School: Biological Sciences
Units: Ecology (2ndYear), Conservation Biology (2ndYear), Final Year Project (BSc and MSci)
How is sustainability included in these units? How did you decide what was appropriate?
In Ecology, I took over an existing unit and reframed it around applied ecology and environmental sustainability. Sustainability was always a present theme in the unit, but it became a key thread running throughout the unit that binds it together.
Conservation Biology naturally has a strong sustainability focus; however, we added an extra ILO (Intended Learning Outcome) that students should be able to communicate conservation issues using digital media, grounding the teaching and theory of conservation more in the real-world sustainability problems.
For their Final Year Project, students in Biology choose from a selection of projects offered by different lecturers. I ensure that I offer students the opportunity to do their project on something related to environmental sustainability. I developed a Sustainability Planning template for students to use when designing their research methods, this prompts them to consider various UNSDGs prior to data collection and then to reflect on their decisions at the end of the project.
If it uses any unusual/original pedagogy or assessment approaches to do this, what are these?
Each year I challenge students to change their consumer behaviour to become more sustainable for two weeks and then runs a seminar discussing their experience. This relates to their discussions of food systems and a good way to get students engaged in debates and thinking about the ways they can impact change. I also run a task where students design a ‘menu to save the world’ based on readings for that week. They then discuss and defend their choices. In the ‘Conservation Biology’ unit, the essay assessment was changed to a podcast students should create in pairs. This fits better with the new ILO relating to communication and has gone down well amongst students. I also like to use debate to encourage discussion and introduce the socio-political sphere into his teaching, which is often lost in the sciences.
What sustainability-relevant ‘takeaways’ would you expect students to gain?
To develop the students’ communication skills, science communication specifically. This is because part of the reason we are in a dire situation, in terms of the climate and biodiversity crises, is because research hasn’t been translated properly to a wider audience in a way that is successful so good communications skills are extremely important. I also hope to highlight the importance of collaboration, as we tend to do a lot of work as individuals, but we can gain a lot more scope by providing collaborative spaces for students to work in and encouraging interdisciplinary approaches. In turn, these can enable transformative learning experiences. Finally, problem solving is crucial, especially when it comes to providing opportunities for students to be creative and find new ways of doing things.