Teaching Sustainability Think Tank

“The influence of teachers extends beyond the classroom, well into the future. It is they who shape and enrich the minds of the young, who touch their hearts and souls. It is they who shape a nation's future.” Francisco Sionil José (Photo credit: Silvia Hostettler)

The Teaching Sustainability Think Tank is a pool of EPFL teachers who are interested in furthering education for sustainability.It provides an opportunity for EPFL’s teachers to access resources, foster collaboration, learn and share teaching practices for sustainability education, and engage with the wider community in education for sustainability.
EPFL has over 140 courses related to sustainability. The teachers of these courses span all faculties in more than 10 disciplinary areas, and make up the Teaching Sustainability Think Tank.

The Teaching Sustainability Workshop

ENV-470 Development Engineering guest lecture from RigiTech on drone logistics in the Global South (Photo credit: Silvia Hostettler 2020)

The Teaching Sustainability Workshop was held during the first EPFL Teaching Day on 14.02.2020. It developed a list of prioritized actions for integrating sustainability into education at EPFL based on the inputs of the EPFL teaching community, and was the start of the Teaching Sustainability Think Tank. Key priority actions emerging from the workshop include:

  • Embed sustainability in current courses, projects and programs.
  • Develop new courses on sustainability.
  • Develop teacher training for education for sustainability.
  • Label sustainability courses and internships.

You can find the summary of the Workshop and specific outcomes here and here.

Supporting EPFL students to develop sustainability mindsets

The first EPFL Teaching Sustainability Think Tank event was held on 23rd November 2020 to explore the topic Supporting EPFL students to develop sustainability mindsets through several presentations from members of the EPFL community.

Prof. Corentin Fivet (Director, Structural Xploration Lab) shared his experience guiding students to explore the uncertainty and complexity of sustainability challenges through student debate in his course AR-497 Building Design in the Circular Economy. Debate is used to help students develop the confidence to explore innovation opportunities, challenge their personal convictions, and communicate about sustainability.

Prof. Philippe Thalmann (Director, LEURE) shared his approach for forming groups of students best suited to work together on a sustainability issue that he has applied in his course Economic growth and Sustainability I&II. His approach is based on creating constructive controversy by using a survey and an algorithm to group students based on shared interests, and differing values and beliefs.

Ms. Carla Schmid (President, Zero Emissions Group) argued that integrating sustainability into education will be important to keep EPFL competitive. She also presented a collaborative initiative with Roland Tormey (EPFL CAPE). Through the courses How people learn I&II, they create the opportunity for students to accompany teachers to integrate sustainability in their courses.

Discussions following the presentations centred on different aspects. One was the importance of creating opportunities for student to debate sustainability issues, revealing the normative nature of sustainability and the inherent trade-offs. Another aspect that was discussed was the benefit of drawing on what is already existing in the learning sciences and applying it to sustainability teaching such as the use of collaboration scripts and positive conflict as learning mechanisms. Finally, it became clear that it remains a challenge to evaluate if courses are supporting EPFL students to adopt sustainability mindsets. Evaluation remains focused at the level of the learning outcomes, which implies that the integration of sustainability skills needs careful reflection at this level. This raises an important future topic for the Think Tank ‘What are the key sustainability skills students need to learn?’

Please let us know what topic you would like to discuss during our next Teaching Sustainability Think Tank workshop.

All EPFL teachers interested in learning about embedding sustainability into teaching are invited to join us, simply contact us at: [email protected].