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What is non-tokenistic sustainability in a distance learning curriculum?

Version 2 2024-01-12, 14:30
Version 1 2023-11-08, 11:48
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posted on 2024-01-12, 14:30 authored by Paul Astles, Kathleen Calder, Hayley Johns, James Openshaw
Defining non-tokenistic sustainability in a distance learning curriculum felt somewhat overwhelming. Curriculum design (CD) has many competing requirements, but it felt important to find a place for it, as there is increasing evidence that students are demanding stronger connections to sustainability and the climate crisis in university courses (THE, 2021, Unite group, 2021 and Carr-Shand, 2022). Key to our work is the idea that any actions should not be tokenistic but meaningful for colleagues and students who are engaging with our learning materials. Our awareness of tokenism was reinforced by students’ responses to an internal ‘Question of the Month’ survey related to sustainability. As members of the Open University’s (OU) Learning Design team, we are well-placed to support our academic colleagues and have developed a bank of resources (see appendix) to guide academics and production staff. We are now at a wider consultation stage, seeking feedback on further resources that would help embed and support sustainability in curricula. Since the OU signed the UN Global Compact in 2018 (The Ten principles: UN global compact, n.d.,.), it has been working to connect with sustainable practices. Our vision was to create opportunities to inform colleagues about practical actions that they could take to connect with sustainability in design and production. We have learned that not everyone is on the same page or as ready to engage with the concept of sustainability. Therefore, we have decided to pitch our initial work at provoking colleagues’ curiosity, rather than attempting to have all the answers. The OU is the largest distance learning provider in the UK, supporting over 200,000 students, so our actions are likely to differ from those in traditional higher education environments. However, we can still learn from each other. In sharing the resources outlined here (see appendix) we aim to inspire conversations around engaging with sustainability within the curriculum. Sustainability is complex and bringing people on a journey towards a shared understanding of what it means to be sustainable within the context of a distance learning curriculum is equally complicated. Future scholarship will be focused on reflecting on that journey and considering how best to move forward to support our colleagues with practical advice about how to connect with sustainability.

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