UofG Student Led Climate Change Course
I’m Sam, a 3rd year Mechanical Engineering student. I’ve always been interested and invested in social and political issues, despite following a very science focused education. My environmental awareness sparked whilst I was living in Cape Town for 3 months during my gap year. By being there during the big drought, I witnessed the consequences of climate change directly, and since then have been very involved in sensitizing people on that extremely important matter.
And I’m Vidya, a 3rd year Medical student. My interest in environmental activism was re-sparked when I joined Extinction Rebellion in my first year of uni and finally felt as though creating change was possible. However, the more I engaged with climate discourse, the more I realised how much knowledge I lacked because of the very streamlined education system in the UK.
Here's Our Climate Change Story
The two of us started developing the idea for the ‘Interdisciplinary Introduction to Climate Change and Sustainability’ at the first Curriculum and Academic Change working group meeting for UofG's ‘Green New Deal’ (GND) movement.
During our initial brainstorm, we ended up discussing how we felt that as our backgrounds were in science subjects, the sociological, political and economic contexts behind the climate crisis were hard to understand, especially in more advanced discourse. Yet we both had reflected on how important it was to understand the climate crisis in a holistic sense.
We believed that to create feasible solutions that reflect the nature of the climate crisis, we, as students need to understand the roots of the crisis and be able to frame it in the context of the global consequences occurring around the world right now.
Painting a Complete Picture
We also felt that ultimately, none of the potential climate change solutions exist in isolation from each other and rather must work together to change the way society responds to the climate crisis. Yet, it seemed that the further we got in the education system, the more streamlined it became, and the harder it was to understand other fields of study.
We wanted to do something about this, so we came up with a structure for a 10 week course that would focus on different fields of study each week, to paint a complete picture of the causes, consequences and potential solutions for the climate crisis.
Due to the clear lack of action being taken on the climate crisis, one of our main aims for the course was to provide students with enough information to develop “a positive, action based mindset” suited to taking action (in whatever way they conceived that to be) for the climate crisis once the course was over.
Accommodating the Busy Student Schedule
But we realised that most degrees have a strict credit requirement and students are busy! So we focused on the idea of an evening course, similar to the ‘Languages for International Mobility’ evening courses, that would accommodate the busy student schedule and hopefully be accessible for everyone, regardless of year or subject.
Once we had conceptualised the idea of the course, we searched for lecturers to help us, initially approaching Dr Camille Huser in the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences (MVLS). After she outlined the process of writing a ‘PIP’ form to create a course, we were put in touch with Prof Jaime Toney (Centre for Sustainable Solutions) and Dr Cristina Persano (Director of Learning & Teaching, Geography and Earth Sciences) who officially endorsed the course as part of the School of Geography and Earth Sciences and helped us take it forwards!
So, after what felt like 200 emails we ended up with the ‘Interdisciplinary Introduction to Climate Change and Sustainability’ evening course that officially began in January 2021! With representation from all year groups and UofG Colleges.
Even though we managed to put the course together, and run it, it would be a lie to say that we didn’t face any problems or challenges during the process.
The first main challenge was, of course, the Pandemic. When we started working on the course structure and how it would be delivered, we wanted it to be very interactive. We were imagining a classroom where everyone would be separated into groups and would discuss, debate and raise different questions in order to create a very stimulating action based setting.
With Covid-19, we quickly understood that we would have to put more of a focus on the lecturers’ content and dedicate less time to discussions, as online teaching offers less of a possibility for fluid interactions. However, strangely enough, the pandemic was also a blessing because lockdown gave us more time to work on the administration side of things, and allowed us to have more students enrolled, as well as lecturers from outside Glasgow.
Patience & Perseverance
The other big challenge was to organise an interdisciplinary course with a different lecturer every week. For this, the only solution was to do a lot of research on all the different academics that were specialised on a certain topic, and send a lot of emails constantly.
This side of the work required a great amount of patience and perseverance, but it was also one of the most interesting aspects of it. It enabled us to meet so many different people and have very insightful discussions, whilst learning and connecting all the fields together. Indeed, making the links between every week and every lecture was also one of the main focuses we had as well, so that the students could follow the content and fit the different pieces of the puzzle together easily throughout the semester.
Of course, we also had to struggle with working as a team online, dividing all the tasks, advertising the course to a maximum of students, create assessments easy enough for any level of study or degree… but again, as we were all very motivated and eager to make a change, we managed to overcome most of those challenges and (finally) offer the first interdisciplinary Climate Change class at the University of Glasgow!
Ultimately, we believe the course was successful for its first run, and we are in the process of developing it for next year, where it’ll be even bigger and better!
We think especially in the context of COP26 coming to Glasgow, the course will be vital in helping students understand more about the climate crisis, and in a more long term sense, create professionals who understand the climate crisis in a holistic way and will take the necessary urgent action.
If you have any questions about the course, or would like to help out, get in touch with us via email at:
First published: 22 April 2021