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Students as Leaders: A Campus of Ideas

The ‘Warwick Nest’ is a student-led eco-centre building initiative spearheaded by Engineers Without Borders UK in collaboration with Estates and an external architect. We have been recruited to carry out research into developing innovative learning outcomes and partnerships. The eco-centre will exemplify how teaching and learning can coexist equally with sustainability: the building has been designed by students as a teaching and learning space that will be inherently sustainable, for example in the way it will utilise low carbon technology. As student researchers, we would like to explore what student-led sustainability looks like when applied to teaching and learning. So far, we have considered the potential for a student-led sustainability module, a handbook, and outreach events. This programme of research will allow us to explore and highlight the intersections of student engagement and sustainability. We will all work together on broad teaching and learning goals, and have also identified specific areas for each team member to focus on.

Dominic is interested in how effective, consistent, and lasting pedagogical approaches can embed environmental sustainability practices in students’ learning experiences. Noting how university students are largely influenced by neoliberal imperatives to seek the best value for their fee-paying education, and to secure the best possible opportunities for employment, the student-as-consumer model of higher education poses challenges for a practical implementation and engagement rate with a model of education that prioritizes a vision of sustainability at its core. To this end, Dom is working on a full module proposal on student-led sustainability, one that will help build networks among current sustainability projects on campus. The module will also integrate theoretical approaches to sustainability and the marketisation of higher education to consider how student behaviour towards learning is influenced. The module will embody sustainable education by assessing students through critical reflection on – rather than the success of –a locally-embedded, student-led (possibly in collaboration with staff) project on sustainability. This will empower students by registering the real challenges and opportunities latent in such initiatives.

Nia is looking at existing opportunities within the University that can act as starting points for new methods of teaching and learning. For example, she is finding parts of different courses where there is more flexibility and opportunity to try out alternative methods, such as exploring whether there is scope for more interdisciplinary approaches to group projects. Through trying and testing various approaches in order to discover what works and what doesn’t, we hope to generate a more grounded base of evidence to inform decisions on larger-scale changes. In addition, she will be proposing the creation of a handbook. Part of the struggle involved in making learning more student-led is that there is little direction on the practicalities involved, such as who to go to for support, how to get funding, and what administrative red tape is in place. A handbook that helps to direct students on how to carry out their own projects will hopefully encourage more students to do so. The handbook could also act as a practical example of student-led work in action, and could be used as one of the readings in Dominic’s proposed module.

Dammy will be working on outreach and events, focusing on exploring the viability of a sustainability festival. There seems to be the potential for an event with sustainability as its central theme and teaching and learning objectives incorporated into it. An idea we’re currently exploring is using the word ‘sustainability’ as a stimulus for people to respond to in different ways, such as by creating short plays, poetry, or music. There would also be the opportunity to broaden the reach of the event by screening films that tackle notions of sustainability in unique ways, and hosting workshops to further explore these films. An added benefit and a link back to the eco-centre is that this festival could be an effective way to reach potential users of the building. We could also work on challenging pre-conceived notions of what ‘sustainability’ can mean, particularly in the context of teaching and learning.

Collectively, we will further explore all the abstract ideas that emerge from the development of the eco-centre, considering how we capture our learning in a tangible and useful format. Further information about the project can be found on the project’s profile page.

Nia Hughes - third-year undergraduate in Politics and International Studies
Dominic Nah - postgraduate in English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dammy Sokale - third-year undergraduate in WBS

Published: 25 January 2017