A sustainability curriculum inventory provides an overview about the Bachelor, Master and professional courses that address sustainability issues. It is a great project for any Education and Research Coordinator that works in a GO.
In this blogpost, Adele – who worked at Erasmus Sustainability Hub in Rotterdam – and Felix share some experiences on how you could do this. You can access the course inventory that Adele did at Erasmus Sustainability Hub, here.
A sustainability curriculum inventory is important, because it…
- Provides an overviewto students about the possible courses they can take to broaden their knowledge on sustainability issues,
- Allows you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our institution in sustainability education. You can use this inventory as a basis for further action to lobby for curricular changes and to track progress over the years.
- Offers you a document where you can save contact information about lecturers and researchers working on sustainability issues. This can be important in case that you need a speaker for an event.
Here is whom you – as an Education and Research Coordinator – might want to involve in conducting the inventory:
- Volunteers: Adele involved three volunteers who had previously expressed their interest in the research and education portfolio. An inventory is a great project to involve student volunteers. She organized team meetings with the three volunteers and was also in contact with each of them individually.
- Course coordinators: At times the team sent an email or called a staff member from the university who was running a certain course in order to confirm or refute information we found online about the course.
- GO Team: Towards the end of the inventory, Adele asked feedback from members of the sustainability hub to receive feedback and adjust the document. In case that you have trusted advisors in the university or alumni of your GO, you can also ask them for feedback on the document.
Here are 10 steps to conduct the inventory:
(1) Recruit a small team of volunteers – two to four should be enough – who are interested in education for sustainable development. In case that you have a lot of international students at your university, make sure that you involve students in your team who can speak the local language, otherwise some information on the university website might not be understood properly.
(2) Conduct a websearch with the titles: “Sustainability Curriculum Inventory” or “Sustainability Course Inventory”. A lot of universities have already conducted these types of inventories. You can access their methodologies, results and get email addresses of people that you can email with questions. In this way, your team can find the best approach on how to conduct the inventory.
(3) Once you have defined your approach, discuss what you mean by education for sustainable development. How do you define a course that includes sustainability issues? What courses should be excluded from the inventory? Your definition of a course that focuses on sustainability or not is the most crucial part of the inventory. Based on different definitions, you will include more or less courses.
As a first step, your team should conduct an online search to find out what exactly education for sustainable development is and how it can be “measured” in courses. Have a look at the definition of UNESCO or the resources at the bottom of this article. Another idea might be to look at the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and use these 17 goals as your sustainability framework. You can then say that a course is judged as sustainable, if it addresses issues relevant to a critical number of SDGs.
(4) Once you have defined what your team means by education for sustainable development, you need to identify keywords that course descriptions should contain. Keywords might be: Social justice, climate change, environment, sustainability, economic development, etc. The keywords make your sustainability definition measurable.
(5) With the help of your keywords, you can to define the scope of your inventory. Here are different levels of difficulty:
- Starting-off: Just go through the course catalogue on the website of the university and include courses that mention “sustainability” or “sustainable development” in the title or course description. This allows you to conduct a very basic and first inventory.
- Medium: Identify courses that include other keywords, such as climate change, environmental justice, health and disease, poverty and hunger. This allows your search to become more fine-grained and to differentiate courses that are “sustainability focused” and “sustainability related”. The former are courses that include sustainability in the title or course description. The second are courses that do not directly refer to sustainability in the description, but address a critical number of topics that are relevant to understand sustainability issues. Ask each course coordinator to send you the course manual so that you can have an in-depth look at each course.
- Advanced: Rank each course by the degree that they address sustainability issues. You then go beyond differentiating courses into sustainability focused or related, but for instance assign courses points on a scale of 1-5. Then your analysis becomes even more detailed and you will need to look at each course individually. This is very labour intensive and will lead to many – insightful – discussions about what actually sustainability education is and is not.
Adele decided to go for the “starting-off” option, since it was the first time that someone conducted an inventory at Erasmus University. So in the remainder of the post, we will discuss how she conducted the inventory.
(6) Divide the work between the volunteers and yourself. In Adele’s case each volunteer had to screen courses in two faculties. She investigated three faculties. It makes things easier to inquire the volunteers’ interests before dividing the work. One might be interested in the social sciences’ faculty more than in the law faculty for instance.
Explain clearly that each course found needs the title, a short description, the professor and his/ her contact details (email) and a webpage link to the course description. You can compile all information in an excel sheet that every can access via an online sharing software. Regularly meet with your team to discuss the results, to make sure that everyone follows the same methodology when doing the inventory.
(7) Search the website: Most of the information can be found on the websites of the different faculties and the university’s main website. Some courses might have been provided in the past but might not be offered anymore. Make sure the information is up to date.
- Tip 1: Propose a deadline for the volunteers and for yourself to complete the research
- Tip 2: organize a informal drink with the volunteers to thank them and to see where there were difficulties and were you might have to pursue the investigation a bit further.
(8) Once all research has been conducted and the information entered in the excel sheet, copy-paste the information into a word document. Make sure that all courses are given with a link to a webpage page with further details. Add an introduction, mention the names of the volunteers as well as yours and your contact details. If there is a designer in your team or someone volunteering with the GO, ask the person if they can put the document into a nice design.
(9) Collect feedback on the results of the inventory. For this, you can ask members from your GO team, course coordinators that you trust, alumni of your GO or rootAbility.
(10) Make the inventory useful for others:
- Send the final inventory to all course coordinators whose courses were identified and invite them for a roundtable discussion on the results,
- Inspire other GOs and rootAbility with your inventory by sharing it with them,
- Upload the document on the GO’s website. Write a blogpost for your website and communicate the results via social media,
- Talk to the communications and marketing department to see if they can include the information on the university website directly,
- Provide the results as input for a sustainability report of the whole institution,
- Commission a student research project to get advice on how to further advance the integration of sustainability issues into the curriculum.
Please let us know if you have any questions about this blogpost or other ideas on how to conduct a curriculum inventory.
Text by Adèle Berthelot and Felix Spira. Photo by Ken Whytock – Flickr.com Creative Commons License