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Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives

Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.

The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.

The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".

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Chapter 12: Teaching food practices and sustainability in an international context (Alain Pache)

Alain Pache

University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud, Lausanne, Switzerland

Chapter 12: Teaching food practices and sustainability in an international context


This chapter presents the results of a PEERS project conducted during the academic year 2012–2013 between the HEP Vaud and Lesley University in Boston. The focus of the study is on the teaching of food in the context of education for sustainable development. After a presentation of the theoretical framework, the project is presented in its various dimensions (process, analyzes carried out, discussion and perspectives). In the conclusion, the author shows how research and training combine in such a project. He also referred to the need to allocate the necessary resources for the generalization of such a program


The PEERS program – Students and researchers social networks projects – was developed by the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud) with the aim of connecting two teaching institutes, but also to guarantee the broadening of the academic horizon and to improve the quality of the research and courses.

This chapter presents a project which was led during the academic year 2012–2013 and which object was Teaching food practices and sustainability in an international context. We will first present our theoretical framework and the research questions. We will then describe the methodology of the project. The third section presents the results,←211 | 212→ that is to say the common work, the analysis of lesson preparations and teaching and the point of view of the students. In the last section, we discuss our results and propose some actions that we could carry out in the future.

1. Food, education for sustainable development (ESD) and global competence

Food is now a controversial subject both in academia and in society more generally: food scandals are regular occurrences and give rise to new studies, but these fail to reassure the population. At the same time, food resources are not fairly distributed over the Earth’s surface, so that 795 million people are underfed (FAO, 2015). The rapid growth in the world’s population (expected to reach 9 billion by 2050) makes it urgent now to find the solutions required to feed everyone.

A further issue arises from the fact that food production has a major impact on the environment: greenhouse gases are produced in the various stages of the food cycle (production, processing, storage, consumption, recycling, etc.). Plant health chemicals (pesticides, insecticides, fungicides) are used in many branches of production chains. These are damaging for the environment and also for health. Finally, we know that industrial foods create problems of overweight and obesity. Enabling pupils to understand these problems and take part in the public debate is now an objective of most curricula and goes far beyond the teaching of the scientific disciplines, meaning both the natural sciences and the human and social sciences. This kind of education forms part of what is now commonly called education for sustainable development.

According to UNESCO (2012), education for sustainable development should enable everyone to acquire the knowledge, competences, attitudes and values needed to build a sustainable future. This education implies both conventional forms of teaching and learning←212 | 213→ and also some new forms. The Global Monitoring and Evaluation Survey (GMES) distinguished the following nine forms:

1. Discovery learning;

2. Transmissive learning;

3. Participatory/collaborative learning;

4. Problem-based learning;

5. Disciplinary learning;

6. Interdisciplinary learning;

7. Multi-stakeholder social learning;

8. Critical thinking-based learning;

9. Systems thinking-based learning.

Among these nine forms, the seventh is precisely what we are aiming to develop in the PEERS project. Multi-stakeholder social learning means “bringing together people with different backgrounds, values, perspectives, knowledge and experience, from both inside and outside the group initiating the learning process, to set out on a creative quest to solve problems that have no ready-made solutions” (UNESCO, 2012, p. 26).

As regards content, we have also sought to develop systems thinking-based learning. We wanted the students and their pupils to look for “connections, relationships and interdependencies to see the whole system and recognize it as more than the sum of its parts and to understand an intervention in one part affects other parts and the entire system” (ibid.). On this point, our previous researches showed that pupils are able to mobilize elements of complex thinking – in particular relations of linear causality between several elements. More elaborate elements, such as chains of multiple causalities, feedback loops or observation of dialogic tensions, appear more rarely (Pache, Hertig, Curnier, 2017). Complex thinking is therefore only partially engaged, especially because the pupils have difficulty in identifying the thinking tools that contribute to it. One hypothesis to explain this gap is that these tools are not clearly identified by the teachers themselves and that the sequences set up often mobilize cross-cutting research procedures and only rarely include phases of institutionalization of the tools for complex thinking (ibid.).←213 | 214→

The main concept of our research, “food”, can be regarded as a relational concept (Bruner, 1966), i.e. a concept that is defined in relation to other concepts with which it is closely connected. To define these concepts, it is useful to draw on the works of the American geographer L. C. Smith (2011), who examines four global forces that explain the world of today and tomorrow, namely demography, natural resources, globalization and climate change. As geographers ourselves, we would add the concept of the stakeholder and that of social injustice, the latter referring more to the issues involved in education for sustainable development. Interrelating these various concepts, we obtain the food concept network shown in Figure 1 below.


