Ideal. In: Donna Trueit, William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang, William F. Pinar (eds.), The Internationalization of Curriculum Studies. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
  • Schnack, K. (1994). Some further Comments on the Action Competence Debate. In: Bjarne Bruun Jensen og Karsten Schnack (eds.): Action and Action Competence as Key Concepts in Critical Pedagogy, Didaktiske studier vol. 12, Copenhagen: Royal Danish School of Educational Studies, (pp. 185-90).
  • Simovska, V. (2009). Participation, action, and school-community collaboration. Case study report from Maastricht. Copenhagen: Research Programme for Environmental and Health Education, Danish School of Education.
  • Simovska, V. (2008). Learning in and as participation: a case study from health promoting schools, In: Reid, A., Nikel, J., Jensen, B. B. & Simovska, V. (eds). Participation and Learning: Developing Perspectives on Education and the Environment, Health and Sustainability: Springer.

Course Responsible:
Venka Simovska, Professor, (mso), Director, Research Programme for Health and Environmental Studies, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University

Programme (Tentative)

23 March 2011

10:00-12:30 - Action competence: development, rationales and context (session responsible Karsten Schnack, all lecturers involved) 

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13:30-17:00 (breaks included) - The action competence approach in the development work in different contexts (session responsible Soren Breiting, all lecturers involved)

17:00–17:30 Walk and talk: What do I take home from today

24 March 2011

10:00-12:30 - Workshop session: student presentations and feedback (session responsible Venka Simovska, all lecturers involved)

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13:30–17:00 - Action competence and learning: theoretical and empirical perspectives (session responsible Monica Carlsson, all lecturers involved)

17:00-17:30 - Q & A

25 March 2011

10:00-12:00 - Action competence, participation and social change session responsible Venka Simovska, all lecturers involved)

12:00–13:00 - Evaluation of the course and closing

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch