Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: April 2016

Education and climate change – part 9

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that UCU and NUS have a conference coming up in Manchester on May 13th:

The role of education institutions in tackling climate change

UCU says:

"On Friday 21 April  2016 the Paris climate agreement was signed in New York.  It will become legally enforceable in the UK. Education, research and finance form part of this agreement.  The education sector has a massive role to play in the delivery of a low carbon economy.  This conference will explore the implications for the tertiary education sector.  Industrial strategy in the UK will fail to deliver the Paris objectives unless it incorporates the 3 cross-cutting themes of skills and knowledge, research, and finance.  The conference focuses on these themes and the actions needed by policy makers and institutions."

Speakers include:

  • Julia King, Vice Chancellor, Aston University
  • Ken Thompson, Principal of Forth Valley College
  • Carly McLachlan, Tyndall Research Centre
  • Kate Rigby, Bath Spa University
  • Evette Prout, Sheffield student union's development officer
  • Andy Kerr, Executive Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation
  • Lisa Nandy, MP, Shadow Energy Minister

Delegates will certainly be busy listening.

This is all about higher / further education, of course, and UCU has identified a number of key questions that "must be answered" if the sector is going to make a decisive contribution to the transition to a new economy.  These include:

  1. What do we mean by carbon literacy and are institutions doing enough for their staff, students and their local communities?
  2. How is the sector performing on climate research and how should it shape government and industrial policy?
  3. What role for institutions engaging with fossil fuel companies to shift their trajectory to a more sustainable footing?
  4. What are the policy priorities to ensure that the sector is aligned with the vision of a zero carbon economy?

Yet again, these do not seem to be well-expressed.  I didn't set out to be picky, but ...

  • It seems a pity to begin with the otiose 'climate literacy'.  I wonder if UCU / NUS know what they mean to mean by this.
  • The "it" in the second question is ambiguous, as is "their' in the third.
  • The third question is ungrammatical and (hence?) confusing.
  • The last seems to make sense, sort of ...

What's notable is the absence of any mention of the recent HEAQAA report on ESD in HE which addressed (or tried to) to issue of learning and sustainability, including climate.

I'll not be going, but know someone who is ...



Some progress made at UBC

📥  Comment, News and Updates

If the talk John Robinson gave at Edinburgh recently about the Living Lab approach at the University of British Columbia is anything to go by, some progress has been made there on the educational front.  Robinson was, until recently, UBC's vice provost for sustainability and so should know what he's talking about.  It must be instructive, therefore, that in his living lab musings, he devoted a mere 8 minutes (out of 48) to teaching 'n' learning.

However derisory this actually was, I still say this this was progress because, when I heard him speak two years ago in Cambridge, he devoted only 6 minutes (out of 50) to these issues.  Clearly, UBC moves slowly in these matters.

When I commented on my Cambridge experience, I noted:

"... what [Robinson] did say did not present a picture of an academic community eager to focus on sustainability, nor of an academic leadership all that keen on suggesting they do that.  It all looked rather neglected: a B movie alongside that Hollywood blockbuster of a campus.  Whilst there are now some 480 sustainability-related courses (I'm not sure what this means), and voluntary pathways on sustainability learning (or that), none of it looked exceptional.  Of course, Robinson hasn't an academic role, so someone else might have painted a more positive picture of teaching and learning than his sketch of the academic as a bit of a problem having to be pushed by students, and nudged (pulled would be going too far) ever so very gingerly by the institution."

What has changed in all this, I wonder.  As the Edinburgh event is on YouTube, you can judge for yourself.


Where Charity begins and ends

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I know of some who think that when society is "sustainable", there will be no need for charities to exist as every need (and want, presumably) will be provided – though by whom is never really clear.  These folk often also talk in terms of "harmony" between peoples, species, etc., and what this means is equally hazy.

I mused on all this as I stood on the Embankment on Sunday afternoon with my grandchildren, lost in admiration at the thousands of people who ran past en route to the finish of the London marathon.  We were at the 40 km mark where the pain of running begins to be overcome by the growing euphoria of the expectation of getting to the end.  Those passing, as we spectators watched, cheered and shouted, waved banners and blew whistles (that was my grandchildren, not me) were taking between 3.5 & 4.5 hours to complete it, and so thousands had already past, with thousands more to come.  It was all quite humbling.