Figure 1: Food concept network.

Previous studies showed that young teachers prefer the words circulating in the social space, to the detriment of the concepts and methods of academic geography. With regard to the choice of situations, they give preference to narratives of action, real or fictitious, which allow pupils to confront authentic social situations (Pache, 2014).

Tackling such content in systemic terms and in collaboration with other students implies possession of what some authors call a global competence (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011). By global competence, we mean “the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global←214 | 215→ significance” (ibid., p. xiii). More precisely, this competence consists in understanding the world through disciplinary and interdisciplinary study. It also requires mastering the following four sub-competences:

Investigating the world beyond one’s immediate environment;

Recognizing one’s own and others’ perspectives;

Communicating ideas effectively with diverse audiences;

Taking action to improve conditions.

As shown in Figure 2, these four sub-competences can each be associated with one of four objectives which will serve as guidelines with a view to training citizens who are aware of and curious about how the world works today and will work in the future.


Figure 2: Objectives in developing global competence (Mansilla & Jackson, p. 12).←215 | 216→

At this stage, we can formulate three research questions:

What are the didactic choices made by young teachers to teach food in a sustainable development perspective?

What knowledge is taught?

What benefits do young teachers get from the PEERS project?

2. Methodology

In this section, we’ll describe the research-training process. The first step was to recruit three students. We set a number of criteria, such as interest in the project, knowledge about education for sustainable development (ESD) and proficiency in English. During the second step, the students were encouraged to make contact with one another through social and chat media (Skype, Facebook). When the topic had been set out by the instructors, the students embarked on an initial exchange of ideas to prepare for the working week in Boston. The third step took place in Boston and the main goal was to develop a teaching sequence on food from an ESD perspective. The fourth step was to implement the teaching sequence in the student’s classroom. Finally, the last step was to analyze the process and identify the skills developed by the students (Figure 3).



1. Recruitment of three students

September 2015

2. Curriculum study

October and November 2015

3. Planning a Teaching Sequence

December 2015 (in Boston)

4. Teaching in the classes of the students

February to March

5. Analysis and reflection on the research-training process

April (in Lausanne)

Figure 3: The fifth steps of the research-training process.

To analyze our results, we apply the principle or triangulation. The concept of triangulation takes into account the relativity of the points of←216 | 217→ view, necessary for the examination of the diversity and the complexity of the human being. This approach is opposed to the univocal approach whose ambition is to identify reality from a privileged angle (a single tool, a single theory, a single observer). Triangulation, on the other hand, aims to put into debate the various stages of research in order to avoid the ideological closure. It promotes the implementation of multiple lightings in order to follow reality in its spatio-temporal movement and in its complexity (Pourtois, Desmet & Lahaye, 2006).

3. Results

In this section, we’ll present our results in four steps: the work in Boston, the work in Lausanne, the analysis of lesson plans, the evaluation of teaching and the students’ point of view.

3.1 The work in Boston

During the week in Boston, the group met each other and reflected on the object of the project, that is to say food and sustainability. After several discussions, the students built the framework of the teaching unit, which is composed of six steps:

1. The first lesson looks like an “icebreaker”, which aims to create an interest for the pupils, to fix the theme of the study and the problem to solve. It was decided to work on several food products to establish the “history” of the product, for example the place where it was produced, the transport or the place where it was sold;

2. The second lesson focuses on different supply food chains:

o The industrial food chain;

o The local food chain;

o The organic food chain.←217 | 218→

3. The third lesson focuses on series of practices in both contexts (Boston and Lausanne). The aim is to discuss the impacts of the practices and maybe realize what they could learn from each other.

