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Practical challenges and digital learning: getting the balance right for future-thinking

Aldilla Dharmasasmita (Green Academy, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Helen Puntha (Centre for Academic Development and Quality, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Petra Molthan-Hill (Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 13 February 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to present a food-themed project at Nottingham Trent University, the Sustainability in Practice (SiP) Certificate, which has adopted a supra-disciplinary approach involving a collaborative enquiry into food sustainability through a flexible online course open to all staff and students.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper will describe the pedagogical approach of the certificate’s online and offline components, the various activities undertaken by participants and the digital tools used to encourage collaboration and skills development. Reflection on participant feedback is incorporated, and special attention is given to how the design of SiP equips students with the skills needed to solve sustainable challenges.

Findings

Feedback from previous participants indicated that despite high engagement in the SiP online discussion forums, there was a desire to go beyond theoretical discussion; students wanted to get actively involved in some practical challenges. “Sustainability Challenge Days” are therefore now offered and comprise in-person discussion, volunteering and collaborative group learning to complement the online course. This practice element as well as the crowdsourcing of sustainable solutions within SiP are described in detail in this paper.

Research limitations/implications

Although estimately 1,000 students have taken the SiP to date, SiP Challenge Day was only piloted this year, following recommendations by student focus groups in 2014 and 2015. Focus groups have not yet been undertaken for the 2015/2016 cohort. The feedback included in this paper is based only on students who participated in the Challenge Days. Analysis of the feedback forms indicates that the 2015/2016 SiP Challenge Days have constituted a promising pilot project, and, therefore, organisation of Challenge Days for the next academic year is already in progress, with two additional themes already in placed.

Practical implications

The SiP Challenge Day events have provided the opportunities for students from across all disciplines to discuss, collaborate and thus find solutions to a contemporary sustainability topic: food scarcity and accessibility. Hence, it has facilitated inter and supradisciplinary learning, a skill that is seldom available in a conventional lecture and/or seminar teaching environment.

Social implications

Activities in the SiP Challenge Day events included group discussions, team working and presentations. Some of the feedback received from students have included how they have enjoyed exchanging ideas from colleagues in different schools and culture, as the exchange have had them to consider different opinions and perspectives from other disciplines, culturally.

Originality/value

While a focus on sustainability within higher education curriculum is on the increase, it is still usual for universities to adopt a mono-disciplinary approach to addressing sustainability. This paper illustrates how using the digital world, higher education institutions can adopt a supra-disciplinary approach to facilitate students in addressing real-world sustainability problems. Additionally, how practical sessions can complement students’ digital learning in sustainability is also included in this paper.

Keywords

Citation

Dharmasasmita, A., Puntha, H. and Molthan-Hill, P. (2017), "Practical challenges and digital learning: getting the balance right for future-thinking", On the Horizon, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 33-44. https://doi.org/10.1108/OTH-04-2016-0018

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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