Innovative Teaching and Learning Methods for ESD

On December 9, 2015 my colleague Nina Scheffler and I participated in a workshop on Innovative teaching and learning methods for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The workshop was organized as a synergy event for the sd-universities. (We reported on our projects regarding sustainable development earlier). About 30 people from across Switzerland participated in the workshop.

In the beginning, the participants warmed up with a short discussion about the sustainability goals that we would like to reach with university education. Manifold objectives were identified, e.g. understand what sustainability is about; empower students to implement sustainability – as Change agents in professional fields, understand complex relations, go beyond your own discipline, critical thinking. Next to students who are usually the target groups, it was also discussed that faculty and organizations need to change in order to integrate sustainability into our universities.

Ruth Förster and Sandra Wilhelm (from the saguf-network on Bildung für Nachhaltige Entwicklung) gave an input on both ‚Constructive Alignment‘ and ‚The Tree of Science’ which can both be used to design courses or study programmes. The Tree of Science (Berlinger et al., 2006; Biggs & Tang, 2011) consists of several levels:

  • Meta-theory: proposed view on the world (systemic, constructivist)
  • Basic theory: competence orientation
  • Educational goals: Who should be empowered to do what? Based on Wiek et al. (2011), change agents, problem solvers, transition managers… could be distinguished
  • Models: competence models
  • Praxeology: didactical principles, learning activities, methods

Eight presentation from six Swiss universities on innovative teaching methods which are used at different Swiss universities formed the main part of the day. For this blog post, I will present only one method in detail in order to do the presentation justice. For the other presentations, I refer to the websites below.

Martin Schlaepfer of the University of Geneva introduced an example of the flipped-classroom approach. Instead of merely discussing an interesting journal article in class (which often leads to insubstantial discussions because students are not prepared), he used the flipped classroom concept where students participate in lectures at home (e.g. through videos or readings), aiming at deeper learning via activities in class. In his design, he assigned students to read a paper in preparation of the next class then they took a quiz before the next class which was graded by their peers. To facilitate the grading process, students received a rubric (consisting of an example of an excellent answer – resulting in 3points, and typical misunderstandings (resulting in -1pt). The peer-review is automatically distributed in the Moodle Learning Management System. In the classroom, the article was discussed with essentially two questions:

  • What did you leave puzzled about the grading rubric?
  • If you were the teacher, what would you ask the class to make sure that they had understood the text.

The presented identified the need for highly-structured in-class activities with quizzes, debates, peer review, discussions as well good incentives to complete out-of-class work as levers for successful flipped classrooms. This leads to an increase of preparation time for the lecturer, however, it might also lead to more equality in the classroom as it has been shown that females, minorities, first generation students are benefiting from flipped classrooms.

As mentioned above, seven other methods were introduced in the workshop and cannot be comprehensively discussed here. They are mentioned with links to further information:

  • Clemens Mader (A3-30, University of Zürich): Blended learning approach – the ELTT case
  • Piet van Eeuwijk (A1-25, University of Basel): Video Interviews as Course Work
  • Markus Ulrich (A1-21, Università della Svizzera italiana, UCS Ulrich Creative Simulations GmbH): Simulation games (without computers) as learning tools for sustainability
  • Kristina Lanz (A1-20, University of Bern): role play SDG negotiations
  • Christian Schubarth (A1-11, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Geneva): Coping with a virtual order; student – stakeholder interaction in case studies
  • Melanie Paschke (A1-19, University of Zürich): open inquiry to strengthen sd-competencies
  • Marlyne Sahakian (A1-26, University of Lausanne): using social practice theory to imagine

The workshop provided good and interesting inputs. What remains, of course, is the question of transferability. I intend to try out some of the methods introduced and we will also incorporate the examples in our consulting activities within the Faculty Development at our university (Hochschuldidaktische Beratung).


2 Gedanken zu „Innovative Teaching and Learning Methods for ESD

  1. pkuehner

    Liebe Taiga,

    danke für deinen anschaulichen Beitrag zum Workshop.

    Zur Diskussion der Zielvorstellung habe ich den Eindruck, dass seit Beginn der sd-Projekte hier allmählich eine konsistente Vorstellung über die Beteiligten resp. Betroffenen sowie die Möglichkeiten und die Herausforderungen gewachsen ist. Für den weiteren Diskurs könnte ich es mir als besonders gewinnbringend vorstellen, hier nun einmal in die Tiefen zu gehen. (Z.B. Welche Zielvorstellungen lassen sich wie am besten umsetzen?) Ich denke, mit unserer Idee zur Analyse von „faculty Motivation for SD“ können wir genau so ein Element vertieft behandeln und so einen Beitrag zu der ganzheitlichen Diskussion leisten.

    Darüber hinaus finde ich es aus der Perspektive von Lehrinnovationen spannend, dass eine inhaltliche Diskussion zur Implementierung von Nachhaltigkeit eben nicht zwingend spezifische Methoden für den BNE-Kontext hervorbringt bzw. von dir vorgestellte Methoden insbesondere allgemeiner − i.S. einer „guten Lehre“ − das Ziel der Ansprache von Tiefen- anstatt Oberflächenstrukturen verfolgen.

    Liebe Grüße

    1. tbrahm Artikelautor

      Liebe Patrizia,
      danke für deinen Kommentar! Mein Eindruck ist auch, dass die Zielvorstellungen konkreter werden, allerdings noch nicht konsistent umgesetzt werden. Mal schauen, ob es mit ‚faculty motivation‘ gelingt, hier einen Hebel zu identifizieren.
      Lieben Gruss,


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