Transdisciplinary Methods for Sustainability Science

Module titleTransdisciplinary Methods for Sustainability Science
Module codeGEOM163
Academic year2017/8
Module staff

Dr Tomas Chaigneau (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Both transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research has emerged at a time in which the increased complexity of both the natural and social worlds, and their relationship to one another, demand more integrated thinking around current research challenges. A growing number of university research programmes, for instance, now embrace interdisciplinarity as a way in which to try to make sense of global concerns such as climate change, water security, consumption and resource use, and population growth. Geography, environmental science and environmental social science are diverse disciplines that include studies of human behaviour and the physical environment, and which employ both quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as a range of conceptual and theoretical approaches to research. This module prepares you for designing and carrying out research which goes beyond a singular disciplinary perspective, whether you are a scientist, social scientist or interdisciplinary student. It draws upon a broad range of conceptual and theoretical tools and introduces you to the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary research, including the differences in philosophical and methodological approaches and how best to integrate them.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Starting from a transdisciplinary approach to sustainability research, this module provides both knowledge and training in a set of skills needed to design and effect an academic research project for the contemporary world. By the end of the programme of lectures, workshops, and practical sessions, you will have a critical view of research methodology, and have acquired the knowledge and skills needed to develop research questions which can be applied in a transdisciplinary setting, and be able to identify appropriate approaches and methods to a particular research problem or problems. The module will train you in the collection and analysis of data using various quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches, and ‘triangulated’ combinations of the two. It also aims to help you to appreciate the range of risks, moral and ethical issues facing the researcher in contemporary social scientific research.

The module aims to increase your transferrable and employability skills and considers the common decisions, processes and steps that you go through when you embark on research, including preparatory work (assembling a literature review, formulating research questions, deciding appropriate methodology, identifying ethical consideration, and deciding on what data to collect to address questions), thinking through the practicalities of data collection and analysis, and deciding how to present and write up your findings.

The mini research project assessment is an example of applied learning that is research-led and puts employability at the heart of the module, giving you an opportunity to design, plan and carry out an interview on a research-led theme related to sustainability science. The module will draw explicitly on the convenor and his/her team staff’s transdisciplinary methodological expertise in sustainability research.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Evaluate the principles of research design in the environmental and social sciences
  • 2. Identify and formulate research questions in academic research
  • 3. Describe the methodological basis of data collection and determine which methods are most appropriate to particular research questions
  • 4. Explain the ethical underpinnings of research and assess the risks of research
  • 5. Distinguish between analytical tools appropriate to particular methods and data sets

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Justify orally (face to face or via the web) and in writing the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 7. Indicate how to set up, and undertake, a methodically rigorous research project
  • 8. Identify and compare the key academic literatures in the relevant methodological areas

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Manage time effectively, set priorities and meet deadlines for the completion of work
  • 10. Present ideas in written form
  • 11. Identify and reflect on learning strengths and weaknesses
  • 12. Make use of intensive periods of self-directed learning to evaluate and synthesise the academic literature into research project design and written work

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will comprise the following elements:

  • What is transdisciplinary research and how is it used?
  • What is good research design and how does this work in transdiscipinary research?
  • Data, evidence and transdisciplinarity
  • Qualitative methods
  • Quantitative methods
  • Presenting research findings and conclusions

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Lectures providing a broad introduction to the topics and an overview and explanation of key concepts
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Seminars during which you develop material through practical exercises and group discussions
Guided Independent Study126Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Student participation in discussion groups during day-long sessionsWeeks 2, 4, 7, 91-6Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini research methods project (organise, carry out and analyse a small amount of data collection, and reflect on the process)502000 words3, 5, 7, 9-12Written
Research methods peer review502000 wordsAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Mini research methods projectMini research methods project3, 5, 7, 9-12September Ref/Def
Research methods peer reviewResearch methods peer reviewAllSeptember Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to resubmit the original assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Bell, J (2005) Doing Your Research Project: A guide for first-time researchers in education, health and social science, Open University Press.
  • Bernard (2011) Research methods in anthropology 5th Ed, AltaMira Press.
  • Bryman (2001) Social Research methods, OUP.
  • Burns, R (2000) Introduction to Research Methods, Sage.
  • Clifford, N and Valentine, G (2003) Key Methods in Geography, Sage.
  • Cook, I and Crang, M (1995) Doing Ethnographies, Sage.
  • Cresswell, J (2003) Research Design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods, Sage.
  • Gillham, B (2000) Developing a Questionnaire, Continuum.
  • Peter, J (2000) Analysing Public Policy, Continuum.
  • Rose, G. (2001) Visual Methodologies, Sage.
  • Strauss (1987) Qualitative methods for social scientists.
  • Wheeler, D, Shaw, G and Barr, S (2004) Statistical Techniques in Geographical Analysis, Fulton.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Data analysis, research design, data collection, qualitative, quantitative, ethics, methods

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date