The money raised for charities great and small is staggering.  In 2015, Cancer Research UK had around 2,500 people running for it, raising around £2.5m for the Francis Crick Institute, and in 2011 the Reverend Steve Chalke himself raised more than £2.3m for charity.  We were on the Embankment because my son was running for the Prince's Trust: 3 hours 57 minutes, for the record.

I suspect charities will need to be fund-raising for some time yet.




UNESCO UK celebrates its wider value

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I went to UNESCO's reception the other evening to mark the publication of a report into the "wider value of UNESCO to the UK".  You can download it here.  The evening was well-organised, relaxed and informative.

The report says that there are three core benefits of UNESCO membership:

  • Financial value: UNESCO helped UK affiliated institutions and bodies to attract at least £100 million in additional income in one year.
  • Wider, non-financial value: UNESCO designation is a recognised mark of world-class quality, and a mechanism to enhance quality.  By leveraging the UNESCO brand and collaborating with the global network, the UK’s UNESCO projects can access new programme, partnership and funding opportunities and influence key decision makers.
  • Support for UK government policy: UNESCO activity in the UK complements a broad portfolio of UK-government and devolved administration policies.

UNESCO says that the research suggests that there is significant untapped potential for UNESCO in the UK as, at the moment, UNESCO designation in the UK is used in different ways, to varying levels of success. Some UNESCO-affiliated organisations see their designation as a simple ‘badge’ that recognises quality. Others see it as a mechanism to enhance quality by working collaboratively with the dynamic, global UNESCO network to develop new programme, partnership and funding opportunities.  The UK National Commission plans to draw upon this research to develop a programme of targeted support for current and prospective UNESCO projects in the UK to help them achieve the full potential of their involvement with UNESCO.

There were a number of 'designation boards' round the room which showcased what UNESCO is good at:

  • Biosphere Reserves
  • Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
  • Chairs & UNITWIN Network
  • International Hydrological Programme
  • Creative Cities
  • Memory of the World
  • Global Geoparks
  • World Heritage
  • L’Oréal for Women in Science
  • Associated Schools Programme
  • Expert Network

The evening was mostly for "networking", with only three brief inputs.  One was a talk by Iain Stewart, the geologist, who spoke engagingly about the heritage beneath our feet.  He had some great graphics, and had something to say that was germane to issues of Brexodus.

Curiously, there was no mention of the sustainable development goals as far as I could see, and, thankfully, nobody was promoting ESD – although there are some case studies of UK 'best practice' in the pipeline.



Deconstructing UBC

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I have written now and then (both here and in papers) about the University of British Columbia model of sustainability, and (less frequently) about its short-comings, particularly in relation to how its teaching and learning provision fails to keep up both with its low-carbon buildings and its world-class PR.  So it was good to talk with Steve Martin the other day on his return from a 3 week visit to UBC to investigate that very issue.

Steve used the evaluation methodology that Andrew McCoshan and he employed to evaluate the UK's Green Academy programme.  As Steve noted in a SHED-SHARE blog, this was no easy task given the size of UBC with 2 campuses, a main campus student population of 44,000, and 12,000 academic and admin staff.

Steve ended by asking if any institution would be interested in his running a seminar on the UBC Model.  I think we should take the response to this generous offer as an indicator of interest in the issue more generally.


Creative book titles

📥  Comment, New Publications

I guess you have come across Palgrave MacMillan's pivot series of books?  Such a nice idea.  I've reviewing one at the moment for EER.  It's a very tactile thing with a brightly patterned silky cover.

The very titles are inviting, which suggests that they have someone creative who dreams them up.  Try:

  • Indigenous Feminist Narratives: I/We: Wo(men) of an(Other) Way
  • Just the Facts Ma'am: a Case Study of the Reversal of Corruption in the LAPD
  • Mobile Commons, Migrant Digitalities and the Right to the City
  • Freedom in the Anthropocene: Twentieth century Helplessness in the Face of Climate Change
  • Creativity and Humour in Occupy Movements: Intellectual Disobedience in Turkey and Beyond
  • Mobile Desires: the Politics and Erotics of Mobility Justice
  • The Anthropocene Lyric: an Affective Geography of Poetry, Person, Place

It makes me wonder what I would (or is that could) write.





