Prep for 28th June – ESD chat

Education for Sustainable Development – a vehicle for socially and environmentally responsible interdisciplinary learning, teaching and assessment?

On Wednesday 28 June at 8pmGMT #HEAchat and #LTHEchat will be exploring the relatively untapped potential of Education for Sustainable Development (hereafter referred to as ‘ESD’) as a holistic learning and teaching tool for staff and students. Professor Simon Kemp, NTF, University of Southampton, has prepared a blog to stimulate discussion.

ESD is an interdisciplinary approach to learning, teaching and assessment that covers the integrated social, economic, and environmental dimensions of the formal and informal curriculum. ESD is recognised as a pedagogical approach that can help educators assist students who wish to develop the skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to an environmentally and ethically responsible society, and pursue a career that reflects those values. However, whilst there is understandably much focus on the output of graduates with a sense of social and environmental justice in terms of their future contributions to the world, there can be less attention on the innovative learning and teaching opportunities. ESD offers the higher education community the chance to integrate interdisciplinary learning, pioneering assessment, responsible employability outcomes, and strong student engagement.

The term ESD refers to the pedagogical approach of learning about and developing skills for ‘sustainable development’. It is generally accepted that sustainable development is fundamentally about trying to achieve a balance between the economy, society (people), and the environment, with the internationally recognised and referred to definition of:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (WCED, 1987)

If you conduct any reading in this interdisciplinary subject area you are also likely to frequently come across the terms ‘sustainability’ and ‘Education for Sustainability (EfS)’. We will happily use these terms interchangeably during the twitter chat as we do not want to debate definitions and terms – after all, we only have an hour! It is also important to note that sustainable development, is not solely about the environment as is the common misconception. It is about trying to achieve a balance between the economy, society, and the environment, through supporting students from any discipline in acquiring knowledge, understanding and skills relevant to sustainable development.

As with all pedagogy challenges there is a wealth of literature to engage with. However, if you would like to refer to a single document that has attempted to provide a common approach to the interdisciplinary practice of ESD, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and HEA (2014) developed a guidance document to assist educators and support students from all disciplines. This document offers the following definition for ESD:

Education for sustainable development is the process of equipping students with the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations.” (QAA & HEA, 2014)

The HEA website offers an excellent range of resources. As part of this resource base we recently developed a set of ESD learning activities aimed at assisting colleagues who wish to engage with interdisciplinary teaching, and work with students interested in exploring the complex challenges that have an impact on us all. The workshops are designed to be structured classroom sessions, or to provide a framework for colleagues to adapt for their own learning objectives.

Introducing or extending ESD in your curriculum and student experience offers a range of benefits to students, academics, and the university. Students can engage in interdisciplinary practices, working and learning with students from other academic disciplines they might not normally be exposed to. Aside from the intellectual gain, there is an expectation from employers that graduates will work with colleagues of different areas of expertise as part of wider professional teams. ESD offers students this valuable experience and can enhance their curriculum vitae, especially in terms of practical skills and experience. You might also wish to join the Sustainability in Higher Education Developers (SHED) Community of Practice to engage with supportive academics who are always willing to help those who wish to start or advance their ESD journey.

If you are thinking ‘Sustainable Development does not relate to my discipline area(s)’, I would suggest that you are probably wrong. Take a look at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that have set targets for the international community until 2030, and I would confidently bet that you will find at least one that relates to your L&T:

We will be interested to hear how you are exploring ESD in your discipline and the gains available for learners who are literate in this area. Looking forward to your contributions during what we hope will be a stimulating and rewarding twitter chat.

The ESD Twitter Chat will be 8-9pm GMT 28 June 2017



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