Sustainability Education Community
As part of the HKUST 2020 Sustainability Challenge, the University included a commitment to ensuring that all students gain a solid understanding of sustainability concepts and graduate with the capacity and commitment to solve problems locally and globally.
The HKUST Sustainability Education Advisory Group (SEAG) advises the University on sustainability education issues. Members were asked to share their views on the character of sustainability education. Members stressed several key themes and key words:
- thinking across time and space
- building a common language of values
- identifying and solving problems
There was broad agreement that sustainability education is the foundation for preparing students to meet the challenge of sustaining human thriving within planetary boundaries. To achieve this, the SEAG agreed that sustainability education is built through the interplay of:
- Relevant knowledge and understanding of the issues, supported by…
- An appreciation for values and perspectives, creating the foundation to build…
- The skills and competencies necessary to address the challenge of a sustainable future
The three domains reinforce each other to build a comprehensive sustainability education framework that allows students to see the connections between what issues need to be addressed, the values that influence why we should act, and the skills that provide the insights on how to act.
To promote a broader interest in sustainability education and to support faculty and staff engaged in this area, a community of practice – the Sustainability Education Community (SEC) – was formed in fall 2017, with over 50 faculty, staff and PG students engaged as COP members. The group has organized several workshops and networking occasions to help frame SE issues in the classroom and identify areas where educators can better incorporate sustainability principles and concepts. Through the SEC, HKUST was accepted as one of 14 global universities – and the first in Asia – to be designated a “Center for Teaching Sustainability Across the Curriculum” by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
In January 2019, SEC facilitated Hong Kong’s first ever workshop intended to help educators teach sustainability across the disciplines. This one-day interactive workshop, entitled Sustainability Across the Curriculum: The Hong Kong Context challenged participants to explore sustainability-related skills and competencies for learning within the Hong Kong context. Through a series of short presentations, lively discussions, group activities, and reflection, the workshop revealed ‘sustainability character development’ as a valuable crosscutting approach to overcoming the complexity of achieving consensus in defining, understanding, and teaching sustainability. Participants represented eight universities plus three NGOs, and came from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and varied in sustainability education experience - 16% of attendees were self-proclaimed experts, while the remaining 84% were looking for new ways to teach sustainability and to understand how it’s applied in different disciplines. The workshop revealed ‘sustainability character development’ as a valuable crosscutting approach to overcoming the complexity of achieving consensus in defining, understanding, and teaching sustainability.
The SEC will continue building the SE community within the University though social events and networking and will continue to develop an electronic resource base as a depository for teaching items of interest for the community. In the future, workshops will continue exploring the topics include:
- Detailed exploration of specific skills and competencies for development of lesson plans that can help build and embed those skills.
- Consideration of how to develop important, yet intangible attributes such as empathy, appreciation, and respect in the context of understanding sustainability.
- Deeper analysis of assessment models and frameworks
An undergraduate curriculum survey report was updated during 2019 to identify opportunities and gaps in the existing provision of sustainability-relevant courses, providing a basis for the development of sustainability education across Schools and programs. The study showed that
- Overall, Sustainability Focused or Related courses represent roughly 6% of the overall UG course catalogue.
- In 2018-19, Sustainability Focused or Related courses represented roughly 14% of the approved new courses.
- By distribution, all schools and all departments include at least one listed course. SENG has the largest overall number of listed courses among schools, and ENVR, CIVL, and SOSC having the highest number of listed courses among departments.
- In terms of exposure to sustainability concepts, we note that 57% of recent graduates are leaving with a “strong” exposure (completing two or more Sustainability Focused courses); only 6% of students graduated with no course exposure to sustainability.
In line with this drive to expand teaching and learning of environmental issues, the Division of Environment and Sustainability introduced a Common Core course entitled Introduction to Sustainability in Spring 2019, with a total of 176 students attending the sessions. Flipped classrooms, blended learning and activity-based teaching methods were used to boost students’ interest and awareness of issues locally and globally and enhance their ability to address them. The course has since been approved as a School Sponsored Course.
Two types of Life Cycle Thinking Workshops were offered in Spring 2019 for Engineering students in their second and third year of study that will equip them to understand this concept for their final year projects. Students appreciated the interactivity of the workshop and described it as the best ENGG2010 workshop currently offered. TLIP Project Funding has been approved to upscale and develop more advanced workshop materials. It is our first phase of ensuring that all students have the ability to demonstrate some key sustainability concepts by the time they graduate.