Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Well ahead of my curve

📥  New Publications

I recently finished a report for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on its education work since launch in 2010.  Titled,  Ahead of the Curve, it can be downloaded here.  The report is much more colourful and graphic, in the design sense, than stuff I usually publish, but readers should not be fooled into thinking that I thought any of that up.  The Foundation is well ahead of my curve when it comes to that sort of thing, and remains a continuing stimulus in all sorts of ways.


A grenade in the Curriculum Journal

📥  Comment, New Publications

As I noted recently, I have a forthcoming paper in the Curriculum Journal, in a special issue on education and sustainability in the UK.   So has Ken Webster, I'm pleased to say.  His contribution is a poke in the ribs for those who think that the priority should be to infiltrate ESD into current educational practice.  Here's a taste:

ESD mistook the superficial for the profound in a way which reflects the persistence of a linear and reductionist worldview – and its associated myths – operating ‘below the radar’ of everyday consciousness.  By this is meant that so infrequently is the extended context and time horizon considered – the systems and its iteration over time – that this speaks to habits of mind which are products of a worldview which is linear (looks to immediate causes and effects) and reductionist (looks at the parts in isolation and assumes the whole is merely the aggregation of such parts.  Ironic really, that the call in ESD is often for rethinking values when this clearly does not often extend to the assumptions woven into the prevailing worldview, hence the characterisation of ESD aspirations as merely ‘business as usual but greener and fairer’. ...

The roots of many of the fallacies and misconceptions, are found in a failure of educators to think in systems, not least because they themselves have been educated in narrow subject disciplines derived from the dominant worldviews of the Enlightenment era.  As a result the failure principally means a failure to see the interconnections, and map the consequences; a failure to see the ‘big picture’ and emergent properties (the whole is more and different than the sum of the parts); to have, very often, an overrated sense that the situation can or could be managed.  Never was an image so poorly thought through than the one where the earth is placed in human hands.  We are not in charge, not least because it is impossible in systems terms.  It’s just bad science to think so.  There is also an exaggerated focus on the individual as the locus of change and the naïve notion that the system is very open to change rather than being heavily path dependent.  Some of these misconceptions ... have become so much a part of so much ESD in practice but are rarely challenged ... .

Good stuff.  The full set of papers is:

Sustainable development, environmental education, and the significance of being in place

Michael Bonnett

Eco-schooling and sustainability citizenship: exploring issues raised by corporate sponsorship

John Huckle

Developing the sustainable school: thinking the issues through

Bill Scott

Uncharted waters: voyages for Education for Sustainable Development in the higher education curriculum

Alexandra Ryan & Daniella Tilbury

Exploring and developing student understandings of sustainable development

Nicola Walshe

Missing the wood for the trees, systemic defects and the future of education for sustainable development

Ken Webster


When you think about sustainability, do you really need to think about quality?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I began drafting this post at the end of March, on a train slowly making its way through that most soothing of landscapes, the Wiltshire Downs.  I was returning home from three days on the road: grandchildren (an education in themselves), and a couple of day-long meetings.  I made just one intervention at each of these, which was restrained of me (fewer than 100 words in 5 hours, all told).

At one, an Ellen MacArthur Foundation team meeting, I merely asked whether "flipped learning" required 'flipped teaching' (whatever that is), and if so, where was the CPD.  I'm still pondering the answer.  At the other meeting, the HEA ESD Advisory Group, in a session about the QAA, quality and ESD, I said I was disappointed that QAA hadn't said to universities:

"When you think about quality, you need to think about sustainability"

... on the grounds that, in order to make quality systems fit for purpose in the world we are entering, they need to be thought though in terms of sustainability.  This is a point I have made to QAA itself, initially as part of a national consultation on its quality code, and (endlessly, it seems) in recent blogs.

Of course, this is not what QAA has actually said to the world.  Their's is the inverse (or perverse) point that:

"When you think about sustainability, you need to think about quality"

But this is both quotidian and pedestrian as, in UK universities now, if you think about anything at all you need to think about quality, such is the grip that the quality mindset has on institutional thinking and practice.

I regret not making a more robust challenge to these orthodoxies on the day, but I was reeling from having sat through a 25 minute trading of views on which jargon was best when trying to persuade university lecturers to toe the sustainability line; that is, ESD or EfS.  No doubt, just as the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the fire, I shall return to all this, especially as QAA and HEA have set up a group (funded by QAA of course) to develop new guidance for universities on ESD (or is that EfS?).  Just what the country needs ...


