Education for sustainable development at the University of Tampere

Text: Anna Heikkinen, doctoral student and Saana Raatikainen, environmental coordinator

The University of Tampere (UTA) in Finland is committed to the promotion of sustainable development in research, education and other activities (The Sustainable Development Action Plan). In 2011, UTA joined the Nordic ESDAN project which developed a model for integrating sustainable development in the curricula of universities. At the same time, UTA went through an extensive educational reform.

As a part of the reform, the learning outcomes of sustainable development studies were drafted, and information on all course units on sustainable development offered in the university was gathered together. In all, 100 such course units were found and some of them were chosen to become a part of the multidisciplinary Sustainable development study module (25-35 ECTS). Studies in this module started at the beginning of the spring term in 2013.

One of the learning outcomes of the Sustainable development module is “to make students become interested in a sustainable way of life as well as prepare them to take part, influence and function together with different people in multicultural communities” and that “the student is able to act in a goal-oriented way towards finding solutions that promote sustainable development.” In order to achieve these goals, a course unit on practices that promote sustainable development was designed. This course unit was taught for the first time in spring term 2014.

Course unit on sustainable practices

The course unit on sustainable practices consists of a variety of themes. In 2014, the themes taught in the course included consuming and recycling, waste disposal, food and retailing, people’s relationship with nature and traffic and energy. The course unit was designed to have a hands-on approach and it included field trips to different enterprises. The emphasis was on the students’ own experiences, participation and putting the learning outcomes to practice. For example, the students served fair trade coffee at an Ekokampus info stand during the day the university doors were open to prospective students. Students also participated in the distribution of food items to members of the Student Union’s Organic Food Circle.

During the course, the students kept a learning diary. The form of the diary was free and the students were able to choose to do a traditional learning diary or a blog, a film, music video or some other way to present their diary.

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Developing the course unit further

In the feedback the students said they found the course to be inspirational and motivating and a nice departure from regular university studies. In particular, the students liked the field trips and the exercise on people’s relationship with nature which was conducted by an environmental psychologist. The students wished that they had had more time for discussion and for going through the exercises they did as independent study.

The learning diaries, blogs and other student presentations were carefully crafted and inspiring to read. In future, the plan is to bring the presentations available to other students and possibly collect them into a poster session or a course blog. In addition, the aim is to make the university’s activities on campus a more integral part of the course. For example, the students could audit and further develop the sustainable development work undertaken by the university.

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