Student Fellow Reflections, Student Voice

Can sustainability be effectively integrated into our curriculum?

After attending the University of Bristol People’s Assembly, BILT Student Fellow Rhona explores some of the discussions, themes and debates that came up and considers ways that sustainability can be integrated into the curriculum.

In recognising the Climate Emergency as the single biggest issue facing our generation, Bristol Student Union coined February Sustainability Month. This involved a series of virtual events, workshops, and activities to explore the climate change threat, and how to live and work sustainably. Sustainability Month culminated in the Student Union’s (SU’s) first Climate Emergency Day of Action. This included the People’s Assembly on Education and Research for the Climate Emergency – an opportunity for both students and staff to discuss and shape how the university can address and integrate sustainability and engage with the University’s delivery of its ambitions regarding climate change.

The reason I attended this event was to delve deeper into examinations and debates of sustainability. This was academically motivated – as I want to explore colonial legacies within and climate change and sustainability policies for my postgraduate dissertation projects. I also wanted to attend because the event was combining two of my main passions: sustainability and education.

In our ‘new world’ and like many other events, the People’s Assembly took place over Zoom and was structured as separate breakout rooms. Each of these breakout rooms addressed one of the four core questions:

  • How do we integrate sustainability into all existing courses?
  • How do we ensure that Bristol’s research output has a positive impact on the Climate Emergency?
  • How can we decolonise climate education?
  • How can the SU do more to help students get involved in action on the Climate Emergency?

I decided to go into the breakout room which addressed the first question – exploring how we can integrate sustainability into our courses. I wanted to explore the discussions around how students can be empowered with knowledge to shape future environmental, social and economic sustainability. Here, I outline some of the key discussion points that emerged.

Integrating disciple-focused approaches

The discussions focused on the importance of not only having modules focused on the likes of sustainability, environmental and climate change but integrating them into existing mandatory modules.

Interdisciplinary pedagogical suggestions

There were discussions on how we can approach integrating sustainability into our curriculum through an interdisciplinary focus. I found this really interesting because no discipline monopolises how we can combat climate change and there is the need to combine perspectives, academic backgrounds and learn from each other. Engaging different departments with one another and bringing students together will be important in integrating sustainability into curriculums – learning from one another and collaborating to ignite discussions and debates.

Some of the ways that such an interdisciplinary approach can be achieved include:

  • Exposing people in one discipline to perspectives of other disciplines through interviews, lectures, open units and pathways
  • Bringing students together from different disciplines to work on a project together

Taking an interdisciplinary approach is needed to ensure that sustainability is integrated throughout the university.

Sustainability and assessments

There were some interesting discussions around integrating sustainability into the marking criteria and into assessments – encouraging students to think about sustainability when writing assignments or sitting exams. I think this would be a good idea but could only be effective when sustainability is fully integrated into teaching and students are given the chance to explore sustainability in-depth. It should come as a second stage in the integration process.

I came away from this session feeling hopeful that these discussions are taking place within the University and to see passion and determination amongst staff and students to support this process. I think it is important that sustainability should not be seen to be an ‘add-on’ or as a secondary thought but to fully integrate it into the curriculum and be engaged within the core activity of courses. It is important to understand sustainability as being central to all disciplines and establishing a means for academics to be supported in the integration of it into their modules.

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