Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Incomplete university guide

📥  Comment, New Publications

This week saw the publication of the 2013 Complete University Guide.  This categories universities into sets of league tables according to entry standards, student satisfaction, research assessment and graduate prospects, etc.  The raw data come from public sources.

One thing you can do with the tables is to select particular issues, for example, completion, spending, etc, and compare institutions.  In this list of possibilities, we find "Green", but clicking on this reveals nothing at all – not even for the usual suspects.

Not so complete after all, then.  I have asked why.


ESD is misunderstood in the UK

📥  Comment, New Publications

A recent report for UNESCO that looked at the main lessons learned from ESD practice in the UK concluded that "ESD is misunderstood."  This seems entirely the wrong way round to me: People find ESD impossible to understand, more like.

Here's a 7 point plan to ensure that any educational misadventure ends up like this:

1. Think up a new concept using at least 3 multi-syllable words.

2. Make sure the phrase contains at least one abstract noun –  two for preference.

3. The noun(s) should have confused and contested meanings and already be in everyday use in potentially unhelpful ways.

4. Use arcane language to describe the concept so that its usefulness is not immediately clear to potential stakeholders.

5. Establish vague goals in order to make evaluation impossible.

6. Create, and then reify, a new acronym to go with all this.

7. Put an overstretched, underfunded and largely disinterested UN agency in charge of promoting it.

Finally, when communication and all else fails, blame other people.

Today is International Mother Earth Day, so ...

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Today, 22 April 2012, is International Mother Earth Day.  The UN says:

The proclamation of 22 April as International Mother Earth Day is an acknowledgement that the Earth and its ecosystems provide its inhabitants with life and sustenance.  It also recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity.  International Mother Earth Day provides an opportunity to raise public awareness around the world to the challenges regarding the well-being of the planet and all the life it supports.

Just so, and I wondered why doesn't this seem to be important in the UK?  But, maybe I'm wrong.  Here's Dorset Cereals:

Today is International Mother Earth Day, proclaimed by the UN to promote harmony with the natural world.  You can celebrate by heading out into the countryside to get back to nature, or by caring for the planet with something as simple as recycling or finally getting around to insulating the loft.

But there must be more to harmony than this, so maybe the Daily Mail can shed some light on it:

She was celebrating International Mother Earth Day this weekend, so it was no surprise that Jessica Alba was spotted shopping for nature’s finest produce.  The pregnant mother-of-one went grocery shopping in Beverly Hills and was snapped in the vegetable section, selecting a range of salad ingredients.  The actress then posted on her Twitter page: ‘Happy Earth Day tweeples!  I’d love to know what you all are doing in honor of Earth Day today.’

Umm; if only I knew who Jessica Alba was ... .  Time, I think, to find a vernal wood.


Tailpipe Truths

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

This was the title of a recent Economist piece on electric cars in the US – actually, on why the sales of all-electric cars or hybrids haven't taken off (despite high fuel costs), and on why what is claimed for such vehicles in terms of emissions is not quite what it's cracked up to be.  Sobering reading for anyone who looks forward to a carbon-free energy system.

Clearly, high battery costs (currently ~$600 / kWH) price these cars out of the reach of anyone but the relatively wealthy or the status-conscious who are happy to bankrupt themselves, but even when you do buy one of them, the article shows how it's now not possible to know where your electricity comes from, and just how clean 'n' green it is.

Useful reading for anyone trying to teach about energy / climate / transport / sustainability and their interconnections.


EE in the USA: not an academic in sight

📥  Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

I'm watching part of the recent White House summit on Environmental Education on You Tube.  Worth a view if only for the unusual introduction by moderator Marcia McNutt to the Panel on 21st Century Environmentalism: Shaping the Emerging Vision for Environmental Education.

The composition of this panel is instructive: the ever-admirable and reliably-witty Judy Braus from NAAEE (I run her fanzine), a woman with dollars from Toyota, an educational consultant who writes for Time, a UCLA ecology prof, a Girl Scout organiser, and a bloke who might just have written a book with the ecologist (but the intro was ambiguous).

Not an actual teacher or school leader in sight; not any academics who might have had an informed overview of environmental education and research on it. Odd, I thought.

Would we do this differently here?  An idle question, of course, as will be obvious when we all think back to the last Downing Street summit on Environmental Education.

Now, when was that ...


The purpose of research is ... to sophisticate our beholding of the world

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

A really enjoyable day in Plymouth, yesterday, at the first PedRIO conference where I chaired a session on sustainability and learning which explored a range of interconnected research topics carried out within the University.

