In communicating about climate change specifically, and other sustainability challenges, there is often the debate around how to kickstart people into action. Paint the doom-and-gloom (i.e. realistic) picture so people will act out of fear (and I just recently wrote about how anger can be a constructive emotion leading to action), or draw more positive pictures so they feel hopeful and that they can make a difference, and therefore don’t get paralyzed?
I recently wrote a lot about the emotions that we experience when really thinking about sustainability and the challenges that we face when we take it seriously (e.g. here), and of course experiencing negative emotions like feeling anxious or hopeless or angry is not only happening to our students, but also to us. I attended a seminar on “the sustainable teacher” yesterday and one suggestion that came out of that in order to help us work towards “inner sustainability”, was to include mindfulness meditation practices in our own and our students’ lives. And this reminded me of an article I recently read on breathing practice (which I find interesting from a completely different perspective, being a hobby freediver) in comparison to mindfulness meditation, where it turns out that breathing practice can be as effective or better than mindfulness meditation. So what if we included breathing practices in our teaching?
If I had to pick one book that has influenced my current thinking about teaching and learning the most, I would pick Wenger’s 1998 “Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity” (link to my summary of the book and some later work on CoPs). What I find really helpful to think about in the CoP framework is that there are many different, but legitimate, roles, that can also — again, legitimately — change over time. The description of one specific role, the “broker”, really spoke to me when I first read the book: Someone who is involved in many different CoPs and facilitates information flow between them. That’s kinda what I have always been doing because that’s what I find most interesting (much more interesting than really digging deep into one topic), without thinking about that being an important contribution to all those CoPs. And now I read another Wenger work which made me realize that while I was probably a broker for many years, maybe now I am on my way of becoming a “systems convener” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2014): “They are dreamers but they are also schemers, with a solid dose of strategic thinking and tactical acuity.”
A lot of things are happening around teaching sustainability at LU right now! As I am planning the second iteration of my “teaching sustainability” course, I am reading more about what we actually mean by “teaching sustainability”. It is clear that this is not a good title for my course, but we haven’t come up with a better one yet, and I think me struggling with finding a good name is a symptom of me struggling with what the essence of that course is. I don’t want my course “just” to be about how to teach about the SDGs or problems or solutions, it needs to be bigger than that. But then how to make sure there is still a clear focus?
This is mostly a “note to self”: Found a really interesting article on “how syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms” by Gun et al. (2021). A review of 60ish biology syllabi as well as the literature of what should be included, and pointers on which group of students especially benefits from the information and why, as well as examples. This is great to help students build “cultural capital” and level the playing field! And strong motivation to pay more attention to syllabi as actual communication tools and how they — as oftentimes first point of contact between instructor and students — can shape the classroom climate.
They even provide a template syllabus here: https://zenodo.org/record/4317968#.Y8EIaC8w0f8
Highly recommended reading!
Gin, L. E., Scott, R. A., Pfeiffer, L. D., Zheng, Y., Cooper, K. M., & Brownell, S. E. (2021). It’s in the syllabus… or is it? How biology syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms at a large-enrollment research institution. Advances in Physiology Education.
How can we scaffold laboratories in a way that doesn’t micromanage the students, keeps the task interesting, and helps the students to make sense of what they are doing and seeing? A really interesting way to structure this through writing is the Decision/Explanation/Observation/Inference method by Van Duzor (2016).
One thing I find irritating in many conversations around how to teach about sustainability is that they tend to get hung up on what “sustainability” actually means. So I got pretty excited when I found this article by Block & Paredis (2019), arguing for actually not needing a “waterproof and objective definition” of sustainability; on the contrary, I think their way of talking about sustainability is actually much more useful in teaching. My summary below.
When we talk about fostering student sense of belonging, it is easiest to think about in-person interactions. However, a lot of our teaching these days is online, and in high-enrolment courses. What can we do then? Two elements are critical: Teacher presence and interactive course design. Lim, Arif and Farmer (2022) present a case study of a learning analytics feedback intervention that I will summarize below.
We recently ran a round-table discussion on “How to teach students who are not “mini-me”s (and don’t want to be)” at the Lund University Teaching and Learning conference last year, and now I am trying to write a conference paper on what we discussed there. So naturally, I am starting out by re-reading the literature suggestions we gave, as well as some other interesting articles.
It seems to be common knowledge in my network that effective teachers articulate both high standards and their belief that students can meet those standards. Looking for sources for this in the literature, I came across Cohen, Steele & Ross (1999)’s “The mentor’s dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide”, which I’ll summarise below.