4. The fourth lesson aims to show a way to grow plants or vegetables. Biodiversity and organic food are at the core of the lesson. At the world scale, the pupils will learn the aims of the Global Seed Vault (Svalbard, Norway).

5. The fifth lesson will show the relationships between food and lifestyles. Indeed, food depends first of all of political decisions, like the Irish Great Famine showed it.

6. Finally, the sixth lesson will consist in organizing a debate in which pupils will argue their opinion on the following controversial issue: Which kind of food and practices do we need for a sustainable world?

In the same time, the students had the opportunity to visit a school, which was working with the principles of sustainability. They could speak with a professional who cooked with organic food. They assisted a course about political sciences and, last but not least, they visited an organic farm. They conserved documentation about this investigation, either with recording or with photographs.

3.2 The work in Lausanne

During the week in Lausanne, we continued our investigations into sustainable food. For example, we visited the Lavaux vineyard, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. In discussion with a winegrower, the students were able to understand the issues involved in conserving such a territory. They were also made aware of the Swiss system of direct democracy, which enables various social actors to propose popular initiatives.

With a visit to an organic farm1 the students were then able to make comparisons with the work done in Boston. In particular they learned that←218 | 219→ most Swiss farms are small family undertakings, selling their produce directly to a clientele who increasingly appreciate this way of buying and re-establishing contact with the producer.

The students also attended classes both at the internship sites of their Swiss partners and within the HEP Vaud. The latter comprised a course on sustainable development education and a workshop on the natural sciences.

Finally, in formal and informal meetings, and also around the experiments conducted in the internship classes, the students had many opportunities to discuss the particular features of their respective school systems.

3.3 Analysis of lesson plans and evaluation of teaching

In this section, we first analyze the students’ lesson preparations and then the teaching actually given.

3.3.1 Analysis of lesson preparations

Although the students agreed on an identical structure for their teaching practice, it is interesting to observe differences in implementation. These were seen both in the structuring of the lesson and in the content addressed. For example, the American students systematically planned an evaluation at the end of each lesson whereas the Swiss students intended to evaluate the pupils in the final debate. We also noted that for the American students, each lesson corresponded to a question. By contrast, questions did not necessarily appear in the Swiss students’ lesson preparations. Their lessons correspond more to stages in the building up of knowledge, which, in Session 6, should enable the pupils to take up a position in the debate (on the topic: “What is sustainable food?”).

The ideas addressed also differ, as shown in Figure 4. In Lesson 2, for example, the Swiss students emphasized the impact of industrial food production, whereas the American students opted for a climate-based approach to explain the importation of products. In other words, the←219 | 220→ positioning is not the same: on the one hand the aim to question the food industry and its imports, on the other hand it is to provide an argument to justify importing.

Lesson 3, which unfolded very differently on the two sides of the Atlantic, also provides an interesting contrast. Whereas the Swiss students asked their pupils to write a letter describing their diet, the American students emphasized the knowledge needed to set up a vegetable garden.



Lesson 1

Origin, distance, climate, local, greenhouse gases, sustainability

Origin, distance, means of transportation

Lesson 2

Climate, zones, time, California, Midwest

Imports, food industry, impact on environment, impact on employment, greenhouse effect, gray energy

Lesson 3

Plants, nutrients, photosynthesis

Diet, sustainable food

Lesson 4

Sustainable food, production methods (industrial, local)

Irish Famine

Costs of a farm

Plants, nutrients, photosynthesis

Lesson 5

Control, lifestyles, businesses, politics, religion, food data bank

Politics, lifestyles, history of the potato

Lesson 6

Costs, percentage of income spent on food, values

Sustainable world

Figure 4: Ideas addressed in lessons.←220 | 221→

3.3.2 Analysis of actual teaching

In this sub-section, we look more closely at two moments that strike us as particularly interesting: the writing of letters to the American counterparts and the final debate.

The writing of letters seems to us to be a beneficial activity in several ways in the context of education for sustainable development. It requires knowledge of a certain number of concepts, such as “diet” or “sustainable food”; the pupil must decenter herself and select information that is potentially interesting to the American pupils; and it contributes to participatory learning, since it teaches the pupil to enter into contact and therefore communicate. Figure 5 gives an example of a letter sent by a Swiss pupil.