UN General Assembly discusses sustainable development goals

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The UN general Assembly is devoting 24 days in 2013 to an open working group on sustainable development goals.  Of these just part of one day (in November) is devoted to education, with "employment and decent work for all", "social protection", and "youth" also being foci for that session.

Given that this is to cover all education (including ESD it's to be presumed, though there is no mention of that), this doesn't sound a lot, and does not look like a ringing endorsement of the importance of education (and learning) to sustainable development as both idea and practice.

However, a cheerier view is that little time needs to be devoted to eduction, per se, in a formal session, as it is bound to crop up in every other session.  For example, how would it be possible to do justice to issues such as:

  • health and population
  • climate change
  • disaster risk reduction
  • promoting equality
  • etc

... unless there were a focus on education and learning?  Indeed!

Which of these views will prevail I wonder.  See you in New York anyway!  If you can't wait, details are here, including gripping UNTV coverage of work so far.  Why this isn't on Channel 4 prime time every day is beyond me.


Fifty thousand saw I at a glance ...

📥  News and Updates

...tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

No.  Mercifully not daffodils, but snakeshead fritillaries at one of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's splendid reserves in the Cotswold Water Park.


I didn't count them, of course, but OU researchers did.  Good to see these rather un-English-looking flowers flourishing.

Not all sites have been so fortunate this year, as the Independent noted the other week.  Not just luck, of course: careful land management as well.

This is the Indy's pic as mine were pretty poor.


More stories from the Shed

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was an unusual flurry of activity in Shed Share last week.  It followed this request from the student union at the London Institute of Education (IoE):

Hello. I am part of the Sustainability Network at the Institute of Education, a postgraduate university which teaches Primary and Secondary PGCE courses, taught Masters and PhD’s.  We are exploring ESD and looking to embed sustainability across our courses but we are unsure of how to get started especially when it comes to the more prescriptive courses such as the PGCE’s. Any help appreciated. Thanks

This prompted 15 responses. Many of these were of the form: "Here are some resources you will find helpful".

These all proved useful to the Institute's students, or so we were told.  Happily, in doing this, most respondents managed to promote their own work, so this was a double benefit.  Only one person threatened to spoil this party, pointing out that the IoE actually already had relevant expertise amongst academic staff, and suggested that making contact with them might be a good idea.

This raises an issue about how much student union officers know about what academics in their institutions get up to – and, of course, vice versa.  How understandable and reasonable it was for the Institute's students not to know about the Institute's academics is a question that only the Institute can comment on.  Mind you, the IoE is such a behemoth that hardly anyone knows anything about anybody anyway.

But it's a pertinent question for all institutions.  The need for academics and student unions to communicate on all this now seems very important.  I've no doubt that the NUS will be encouraging this in its new Hefce-funded programme that so much is expected of.


The party may soon be over

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Economist has a piece last week on academic journal publishing:

It begins,

AT THE beginning of April, Research Councils UK, a conduit through which the government transmits taxpayers’ money to academic researchers, changed the rules on how the results of studies it pays for are made public. From now on they will have to be published in journals that make them available free — preferably immediately, but certainly within a year.

In February the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told federal agencies to make similar plans.  A week before that, a bill which would require free access to government-financed research after six months had begun to wend its way through Congress.  The European Union is moving in the same direction.  So are charities. And SCOAP, a consortium of particle-physics laboratories, libraries and funding agencies, is pressing all 12 of the field’s leading journals to make the 7,000 articles they publish each year free to read.  For scientific publishers, it seems, the party may soon be over.

I think I may have to start charging for my reviews, if, that is, ...


A trilemma we all share

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

I listened to nPower's Paul Bowtell the other day at a Wildlife Trust Corporate Green Awards breakfast.  He talked about the company's "trilemma" of

Moving to a low carbon economy
Maintain a secure supply
Keeping energy affordable

... all at the same time.  If this were a circle, it would certainly be hard to square.  But's that's just what we're all trying to do.  Actually, he might have said that nPower was learning how to

move to a low carbon economy
maintain a secure supply
keep energy affordable

... but he didn't.   It doesn't seem to cynical to think that it's the last of these that will prove the weakest leg of this stool.

Bowtell also talked at length about nPower's Tilbury power station that has been converted to burn biomass.  He talked about the fire that erupted as they learned how to manage the place, but didn't mention that the driving force for this shift comes, not for some company zeal for renewables, but from the EU tax-payers' generosity – not that we had much say in the matter, of course.  nPower (actually, the German RWE) gets £45 per megawatt hour on top of what it sells its biomass electricity for.   The Economist gives further details of this policy which seems beyond financial sense in a piece it called Bonfire of the Subsidies.


