Current innovation projects in sustainability education

At the University of Plymouth, staff and students are encouraged to innovate in sustainability education. The University supports a number of exciting curriculum innovation projects each year. If you have a sustainability education idea that you want to develop please contact csf@plymouth.ac.uk to find out what support and resources could help you to take this forward.

Grow and Grub

Grow and Grub is a voluntary extra-curricular gardening project to help green the campus. The vision is to enhance the sustainability of our urban campus increasing biodiversity and helping to grow food for students and the local community. So it is a chance to get some fresh air, meet new people from across the university and make a difference at the same time. Volunteers are currently helping to maintain the Physic bed (in the secret garden behind Portland Villas), an incredible edibles patch alongside the Smeaton building and supporting UPSU’s sustainability and environment forum with taking care of the garden outside the Hive. To find out when the next volunteer gardening sessions are please contact csf@plymouth.ac.uk.


Recent Curriculum innovation projects

Developing a resource to support student engagement to recycle more Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) on campus. (Sustainability Manager Dr Samantha Price in partnership with Absolute Recycling)

One million tonnes of WEEE are produced in the UK each year. Of this, 60 per cent still goes to landfill. This mainly comprises small domestic appliances which are perceived by consumers as too much hassle to dispose of at a Household Waste Recycling Centre. As a result they go into the “brown bin” and then to landfill. There are reasonable recycling options on campus for streams such as cardboard, plastic, and cans but no permanent option for student WEEE. There have been three previous WEEE amnesties which have been successful in gathering several tonnes but a permanent solution would increase this further.

To make this effective this project aims to engage students as partners in devising an educational campaign to raise awareness of a new WEEE facility being created on campus. The aim being to help educate and inform about why and how appropriate recycling should take place. This project aims to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and improve resource efficiency and waste. It will also provide a good community partnership interface and provide an opportunity for wider public engagement.


Train the Trainer Workshop for Interactive Teaching on Energy and Climate (Dr Paul Lunt and Dr Alison Stokes)

We aim to bring together lecturers in a one-day bespoke staff development and training event, developed and facilitated by Peter Redstone and Dr Martin Bloxham from Barefoot Thinking, to be trained in the use of interactive learning techniques to equip tutors to lead a new Plymouth Plus module entitled ‘Energy and Climate’. The event will involve 12-20 staff from the School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Science (SoGEES) and supporting Schools, selected on the basis of their interest in supporting this shared interdisciplinary Plymouth Plus module. The training will focus on three skills associated with leadership training: strategic thinking; leading change, and enabling action, and the main objective is to enable tutors to develop the skills and confidence to facilitate interactive learning techniques (for example, mind mapping, sand-pitting, think-pair-share). The training event forms part of the environmental science teaching team’s ‘Big Idea’ which aims to provide science and technology graduates from Plymouth University with the awareness and leadership skills needed to overcome barriers and societal challenges associated with the sustainability agenda.

The proposed Plymouth Plus module will provide an interactive and immersive learning experience for Stage 1 science and technology students, starting in September 2015. The scenarios and solutions explored will relate to societal challenges involving energy and climate. To support their learning, students will be provided with knowledge and information on the science of climate change, societal challenges and possible solutions associated with climate adaptation and mitigation.


Guide to health and sustainability for staff and students (Benny Goodman)

To support healthcare professionals in understanding sustainability, Benny Goodman from the School of Nursing and Midwifery has written a ‘Really short simple guide to health and sustainability’ to inform all students on any health programme of the basics of sustainability and health, and to illustrate how importantly the University takes this issue. There are two areas for development: 

1. To pilot the word document with a cohort of nursing students and to then run a focus group to evaluate its usefulness. 

2. To create an interactive e-version which is then accessible on mobile devices as well as personal computers. The resource will then be available to every student enrolling on Faculty of Health and Human Sciences programmes. 

If successful, a ‘Really short simple guide for staff’ may then be considered for all Plymouth University staff, to be available at induction for new staff and through existing faculty networks.


Building on a pilot extra-curricular programme entitled Collaborative Leadership for Sustainability to develop a Plymouth Plus module (Michelle Virgo and Dr Victoria Hurth)

The Collaborative Leadership for Sustainability programme is co-delivered by Michelle Virgo of Plymouth University and Dr Enrico Wensing from the University of the Virgin Islands, with contributions from Dr Victoria Hurth. It was made available as a series of Talent Hub evening events to a joint cohort of Business School undergraduates and members of the local community. The programme, the pilot of which ran from October 2013 to March 2014, is part of a wider research initiative known as the Sustainable Futures Protocol, led by Enrico Wensing and funded by the US National Science Foundation. 

The learning programme is based on the contention that the challenges of sustainability will require high levels of collaboration and therefore developing the competences for collaboration in the context of sustainability is essential for future leaders. The course has been made available to a diverse student group, including those who are not university undergraduates but are engaged in sustainability leadership in their communities. The course further involves a “real world” sustainability project on which students work collaboratively with community groups throughout the duration of the course.


Scenario based learning for sustainable materials management and waste disposal (Dr Jane Grose)

An exploratory study by the Sustainability Society and Health Research group (SSHRG) identified items which could be vulnerable to the effects of climate change or geopolitical unrest, and significantly impact patient experience and service delivery. We developed a range of scenarios based on these vulnerable materials, the aim of which was to raise awareness about scarce raw materials and encourage discussion amongst nursing students about use, reuse and disposal. The scenario sessions have been extensively evaluated and embedded in the nursing and midwifery curricula. 

3D design students, who observed the sessions, developed an e-tool prototype which now needs to be evaluated and adapted to suit sustainability-related interdisciplinary curriculum initiatives at undergraduate or graduate level across the University. In order to achieve this we aim to invite staff and students from nursing and 3D design, as well as interested parties from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities (a heavy user of a range of materials) to a workshop to explore how and where the using of our scenario based training fits in their curricula.


Transformative Learning CPD (Christie Pritchard, Helen Bowstead, Andrew Whiteford, Ricky Lowes, Dr Roger Cutting, Simon Bradbury, Professor Janet Richardson

This project aims to engage a multidisciplinary team of academic and learning support staff in exploring innovative pedagogy with clear potential for sustainable long term impact on teaching and learning at Plymouth University. They will create an on-going action learning set which will be both the vehicle and driver by which transformative approaches to education can be replicated in practice. 

In order to engage proactively with the notion of sustainable education (rather than the rather narrower field of education for sustainability) a fundamental shift in perspective is required, that fosters in our students dynamic, independent, and interdependent learning. 

In order to facilitate transformative learning experiences with our students, it is vital that as educational practitioners we are willing to be ourselves transformed. In partnership with Schumacher College we will explore an action learning approach in order to develop the key skills and collaborative relationships necessary to manage change (O’Hara, Bourner and Webber, 2004). The group will commit to adopting a transformational approach in their own practice and in developing these self-managed learning skills in their students. In particular, there will be an ongoing commitment across the group to the exploration of how to foster sustainability in education and the use of alternative learning spaces.