Education for Sustainable Development: curriculum and pedagogy

Embedding sustainability across our curriculum

UWE Bristol is working to ensure that all programmes of study provide opportunities for students to explore the place of their discipline and related professions in contributing to sustainable development.

We have been using the SDGs since 2015 to review modules, programmes, teaching, learning and assessment across all of our programmes of study.

Our curriculum development is guided by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Strategy 2030 has identified some specific priority areas for course development in coming years which represent issues core to the SDGs, including clean growth, de-carbonisation, climate adaptation and health and wellbeing. 

Our courses

UWE Bristol has many courses which are explicitly designed to support sustainable development. The following examples are indicative:

  • Our MSc Sustainable Development in Practice is a cross-disciplinary programme, consisting of modules run by all three of UWE Bristol's colleges.
  • Our BEng Architecture and Environmental Engineering dual accredited course is multidisciplinary in its curriculum structure, enabling students to explore architecture, passive design, environmental physics, environmental systems in buildings and the effective use of energy and materials.

Courses across UWE Bristol's portfolio have developed sessions, modules and assessment which are supportive of our ESD ambitions. For example:

  • BSc(Hons) Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science (with foundation year): This course taps into our many links with local conservation organisations, and go on placements, volunteering, field-based work and residential trips in the UK and overseas.
  • BA(Hons) Sociology: Our Sustainable Futures module provides students with critical engagement with the ‘unsustainable’ and case studies in sustainable futures, from the global to the urban local.
  • MSc(Hons) Engineering: Our Sustainable Engineering for Global Challenges module ensures that students are aware of the major global issues facing society and organisations and the potential for engineering-based solutions.
  • Law: The International Human Rights Law module enables students to gain a broad understanding of the institutional origins of international human rights law and some of the tensions, controversies and challenges that arise in implementing it. Our Postgraduate Law courses include optional modules in Globalisation and the Law, International Environmental Law and International Human Rights Law, all of which address challenges of sustainable development.
  • BSc(Hons) Computer Science: Undergraduate students work with IT Services on the carbon footprint of UWE Bristol’s IT systems, student teams work with community organisations on their IT needs and web development students work with Bristol air quality data.
  • Taxation modules in our Accounting and Finance courses enable students to consider the behavioural role of taxation, environmental incentives and the equality of taxation systems within and between countries.
  • BA(Hons) Illustration students work on auto-ethnographic topics such as LGBT, gender, sustainability and ecology to develop visual narratives.

Sustainability in action at UWE Bristol

Assessment tasks

We are keen to ensure that students are able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they develop through our ESD activities in summative assessment tasks. Assessment task examples include:

  • defining the form and nature of green infrastructure and critically evaluate the processes by which green infrastructure is promoted through policy, plans and strategies
  • presentation of a sustainability communications campaign designed to persuade our students to change their attitudes and behaviour in relation to one key sustainability issue
  • exploration of problems and possible solutions to a real-life sustainability challenge posed by practitioners.

Our pedagogic approach to Education for Sustainable Development

These are just examples of ways in which sustainability infuses our curriculum across all of our disciplines. Work is also being done to consider our pedagogic approach to ESD. For example:

  • BSc Occupational Therapy students undertake a compulsory two weeks of volunteering at the start of their second year of study as part of Widening Occupation Weeks (WOW). The aims of WOW include reflection on the social and cultural contexts of different occupations.
  • Engineering students take part in integrated project weeks working in interdisciplinary teams on social and environmental challenges.
  • Education: Students on the PGCE spend a day in Bristol exploring concept of ‘place’ and addressing aspects of global goals through urban issues and the use of creative writing, poetry and other media (supporting English and Geography). Research is also being undertaken on issues such as an integrated Black, Asian and minority ethnic curriculum.

Learning and skills at UWE Bristol

Learn more about how we are embedding Education for Sustainable Development in our curriculum, and across our organisation as a whole, and through the ‘Raising the Baseline’ project.

Delivering sustainable education

ESD is about how we do things, as well as what our curriculum looks like. Work is ongoing to review the sustainability impacts of our teaching, learning and research practice. Our Nursing and Midwifery department (now part of the School of Health and Social Wellbeing) has undertaken an audit of plastic used across their activities, as have many of our laboratory teams. Our Creative Industries disciplines are looking at ways of reducing waste created by their work and we have institutional policies and statements on issues such as the use of animal coverings and products in teaching.

UWE Bristol seeks to provide opportunities for staff and students to engage in sustainable development activity both as part of and outside of their normal work or programme of study. We recognise that some will want to explore sustainable development at their own pace outside of the formal curriculum.

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