The last day of the conference, just before lunch, I attend a small immersive session on education in sustainability science. Chair, Leonie Bellina from Leuphana University, Germany, starts the session off by saying that the sustainability challenges we are facing do not only require new ways of doing place-based sustainability research, but also a shift in how we educate. The larger part of the fifteen, or so, participants are experienced educators from universities all over the world. Some, though, are like me, just about to start teaching and want insights on how to do it well.
The session is centered around three broad discussion topics from the book ”The Glocal Curriculum – A practical guide to teaching and learning in an interconnected world”, which Bellina has co-authored with John and colleagues (2017), downloadable here. The first topic is the curriculum and how to make education emancipatory, rather than instrumental. In sustainability education focus needs to be shifted towards more experiential learning, and the process of inter- and transdisciplinary research, rather than specific topics. We discuss how it is sometimes necessary for teachers to take on separate roles, as instructors, coaches or examiners, in order to build trust with the students.
The teaching-learning environment is discussed at length. The participants share their thoughts on how to allocate time from being spent in lecture halls, to working with students in the field, on longer group projects, and encouraging students to be reflexive of their own roles as aspiring researchers, where they visit. Many exemplify how their teaching is demand-driven, focused on real cases where the results of the students’ work matter. Nevertheless, there is a fine balance. Students must also be okay with failing. Therefore, starting the experiential learning by testing methods on each other, can be a good way to make students comfortable in their roles as researchers. Learning not only with the head, but also hands and heart, is essential.
Many sustainability courses and programmes are ‘glocal’, in the sense that they are often based on place-based research and case studies, but incorporate global connections. These connections range from covering cases from different parts of the world, to running collaborative courses between universities in different countries. In many ways, ‘glocal’ is a requirement in achieving the goal of educating globally aware and emphatic sustainability professionals. However, this great mix of cultures and experiences also poses challenges for both educators and students. An example is when, how and how much students from different backgrounds tend to speak. This varies greatly, thus the educator’s role as a facilitator is very important. Making students aware of their behaviour in a group, without creating guilt, ensuring everyone gets to share, is difficult, but essential to make these ‘glocal’ learning environments constructive.
I feel like a sponge, sitting there in the ring, listening to stories of sustainability education in Mexico, Germany, Australia. So many great examples of approaches, some of which I recognize from my own time as a master’s student at Stockholm Resilience Centre, but also others that I would love to experience or try out myself. These are passionate, committed educators who believe in helping students grow, on many levels, to become critical, ethically aware thinkers, competent researchers and engaged individuals.
After the session, as I walk over to the hotel pool and dip my feet in the cool water, I start to wonder: Is it not very much to ask from an academic education, both from students and teachers, that they should foster these multifaceted world citizens? Would this kind of experiential learning not have to start earlier for it to have a real impact? Probably. Maybe that would be a good thing, though. Like the rings that spread in the turquoise water from my toe, so does education hold the potential for new mindsets to establish and spread in our societies.
Education is key for sustainability transformations.
John, B., Caniglia, G., Bellina, L., Laubichler, M. 2017. ”The Glocal Curriculum – A practical guide to teaching and learning in an interconnected world”. Available for download here.
I am a PhD candidate at Stockholm Resilience Centre. My PhD project is about analyzing bundles of ecosystem services together with stakeholders in the Helge å catchment in southern Sweden. Through my research, I have become interested in figuring out ways to communicate and foster resilience thinking with practitioners and policy-makers. Ever since I was a kid, I have used writing as a way to make sense of the world – so now, when writing for this blog, I hope to make sense of and communicate glimpses of the second PECS conference.
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II CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRAMME ON ECOSYSTEM CHANGE AND SOCIETY