Sustainability Education Beyond the Classroom: How the “Exploding University” Nurtures Collective Intelligence Across Local and Global Communities

Sustainability Education Beyond the Classroom: How the “Exploding University” Nurtures Collective Intelligence Across Local and Global Communities

Helen Wadham, Clare Hart, Anita Hashmi, Helena Mary Kettleborough, Roz Marron, Sally Randles, Konstantina Skritsovali, Megan Tucker
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-6172-3.ch010
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This chapter explores how the authors expanded their teaching and learning beyond the classroom at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. It puts forward the theoretical concept of the “exploding university” as a way to help develop a critical yet hopeful understanding of collective problems at local and global scales. This helps them explore three interrelated initiatives that brought teachers, students, and communities together, namely a sustainability festival, research project on animal rehoming, and community tree-planting drive. The chapter illuminates how exploding the work beyond the classroom enabled everyone involved to take action on the challenges that matter to them, while also developing a “collective intelligence” about their underlying causes. The exploding university thus emerges as a theoretical and practical model, which we can use to inspire students to actively critique, reimagine, and reconstruct the world around them. The authors conclude by encouraging and supporting others who might wish to embark on similar journeys themselves.
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How can we enable our students to engage critically with the thorny and contradictory concept of sustainability, while actively imagining a more liveable future at both local and global scales? Our chapter explores this question by sharing the experiences of a group of academics, support staff and students based at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School in the UK. Our focus is on how we experimented with and learnt from three interrelated initiatives that enabled us to “explode” our sustainability teaching and learning beyond the classroom.

Inspired by a critical approach to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our chapter has three aims. First, it develops a theoretical contribution to the ESD literature by developing the concept of the “exploding university,” which might help students and communities alike develop a critical yet hopeful understanding of our collective problems at local and global scales. Second, it provides three empirical examples of how this shared action can help students, communities and others address those challenges and - as importantly - build a shared understanding of (or “collective intelligence” about) their underlying causes. Third, by way of a reflection on our theoretical and empirical analysis, we consider how we might encourage and support others wishing to embark on similar journeys themselves.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Slow Science: Like other manifestations of the broader slow movement, this advocates a steady, thoughtful, and more measured approach to academic research. Proponents are critical of the encroachment of neoliberal practices and values within academia, such as performance and funding targets.

Transformative Learning: An approach to education that invites us to consider who we are in relation to others and to pursue positive change on behalf of these known and unknown others. Focused on shared sense-making and practical action, it requires us to build relations of mutual trust, truth, values and understanding.

Collaborative Approaches: A diversity of actions and techniques that enable people to work together, by capitalising on their diverse talents and supporting a shared purpose.

Action Research: A dynamic, evolving, and reflective research methodology that develops practical knowing and pursues solutions to issues that matter to people.

Ecological University: A higher education institution that aims to make the world a better place by recognising its interconnectedness with the outside world and using its resources to create a more sustainable future. The concept was developed by Ronald Barnett.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): An approach to education that focuses on bringing global challenges such as climate change, economic inequality and biodiversity decline into teaching and learning. It requires participatory approaches and far-reaching changes to the curriculum.

Participatory Research: Research strategies that explicitly and actively aim to include local communities and others within the research process. Such approaches subvert the power relations that are inherent to the experience and practice of research.

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