400.03 and counting ...

📥  Comment, News and Updates

That's 400 ppm of atmospheric CO2, of course as a symbolic (though hardly milestone) level is reached, and exceeded.  The 400.03 ppm figure was reported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] on May 10th.  For the record, these are NOAA's figures over the last 1000 or so years.

Year    CO2 ppm

1000        275

1750        280

1880        285

1960        315

2010        394

2013        400

~275 ppm was the level for most of human history it seems.  Uncertainty figures are never quoted, but they must be small.

So what about temperature changes?  And what about the link between CO2 and temperature change?  For example, how much does temperature change if CO2 levels are doubled (the climate sensitivity)?  And is this consistently found?  Good questions!

This is all much more difficult and controversial than talking about CO2 levels.  Here are some data about the last 100 years:

Averaged over all land and ocean surfaces, temperatures have warmed ~0.74ºC over the last century.  More than half of this warming, about 0.4°C, has occurred since 1979.

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Average global temperature on Earth has increased by ~0.8°C since 1880.  Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade

Source: NASA

Global warming is now 0.8°C in the past century.  0.6°C in the past three decades

Source: US National Academy of Sciences

These are pretty consistent, but you need to know the uncertainty to make sense of the numbers.  This is quite hard to find data on, but it turns out to be around ± 25% which is unsurprising given how difficult it is to measure Earth temperatures consistently over time.

I found the UK media coverage of the 400 break through rather muted, apart from the Guardian, which had a full and informed account, which is more than you could say about the 'discussion' at the end of the piece which almost reached down to the standards I normally associate with the Wiltshire Times.  The Economist ended a recent article on climate change which discussed the models underpinning (and perhaps informing) our understanding of it, like this:

As a rule of thumb, global temperatures rise by about 1.5°C for each trillion tonnes of carbon put into the atmosphere. The world has pumped out half a trillion tonnes of carbon since 1750, and temperatures have risen by 0.8°C. At current rates, the next half-trillion tonnes will be emitted by 2045; the one after that before 2080.

Since CO₂ accumulates in the atmosphere, this could increase temperatures compared with pre-industrial levels by around 2°C even with a lower sensitivity and perhaps nearer to 4°C at the top end of the estimates. Despite all the work on sensitivity, no one really knows how the climate would react if temperatures rose by as much as 4°C. Hardly reassuring.



Ed Davy writes a letter

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The ever-reliable Learn from Nature alerts me to a recent piece in the Guardian which I somehow missed.  This reveals – SHOCK –  that one secretary of state (Davy) has written a private letter to another (Gove) about the need for climate change to be a feature of the national curriculum.  Whilst it's always interesting to see how government works, and reassuring to see that there is communication between great departments of state, you do have to wonder why Davy didn't just ask Gove across the cabinet table.  Maybe he did, of course, and got the brush off.

According to the Guardian, Davy wrote:

"While I understand that one of the main objectives of the curriculum is to make it more concise and that 'climate change' is included within the science section, it does not appear in the geography section.  As you'll be aware, there has been a significant number of responses, both from academic experts and the public, calling for climate change to feature explicitly in the geography curriculum. I am writing to express my strong support for such a change.  Specifically mentioning climate change alongside the existing reference to 'climate' will ensure clarity on this issue for schools without requiring any major drafting changes to the curriculum. In doing so we will demonstrate the coalition's willingness to respond to feedback. More importantly we will safeguard the very important role that teachers have in helping children understand the impacts of climate change, one of the most important global issues of this century."

In a public response to the Davey letter, the DfE said:

"It is not true that climate change has been removed from the new draft national curriculum. In fact, the curriculum will give pupils a deeper understanding of all climate issues and has been welcomed by the Royal Geographical Society – which has specifically praised its treatment of climate change.  Climate change is mentioned in the science curriculum, and both climate and weather feature throughout the geography curriculum. Nowhere is this clearer than the science curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds, which states that pupils should learn about the 'production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate'.  This is at least as extensive, and certainly more precise, than the current science curriculum for that age group, which says only that 'human activity and natural processes can lead to changes in the environment'."

Just so.  In my own comment to the DfE on its national curriculum proposals I made the point about the need for all departments to pull together and reflect the government's priorities about sustainability.  Perhaps Davy was attempting to do just this.