Joanna Blake and Stephen Sterling talked about transformative learning using a study of Schumacher College's approaches to teaching and to visitor experiences, and considered the traction that such approaches might have in HE more formally.

Roger Cutting looked at a particular form of activitism, that of low impact communities in the UK, by means of participant narrative life histories and what this contributes to our (academic) understandings of learning and sustainability.

Bob Cook, with Roger, built on this to examine the experience that UG students had when they made brief (field) visits to such low impact communities.  These experiences proved rich ones as they provided students with something of a mirror to their own ideas around sustainability.

Jennie Winter, Debby Cotton and Vivien Tucker reported a Plymouth student view on sustainability and transformation which used a critical incident approach to students' understanding of sustainability in order to explore how institutions might now develop a more transformative approach.

As with all good seminars, the themes were interconnected and well-presented, and we could have done with an extra 15 minutes (at least) to discuss issues arising across them all.  All this was complemented by a witty and well-observed study of methodological challenges around data, it's collection, shaping and meaning, from Glynis Cousin who noted this from Bob Stake:

The purpose of research is not to map and conquer the world, but to sophisticate the beholding of it.



Can you have too much contact with nature?

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Probably, I'd say, and the bloke sitting on this rock certainly looks as if he's running that risk.

Thanks to Learn from Nature for alerting me to this long list of possible reasons why contact with nature is a good thing.  I'm pleased to say that I found a line or two to identify with, even if I'm not wholly at one with every tenet of the New Nature Movement.

But there's something here for almost everyone, it seems.  For example ...

  • You want to reignite all of your senses.
  • You’re a nature-smart teacher who takes your students outside because you understand the power of nature to help them learn.
  • You’re an artist, writer, photographer or musician who knows the power of nature to stimulate creativity, and you use your talents to reconnect people to nature.
  • You’re an outdoor recreationist who restores nature.
  • You’re a citizen naturalist
  • You care about the human relationship with nature, whether you’re liberal, conservative…or other.
  • You’re someone who understands that all spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and that nature is a window into that wonder.
  • You hunger for authenticity; you believe in nature’s power to create a deeper sense of personal and regional identity.
  • ...

Do you hunger after authenticity?  Not sure I do, which is maybe where I'm going wrong.

I'm off to read the National Trust's '50 things to do before you're 11¾' to see what I've missed out on.  Meanwhile, here's a more graphic take on the NNM idea.


Aims and the Curriculum

📥  Talks and Presentations

I made a short presentation on "Aims and the Curriculum" at the recent South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition seminar which focused on forthcoming changes to national and school curriculums.  The meeting looked in particular at the recent expert panel report and drew on the recent SEEd / SA consultation on all this.

Here are my main points:

Deciding what to teach implies choosing – but who is to choose, and how, and what is to guide choice?

Curriculum is concerned with how we think about the social purposes of education, and always involves a selecting from culture (Lawton) – and hence is political, contested and labile

Methodology is to method as curriculum is to what is taught– a conceptual frame that guides (and restricts) choice

High-level aim statements can provide such a conceptual frame – and the 5 aims set out by the expert panel are examples of this

Having aims such as the expert panel's 5th one: to promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally

... confers three possible benefits:

  • for those who are already convinced, they serve as extra validation;
  • for the uncertain, they provide permission; and
  • for the unaware, they are an alert

It remains to be seen what Mr Gove and his advisors make of all this.  Decisions shortly, it seems.


If only we'd listened to Daisaku Ikeda

📥  Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

In a mailing to the SHED-SHARE network last week, Manchester's Adele Aubrey wrote:

"... Daisaku Ikeda actually proposed the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.  ... Ikeda believes the decade of education for sustainable development should be promoted with the following three goals in mind ...

  • To learn and deepen awareness of environmental issues and realities.
  • To reflect on our modes of living, renewing these toward sustainability.
  • To empower people to take concrete action to resolve the challenges we face."

Adele added that she thought that these three goals are relevant for students at all levels, and it's hard to disagree as the three statements neatly sum up the issues we face:

environmental limits               unsustainable modes of living               the need for action by everyone

What a pity, then, that no one who mattered listened to his straightforward language.  If they had, we might well have been spared the reification of 'ESD' and all the confusion that goes with it.


The world is too much with us ...

📥  Comment

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune,
It moves us not. – Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


Even in 1802, when Wordsworth wrote this, getting and spending was seen as a factor in our divorce from nature.  This is an anti-materialist environmentalist's sonnet.  A tribute, then, on this his birthday – April 7th which should forever be, Wordsworth Day.