Educating for Sustainability – The University of Nottingham’s first MOOC

MOOC imageWe are now in Week 7 of ‘Sustainability, Society and You,’ The University of Nottingham’s first ‘Massive Open Online Course’ being run through FutureLearn. Covering themes such as, historical perspectives on sustainability, big issues (water, food, energy and waste), sustainability and health, corporate social responsibility and education, the course encourages group learning in an international context, personal reflections on sustainability, and consideration of individual action and behaviour change.

Two members of the SRN Committee, Sarah Glozer (Business School) and Eleanor Hadley Kershaw (Institute for Science and Society), have been facilitating conversations in the MOOC and summarising discussions as part of weekly activities. Here Sarah and Eleanor share some of the key points coming out of Weeks 4 and 5.

Week 4: Organisations and Sustainability

Week 4 looked at two core themes: re-modelling health and corporate social responsibility (CSR). In thinking about how a sustainable lifestyle can have a positive impact upon health, many participants discussed sustainability in relation to exercise, diet, mental health and hygiene. Squat toilets captured everyone’s imaginations with rough calculations suggesting that around 45% would use (or have used) a squat toilet, 20% would think about it, and 35% would not use one. Given my research interests, I was particularly interested in conversations on corporate social responsibility, or ‘CSR.’ Whilst many people saw CSR as being related to long-term thinking and as a key theme of sustainability, others were more sceptical and saw CSR as ‘window-dressing’ or ‘greenwash.’ I believe that businesses can play a positive role in driving sustainability and I was interested to see such diverse responses to the role of business in society. Whilst the philanthropic roots of companies such as Cadbury were praised, many stressed the need for sustainability strategies to be tied into core business processes.

Week 5: Sustaining Society, Sustaining Culture

Week 5 explored the links between sustainability, society, culture, and heritage, focusing first on climate change and poverty, green capitalism, and socio-economic inequity at a national level. Although some learners were cynical about whether green capitalism is compatible with the ideals of sustainability, many were in agreement that issues of social equity and well-being are integral to sustainability. A very lively discussion emerged around learners’ identification with anthropocentric or ecocentric worldviews, with many noting the influence of their upbringing and broader national or regional culture, and those in Northern countries feeling a tension between the norm of anthropocentricism and their attempts to live in accordance with an ecocentric vision of the world. Some had doubts about how cultural heritage (including the arts, language, and natural heritage) might relate to sustainability, but many shared inspiring and moving examples of artistic and cultural experiences (ranging from choirs and scrap heap orchestras to art-science collaborations and allotments), highlighting how ‘culture’ in a narrower sense (e.g. artistic artefacts) can impact on culture in its broadest sense (e.g. the ways in which we understand and relate to each other, the world, the past and the future). Several learners commented on the ability of oral history, music and other art forms to bring communities together, learn useful crafts and skills, and put into practice values of sustainability.

Interested in getting involved? Sustainability, Society and You will be running again from June 2014 via FutureLearn, and then in October, the University will be offering a credit-bearing version to undergraduate students across the three campuses (Nottingham, China and Malaysia). The course leader, Dr. Sarah Speight (Education) will be looking for additional PhD students interested in helping to facilitate both versions.  If you would like to get involved, please email Sarah at:


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