Leonie Paul is research and teaching assistant at Uppsala University, within the department of Industrial and Civil Engineering on the Campus Gotland.
She has an interest in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and explains how essential it is to connect students from other countries to discuss Wicked Problems.
“We need to think outside the box and even throw the box away,’ she laughs, “this project is a great opportunity and it’s a big learning experience as well – there is a lot of learning as a teacher”.
She confirms that the pandemic influenced her decision to participate in this online learning opportunity as this aspect of teaching and learning is here to stay.
“My own teaching experience began online and we need to improve these online skills for the future as it has already become common practice. We need to be prepared. We can’t just put all our teaching online. I experienced it on both sides, as a learner and as a teacher. I did a summer course online and it was fun. But from the teacher’s side it really takes so much work to prepare. We can’t underestimate the workload.”
This is Leonie’s first VE experience and she has been a very pro- active participation during the recent training, initiating discussions and taking the lead when necessary.
“It was not easy to understand all the steps in the training and I have to admit to feeling very lost a few times. But I reached out and spoke to others, and gradually began to understand what I was doing. I believe we all have to put effort into the things we do and I know we are all working full-time too. If we all work together and take a collaborative approach then it’s manageable and after all, VE is all about collaboration and team effort isn’t it?”
“There is no sugar coating here’, she laughs, “Setting up a VE is not for the faint hearted. It is undeniably more work but I think it will be worth it in the end.”
One challenge is the time difference as the partners are in Brazil and Honduras and so by the time they can all meet up online, it is quite late in Sweden.
“We met with our Brazilian counterparts at 10pm and I was in my pyjamas,’ she laughs. “I don’t mind and the atmosphere is lovely in the late evening. The language aspect can be tricky though. We are mainly working together asynchronously and this makes communication problematic as we are working on shared documents in a language that is not our native language. It’s easy to be confused by comments and not understand what the other is saying. English is the lingua franca and we are working with Spanish and Portuguese speakers so we need to be aware of the differing language levels.”
To mitigate the possible difficulties, all the partners have agreed that the participants in the VE should have a certain level of English to ensure meaningful exchanges and dialogue can take place. So far, everyone believes this hurdle can be overcome and they will make it very clear at the start that this VE will be in English.
“We will also be clear that this is a Pilot project on Sustainable Consumption and Living and that they are the guinea pigs. We want the students’ input so we can improve things for future iterations.”
So far, four modules have been created as a framework and these are currently being filled with content.
“We have all agreed that we are creating a space for the students to explore these ‘wicked problems’ and we won’t be teaching them as such’, explains Leonie.
“We plan to meet altogether a few times over the 4-6 weeks to make sure everything is on track but otherwise it will be up to the students to decide how to work collaboratively on their assignments. We also have agreed that we will keep the technology tools simple. We will give them access to a toolbox for their own choices and they can go wild with that and use what they want as long as it serves the purpose. But, as teachers we want to keep it simple as there is a bit of fear concerning tools.”
Regarding numbers of participating students, all the teachers want to keep it manageable, also from the administration aspect and there are many issues to be ironed out. “We are considering Saturday meetings so those who are working and doing internships can join if they want to. We are busy fitting the pieces of the puzzle together right now.
For Leonie, the focus is the ‘Exchange” over anything else, and the possibility of meeting people from across the world and building lasting relationships. Everything else is a bonus.