After weeks of preparing for our first VAMOS conference, collecting Sustainability Stories to showcase students’ sustainability initiatives on campus, and brainstorming about interesting presentations, all VAMOS partners were more than ready when Anders Hagfeldt, Vice-chancellor of Uppsala University, officially opened our Virtual Conference on Teaching and Learning in Wicked Times on June 15, 2021.
Just before, about 50 teachers already met online to kick-off the conference in a rapid networking and mingle event on Zoom. Our students joined the digital photo exhibition mix and mingle in Gather Town. What a great way to meet other people with similar interests who share their experiences in Education for Sustainable Development alongside teaching and learning in these wicked times we are living in!
Therefore, the first presentation focused on reorienting higher education pedagogy for wicked times. Lovisa Håkansson from Uppsala University presented students as change agents who take leadership roles, engage deeply with their institutions and subject areas, and decide the focus and direction of their education. Moving away from prevailing Western higher education pedagogy with dictated curricula and students as passive consumers, Lovisa proposed alternative approaches to better engage with wicked issues.
Hereby, she reminded us that teaching and learning are shared responsibilities. Students are competent contributors who curiously explore how to embrace deep learning and new perspectives in collaborative learning settings. As one example, Lovisa presented the Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS) at Uppsala University where students are planning, delivering, and evaluating courses in sustainable development. And as we all know, there are other examples of similar initiatives championed by VAMOS partners!
Next, Cristiane Costa and Carla Pasa Gómez from the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) presented the BraVE experience – the Brazilian Virtual Exchange Program. This initiative started off as a pilot project to foster “internationalization at home”. Since 2018, over 1,000 students have been reached and 14 new partnerships have been created. Cristiane and Carla shared how all their virtual exchange courses start with ice-breaker activities during which students from different countries and programs get to know each other. Further, online meetings in synchronous and asynchronous classrooms next to community engagement projects take place. Each course ends with final presentations in which participants share their project outcomes with others. Cristiane and Carla highlighted the positive experiences of professors engaging in flipped classrooms and co-creating content, thus enabling virtual and cultural exchange through bilingual teaching.
To round off the program of the first day, Massimo de Marchi from the University of Padova presented the new Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence on Climate Justice. Climate justice is concerned with climate actions, climate change impacts, and human rights impacts. The centre exists since 2020 and focuses on Geographic Information Systems and citizen science in its study programs and research initiatives.
With the objective to create a permanent round table on the topic of climate justice, the centre currently develops a hub which generates and gathers scientific knowledge, practices, and expertise on EU climate justice policies. How great that students are involved as well!
To start off the second day of our virtual conference, Vice-Chancellor Emmanuel Zagury Tourinho and Marcelo Bentes Diniz from the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) introduced all participants to Amazonian Wicked Problems which require a shift towards Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the Amazon region and worldwide. Marcelo talked about underlying problems which range from difficult access to the region to low levels of literary among the population. Since ESD should reach all members of society, many campuses of UFPA are located elsewhere. Further, the university offers virtual education.
More than 30 courses, 35 extension projects, and 100 research projects focus on or relate to the topic of environmental sustainability. As two specific examples, Marcelo presented the Nature, Development and Sustainability in Amazonia (NADESA) program as well as the Laboratory of Mangrove Ecology. These two examples demonstrate how scientific knowledge can reach local populations and how teaching and learning as a process can draw on these and similar experiences.
Next, we shifted the focus of our virtual conference to Sweden. Ola Leifler from Linköping University presented the Climate Change Megagame – a game in which playful scenarios invite participants to move towards sustainable transformations in different municipalities. Ola explained how important it is for students to be engaged and in control of their learning experience while also being stimulated to embrace systems thinking. How can future scenarios for a sustainable society look like? What roles do global partnerships, local communities, behavioural change, and new technology play? Regarding the Climate Change Megagame, Ola himself is truly full of ideas for the future which range from simulating different regions to conducting research on participants’ reasoning about societal transformation. We in VAMOS are keen to play – are you keen, too?
Suyapa Palma and Diego Díaz from the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogical University (UPNFM) took over to present their extension and research programs with communities close to Santa Rosa de Copan. With the goal to bring academia and local communities together, they hosted different workshops with coffee farmers who started to produce artisanal, organic fertilizer. Further, students created a medicinal plant collection and gave workshops on Indigenous medicinal herbs. Suyapa and Diego also shared a video of students’ reforestation campaign “Siembra un árbol, siembra vida” (Plant a tree, plant a life) – a truly inspiring and hopeful initiative!
How does environmental education in broadleaf forest conservation look like? Luis Bejarano and Marlon Medrano from the National University of Forestry (UNACIFOR) shared their insights regarding local communities’ role in delivering education for sustainable development. In the university’s Botanical Garden which includes a biological reserve, an arboretum, and manifold plantations, teachers and students engage in environmental education and watershed management. Together with local communities, students work towards improving the quality of life through constructing drinking-water systems, eco-stoves, and biodigesters. To ensure long-term sustainability of these initiatives, teachers and students further facilitate the establishment of water boards, advisory councils, and micro-enterprises through capacity building programs.
Next, Eloy Casagrande and Patrician Peralta from the Federal University of Technology Paraná (UTFPR) presented the university’s Green Office and Green Room ESD experience. As part of infrastructure development, the university created a virtual platform and a laboratory for distance learning. Students are involved in community projects which range from building emergency houses and designing alternative sanitation systems, to creating community gardens and planting vegetables in a grocery cart. And aren’t you keen as well to explore the eco-trailer yourself?
In our last presentation, Reini Alejandra Cáceres from the Technological University of Honduras (UTH) presented the country’s garbage problem with plastic pollution resulting from poor waste management. With the goal to integrate students in solid waste management and environmental protection, the university created an educational campaign for the Roatan Coral Reef and initiated “Vidrio x Vidrio” – a project in which students recycle glass materials to be part of creating a circular economy.
Inspiring and motivating – these are the two keywords that might describe the two days of our Virtual Conference on Teaching and Learning in Wicked Times best: inspiring regarding all the different initiatives to embed Education for Sustainable Development in courses and existing virtual exchange programs and motivating since we can further share our experiences and best practices with each other, thus embracing being lifelong learners ourselves!