Lightening up new pathways for alternative futures

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Whilst I do agree that most of those advocating ESD in universities ought to lighten up, that seems no good reason to devote a whole conference to it.  But this seems to be what is happening in Gibraltar in June as Tuesday's rather breathless message from RCE Severn made clear ...

"Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is lightening up new pathways for alternative futures."

Just in case you're tempted, here are the four key questions to be addressed:

  • How can universities become beacons of change and good practice in ESD?
  • What type of teaching approaches and professional skills are needed to enable university educators to develop ESD in their own organisations?
  • How can we support university educators to develop professional competences in ESD?
  • What are the connections between ESD, professional development and quality enhancement in higher education?

You'll be familiar with these as they have been the mainstay of ESD conference debate for years – and yet there are still no answers.  For more detail on it all (and on the usual suspects who are lined up as keynote speakers), you can go to: – or, like me, you can stay at home.


Cinders in the wind

📥  Comment, News and Updates

DECC announced recently that, in 2015, 24.7% of the UK's electricity was generated from renewables – compared to 19.1% in 2014.  That's nearly a 30% increase.  The fuel that made way for this was, inevitably, coal.

Meanwhile low-carbon activists were celebrating the (possible) demise of a US coal behemoth, Peabody Energy which was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of debts of $6bn.  Since the start of 2015, five large American coal mining corporations have gone the same way.

A dark future for coal, the Economist noted, whilst saying that even in the UK last week there was a day when renewables poured more power into the grid than coal did.



📥  Comment, News and Updates

We're now used to quite ordinary things being "smart" – smart phones, smart meters, smart cars, and smart goals, for example, and Coca-Cola Enterprises has now developed "smartwater" to add to the list.

This is not ordinary water, as might merely flow from a spring.  Although it is spring water, its smartness comes from its first being not merely distilled but "vapour distilled" (as if there were any other means).  This process, we are told with a straight face, is "inspired by clouds".   Following this, "electrolytes" are added back in.  These turn out to be calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium bicarbonate, none of which is particularly smart as far as I can see.  The result is a, of course, a smart taste, that is, one that is "clean and crisp".  Crisp water, I thought, just what we need.

On a more positive note, the bottle (which itself is quite smart as it 30% made from plants) is quite good for putting your tap water in.



Bronze and a lot of Silver and Gold – has CLOtC overstepped the Mark?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a nice blog on the NAEE website last week about the Learning Outside the Classroom [LOtC] Mark.  This is a UK national accreditation for schools which, NAEE says:

"recognises existing provision and also assists schools to develop LOtC further."

Schools can apply for the Mark at Bronze, Silver or Gold level.  The NAEE post goes onto suggest a number of (to me) sensible protocols that might govern such a scheme.  These are that such schemes should ...

[i] get progressively much more difficult as you go from bronze to silver to gold, and that it should be really hard to get gold;

[ii] that all awards should be time-limited;

[iii] that the top awards should be dependent on accreditation visits by trained judges; and

[iv] that the criteria for awards should be reviewed regularly with the aid of an independent expert group.

Clearly, CLOtC has put a lot of thought into all this, as its guidance book shows, and as you read it, it shows that a number of (but not all) the protocols identified by NAEE were in their mind as they thought the Mark through.  The criteria (in 6 sections) are certainly very detailed, and there is also progression in each of the sections as you go from bronze to silver to gold.

As I read it in detail, I had two thoughts:

  1. there is little in it that demands evidence of learning specific to LOtC
  2. it seems relatively easy to get silver and gold

Why do I say this?  Well, with [1], at Gold level, the criteria for measuring impact are:

  • In addition to evaluating academic progress, the organisation has procedures in place to monitor less tangible outcomes, e.g. behaviour, level of engagement and confidence.
  • Records are kept of improvements in all areas and these are communicated to parents and governors, both as statistics and as individual reports/case studies
  • Each child has a personal LOtC development plan which is used in evaluating the success of the activities he/she has been involved in

These seem to be about "procedures", "records" and "plans".  They are not about actual impact and learning.

With [2], although it's early days, a map of successful schools shows the following numbers of awards:

Bronze – 54

Silver – 28

Gold – 15

This is a very high proportion of silver and gold.  If these are too easy to get, they will hardly be worth having.