Practice guide by GSD researcher demonstrates how the University of Warwick is innovating in sustainability within education

Dr Alastair Smith , Senior Teaching Fellow in the Global Sustainable Development Department and Education for Sustainable Development Officer for the School for Cross-faculty Studies , has contributed one of a series of new guides published by Advance HE and QAA to help universities embed sustainable development into their curriculums.

Dr Smith’s guide - Education for Sustainable Development within the core curriculum and beyond: A living lab approach - demonstrates how the University of Warwick is innovating in sustainability within education through projects which enable students to enjoy practical engagement with real-world climate change issues, developing their own knowledge and understanding in the process.

The series of 18 practice guides have been written by contributors from across the HE sector to provide practical ideas and examples for UK higher education institutions that want to incorporate Education for Sustainable Development into their curricula, as recommended by guidance issued in March 2021. The guides cover a range of activities in terms of scale, scope and audience from single staff development workshops through to longer-term community engagement projects.

Dr Smith’s practice guide draws on the Global Sustainable Development Department’s Certificate of Sustainability Consulting (Auditing) and one of its new Masters practice-based projects as examples to show the Department’s commitment to creating learning opportunities for students that offer real-life challenges, developing competencies and skills which prepare students for projects beyond their studies.

Students undertaking these projects are partnered with an operational area within the University to undertake a real-life sustainability audit, including presenting recommendations to decision-makers. Examples since the Certificate’s introduction include using light meters to check whether teaching and learning areas are too brightly lit, saving energy by reducing the wattage of overhead lighting; or getting hands-on with the recycling bins to test whether better signage helps users dump their rubbish in the right bin.

Students working towards their Masters can undertake an audit within the University or to partner with an external organisation.

Alastair explains: "The guide showcases our philosophy of treating learners with respect, beginning with thinking about what active contribution that they can make to the creation of collective knowledge, while at the same time learning themselves; rather than being primarily concerned with what knowledge can do for them, as the more traditional individualistic approach to education goes.

-This chimes with wider research-led teaching on the value of collective organisation, coordination and action, necessary for transformational change in our world. The Certificate of Sustainability Consultancy (Auditing) and the MASc Practice-Based Project are used as examples to highlight how we have used this philosophy as part of a living laboratory pedagogy."

Alastair hopes that his guide will not only be of use in other universities but will also be helpful to Warwick colleagues in other departments as they work to embed sustainable development in their own teaching and learning, one of the five pathways of the university’s new Way to Sustainable programme.

The Way to Sustainable commits the University to leading by example in the fight against climate change. As part of that aim, Warwick is working to embed sustainability as a core skill across all subjects so that students from all disciplines will develop knowledge and experience of sustainability and be inspired to become global citizens with a vested interest in creating a more sustainable world.

12 January 2022


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