Hi students,

At this moment, in sciences, we are learning about sustainable food. So I’m writing you about my daily diet.

We learned that in other countries, they don’t have a lot to eat and that some meals we eat have traveled hundreds and thousands of kilometers!!!

My diet:

In the morning, I’m not necessarily hungry so I just drink a glass of milk.

At a pinch, I have bread roll with raspberry, cherry or apricot homemade jam.

At noon, it’s more varied, if I’m going ice-skating, my mother makes me tortellini; if I have more time to eat at home she cooks something else.

In the evening, my mother or my father cooks us the leftovers of the other days. But sometimes, when my parents want to, we go to the restaurant, most of the time Asian because my father is Asian.

I think that the best for sustainable food is not to eat strawberries in winter, therefore eat seasonal products!!!

I hope to hear about you soon!

Sophie Tran

Figure 5: Letter written by a Swiss pupil.

Secondly, we would like to look again at the debates organized in the students’ classes. These debates belong to a more general theoretical framework of learning to reason in relation to a controversial or socio-scientific question (Mäkitalo, Jakobsson & Säljö, 2009). What interests us in particular is the pupils’ capacity to approach an←221 | 222→ object from multiple points of view, adopting different speech genres (Bakhtine, 1986). For example if we take a simple object such as an orange, it can be envisaged in several ways, with the aid of different speech genres:

The satisfied consumer may speak of its delicious taste and its juicyness, the dietician will speak of it in terms of nutritional value and richness in vitamin C, and the artist may attend to it in terms of its color, shape and texture in the context of what is to be a still life. At more abstract levels, we can think of the importer of oranges, the transport companies shipping oranges from their sites of production to consumers all over the world, and the economist, in her role as advisor to a multinational company, analyzing the supply and demand in the market for oranges, as thinking and communicating about oranges in very diverse manners. In the latter cases, the terms and concepts that are productive are very different from those that characterize the consumer enjoying his morning fruit or the shop owner trying to persuade customers to purchase fresh oranges (Mäkitalo & al., 2009, p. 7).

In the Swiss classes, the aim was to debate a dilemma. Indeed, the dilemma presents a strong heuristic potential, because it makes it possible to work explicitly a dialogical mode of thought (Morin, 2005; Audigier, Fink, Freudiger & Haeberli, 2011). The chosen dilemma was:

Should we choose lasagnas made by the local butcher or lasagnas from the supermarket?

The pupils’ capacity to decenter themselves is seen several times in the filmed debates. As well as the consumers, the pupils mentioned farmers, butchers, retailers, small shops, big supermarkets, and people with modest incomes. Sometimes other cultures are mentioned, such as Muslims who do not eat pork, or American culture as in Extract 1.←222 | 223→

Extract 1:


Pupil M

But I’d like to come back to quantities. For example, in America… when I lived in America, well, the lasagna portions were… gigantic… And the well brought-up kids had to empty their plates completely… the whole portion… well, they would get enormous in a week.



Right, so your concern is those portions. Would anyone else like to say something about the portions?

This extract also brings to light a somewhat stereotypical view of Americans. Contact between the two populations of pupils can therefore only be positive in nuancing such images.

However, the real interest of such a debate is as a means of stimulating prospective thought, in other words the capacity to think about the future. Extract 2 shows that it is difficult to conceptualize political action and more especially the conditions and consequences of several possible actions. The pupil confuses the economic and political registers when he suggests “lowering the prices”; and, in response to the teacher’s question, he puts himself in the shoes of the actor he knows best, the consumer. So it can be seen that the link between sustainable food and the measures to be taken locally is not easy to make for pupils aged 11.

Extract 2:



If we could change something, what would it be useful to change with a view to sustainable food… in terms of the environment?


Pupil S.

We could lower the prices.




What effect would it have to bring down the price of lasagnas?


Pupil B.

When people see it’s cheaper they’ll think it’s not so good.



So again it’s about consumer confidence… […] That would be an argument. What else?


