We at the VAMOS project had the wonderful opportunity to get a session at the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC): Reinventing Higher Education for a Sustainable Future. This meant that some of our brilliant educators had the opportunity to talk about the Virtual Exchange courses that they have done through VAMOS.
Concepts like “Virtual Exchange” and “Wicked Problems” might be unfamiliar for some not already involved with Education for sustainable development (ESD). So we had Leonie Paul, lecturer at Uppsala University start us off with a crash course in the idea behind VAMOS. Preparing us for the presentations ahead, she went through the basic concepts and how we at VAMOS help educators around the world in co-creating Virtual Exchange courses through collaborative learning. Equipped with this knowledge, we were ready to fire off the rest of the presentations.
The first presentation was conducted by Massimo de Marchi from the university of Padua, Italy and Marcelo Diniz from UFPA, Brazil. Sharing their experiences in teaching the course, the obstacles and what they have learned from overcoming them. They talked about using case studies as a means to teach the students to work together to solve wicked problem related challenges. Emphasizing the importance of community based sustainable tourism as a crucial part of achieving the SDG’s.
They introduced us to fascinating concepts such as “the wicked wheel”, referencing the need to strike a balance between traditional problem-solving techniques and looser, more chaotic methods.
Ending the presentation with some insights about how how the UFPA is working to reach out to the poorest parts in Brazil and give students from these areas access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Moving on to the second presentation. Our speakers Diego C. D. Alvarado and Roberto Guerra talked about their role in building a diverse, democratic and multi-disciplinary teaching environment. The purpose being to educate their students about the potential of sustainable tourism in finding global solutions for wicked problems. To maintain their connection to the grass roots, they made made sure to invite members of the local communities to participate in the classroom.
Reflecting on what has worked well and what still needs to be improved upon, they talked about how they had worked to utilize the multi-disciplinary and multicultural backgrounds of their students.
However, they still felt that they needed to work more on creating spaces for their students to communicate. As well as needing to cultivate self discipline and self regulation, engaging them from the beginning by letting them share information about themselves.
Our final speaker, Libia Patricia Peralta Agudelo shared her experiences doing the course together with local indigenous communities. Her VE course focused on the issue of adequate housing and food security, aiming to expand participation in the solving of wicked problems beyond academia to include local communities, utilizing tools such as active listening and Inter/Transdisciplinary dialogue.
Working to address social demands, mainly within the slums and favelas. She talked about how they had overcome challenges with balancing safety and connection to the grass roots. Which could mean meeting in neutral territory to avoid putting the students in danger.
In the spirit of bringing the VE outside of academia, her course has given rise to 5 systematic projects dealing subjects ranging from food culture to leisure and housing. An inspiring example of bringing academia into the real world!
We rounded off the event with a Q&A session where participants had the opportunity to share their thoughts and questions regarding the work our virtual exchange partners have been doing. After some interesting discussions with our attendees it was time to say goodbye. Thank you to our amazing educators for sharing their experiences and insights!