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How can the curriculum transformation project create opportunities for students to learn about climate and nature?

Image of Julian and Ruth. Text reads 'Curriculum transformation project: opportunities to learn about climate and nature?

Julian Mashingaidze and Ruth Jeremie are recent additions to the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) as curriculum transformation project interns.  They reflect on how the program can create bold and exciting cross-sectional horizons for University of Edinburgh (UoE) students; especially in the context of the climate and nature emergencies which have led to a greater need for people who work in green jobs. 

Why is including climate and nature in Curriculum Transformation important? 

The climate and nature emergencies are more urgent than ever with record temperatures being reached, deforestation on the rise, rapid species loss and widespread climate linked conflict. These are just some of the impacts on ecosystems, economies, and communities increasing this past decade.

In response to these global issues there is growing demand for professionals with training in sustainable practices and increasing student demand for sustainable development to be incorporated into the curricula. However, a large portion of these issues are unknown by students with only 40% knowing at least something about the UKs approach to climate change.  

The biggest hindrance of innovation, in Julian’s opinion, is when the issues that need to be solved are unknown or undefined. Universities such as Edinburgh University have always been the hub of innovation because they provided environments for knowledge and inter-disciplinary philosophies of thinking. If universities can shift their curriculums towards more sustainable planetary models, students can actively contribute more to sustainable futures both within and outside universities.  

Through curriculum transformation a culture for sustainable action can be fostered which can lead to new inter-disciplinary cutting-edge innovations. Edinburgh is already doing exciting work through the Futures Institute and EARTH initiatives, but there is still room to ensure that every student is equipped with the knowledge and expertise to act on climate and nature-related issues as part of their studies.  

Students, Climate Change, and COP26 research [External]

Edinburgh Futures Institute 

Edinburgh Earth Initiative 

What excites me about our role? 

The strength of this CTP internship is that it allows students, like us, to engage with curriculum transformation from the perspectives of key university staff while providing our current experience as students.

Julian was fortunate to do an inter-disciplinary program that was heavily founded on the need to develop solutions for our current climate emergency however, he is in the minority of students who can say this. With only 4% of students feeling well informed on the issue and 68% wanting to know more, this illustrates how important a curriculum change can be to the student body. 

Students of today are also entering an ever more competitive landscape with the need for green job skills ever growing. A key aspect of curriculum transformation from our viewpoint is to ensure that every student has the required skills to access green jobs, which are excitingly become ever more prevalent. This role can make a difference in making students more confident in entering the job field or creating green jobs through entrepreneurship. 

University students want climate change courses [External]

What does a Sustainable Curriculum look like to us? 

The start of a truly sustainable curriculum is firstly the introduction and embedding of the SDG goals and how they relate to different subjects across the university. This is a good starting point for any teaching approach, and we’re surprised by how few students at University of Edinburgh know about them.  

Throughout student’s university experience they should also untangle key terms such as global warming and biodiversity to reflect the urgency for action in the environmental area of sustainability.  

We also feel using frameworks like the planetary health framework and Global Health to link all learning to planet, animals, and people where relevant can help students to understand how people interact with the environment. These principles translate well into history, medicine, literature, art etc.  

All these approaches to developing students’ knowledge should be supported using approaches that also develop complimentary skills to empower them to take action.  

What is planetary health [External]

Planetary and Global Health 

The Curriculum Transformation Project (CTP)  

The CTP aims to create opportunities for students to learn about climate and nature by implementing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) which involves redesigning university learning to foster more sustainable skills, values, and attitudes while empowering students to become environmentally conscious global citizens.

The foundational framework of ESD lies in integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within different disciplines of study- even those without an explicit environmental/ climate science focus.

For example, engineering students can learn about Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12) when considering the allocation of building materials as well as water and land usage. In this way implementing SDG learning across disciplines ensures that climate and nature education are not isolated but readily available, so all students gain a comprehensive understanding of the impact their subject area causes on the environment. 

QAA guidance for ESD [External]

Challenge Courses, Experiential Learning, and Enrichment Elements 

The CTP creates further opportunities through creating space in the curriculum for exploration beyond a student’s discipline to build a better understanding on global and interdisciplinary issues.  

A means of achieving this goal is through the implementation of “Challenge Courses” which would allow students to explore and find solutions to complex real-world issues such as the climate crisis. The courses would be accessible to all students and allow for interdisciplinary collaboration and peer-to-peer informal learning opportunities as students evaluate and reflect on potential solutions to the challenges being faced. To this end Challenge Courses would be structured to encourage critical and anticipatory thinking as students predict and prepare for the outcomes of their choices.  

The “Experiential Learning” opportunities offered through the CTP would further consolidate in-class education by adding an actionable component. This would be done through providing students with active learning opportunities such as work placements, professional experiences, and volunteering efforts for students to apply knowledge to a variety of settings. In this way Experiential Learning will extend the impact of Edinburgh University students by offering immersive learning experiences to become active participants in building a more sustainable world. Students would also be required to reflect on their experiences, evaluate learning outcomes, and consider how knowledge and skills can be built upon and applied to daily life. 

The CTP is also working on embedding optional “Enrichment Elements” within the curriculum which will allow students to develop learning across a series of interlinked courses along with their main programme. In this way, students will be further encouraged to explore sustainability-related research interests in tandem with their compulsory course load. 

Therefore, by combining Challenge Courses, Experiential Learning, and Enrichment Elements the CTP fosters the development of environmentally responsible individuals who are equipped to address the complex sustainability challenges we now face and in the future. 

More Information

To learn more about the Curriculum Transformation Programme’s work and how you can get involved follow the link below.

Curriculum Transformation Programme | The University of Edinburgh 

2 replies to “How can the curriculum transformation project create opportunities for students to learn about climate and nature?”

  1. Tel U says:

    Why is it important to include climate and nature in curriculum transformation, and what benefits can it bring to students and society as a whole?
    Tel U

    1. credhead says:

      Curriculum transformation is happening to enhance the value of studying at the University for our students in a modern world. It’s important we use this opportunity to incorporate some of modern day’s greatest challenges: climate and nature emergencies, so graduates can thrive in a world where these two things will impact all aspects of both working and personal lives. Through enhancements to what is taught and how it’s taught, curriculum transformation can build students’ knowledge, skills and values to develop their awareness of the causes and impacts of climate and nature emergencies as well as developing their ability to act in a sustainable way.

      For students this can benefit their wellbeing, by feeling a sense of empowerment and community around issues that it’s known are causing widespread anxiety amongst global youth. It can benefit employability, as employers expand teams to meet climate and nature goals our students could be best able to support this. It benefits their skill development as it’s known situating learning in real world settings creates stronger transferable skills which is made possible by the ubiquity of sustainable content.

      Society will benefit from the addition of sustainably conscious citizens, leading behaviour change to avoid tipping points in climate and nature that would diminish our quality of life. But more directly some of the curriculum approaches that benefit climate and sustainability will involve collaboration externally. Such as through experiential elements that could be field trips, work based placements which could create positive change for society both locally and globally. Or through challenge courses that will recommend solutions to problems around climate and sustainability for organisations. – Lucy Paterson, Climate and Sustainability in the Curriculum Coordinator

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