←223 | 224→

3.4 The students’ point of view

The students unanimously recognize the benefits of such a project. These benefits first relate to the topic in question: food and sustainable development.

For a majority of the students, immersion in the partner culture was particularly useful in helping them understand the content to be taught. The student most explicit on this point is Paola:

[The trip to America] changed me, it has enabled me to transmit something to children. Teaching is most effective when the teacher enters into the knowledge, masters it perfectly and transmits it to the pupils. And I’m very pleased with the interest I’ve managed to pass on to my pupils and all the knowledge that has remained in my teaching. They enormously appreciated this sequence and were also impatient to know what was coming next. I got them to understand difficult ideas like sustainable food, gray energy, and greenhouse gases. I am might not have found that so easy if I hadn’t taken part in this project.

But the benefits of the project also lie in the mechanisms set up for participation, such as the debate structure. One student, for example took the opportunity to set up a real evaluation of the pupils’ competences.

In cultural terms, the students emphasize openness to the world, an ability to move beyond prejudices and stereotypes. For example, the Swiss students were surprised to see that a school in Cambridge was based on the principles of sustainable development (locally produced organic food in the school canteen, environmentally-friendly heating and insulation, for example).

The collaboration among students was also identified as a strong point. The teaching sequences were put together by teams of students, the work was divided, and the final product was judged to be extremely rich and comprehensive.

Finally, the Swiss students emphasize the importance of a good command of English for carrying this project through.←224 | 225→

4. Discussion and perspectives

In this part, we will resume our research questions, in order to answer them systematically.

What are the didactic choices made by young teachers to teach food in a sustainable development perspective?

Our results show that young teachers favor working around social situations: writing a letter to American partners and implementing a debate on a controversial issue. Thus, the first steps of the approach aim to build the reference knowledge to enable students to reinvest them in situations. According to some authors, this approach is similar to a problem of detour and return. This means that building societal problems related to sustainable development involves identifying, in the contributing disciplines, the resources – knowledge, know-how, attitudes – to find reasoned solutions. But the solutions and the decisions to be taken are not deduced mechanically from this or that science. They are choices that combine scientific knowledge and other knowledge (Audigier, Fink, Freudiger & Haeberli, 2011).

What knowledge is taught?

The knowledge taught is of several types. First, there is evidence-based knowledge: the greenhouse effect, production-consumption chains, sustainable food, lifestyles, etc. There are also know-hows: reading labels, comparing texts and points of view, reading a graph. Attitudes are found: to be critical, to explain the complexity of phenomena, to project themselves into the future. Finally, we find citizen competences (Audigier, 2000): cognitive skills relating to the organization of powers and the legal conditions for action and decision; ethical competencies that identify the links between situations and values, such as human rights; social skills, and how to interact with others and decision-making and action capacities.←225 | 226→

What benefits do young teachers get from the PEERS project?

By implementing such a project, young teachers have implemented various skills. They have developed a critical assessment of food supply chains, consumption practices and the role of different actors. They built an interdisciplinary learning teaching approach with common objectives and then implemented it in their internship class. They have also used information and communication technologies effectively to interact with their partners. Finally, they have identified criteria for evaluating their project and the professional skills they have built.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, the trainers researchers that we are would like to recall three points.

The first refers to the idea of a research community. Indeed, such a project, built over a year, allows us to build a group that thinks together, develops interpersonal skills and becomes aware of the collective weight or collective competence. It is very reassuring for young teachers who do not yet master all the objects to be taught.

The second aspect refers to training. We believe that such a form of training is essential for training in education for sustainable development. Indeed, to develop a global competence (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011), it is essential to propose devices that are out of the ordinary and that invite action. The only disadvantage of these devices, however, is that they are costly and time consuming and only affect a small part of the students. All that remains to be done is to reflect on the modalities of generalizing such a program in the training of teachers.

The third point refers to benefits for the faculty members: it was very interesting to discuss about researches and various teacher training strategies. Such an experiment permitted to enlarge our scientific networks and to initiate a fruitful collaboration.←226 | 227→

1 The Vulliemin family farm at Pomy. See website: <>.