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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Postgraduate Courses (School of GeoSciences)

Postgraduate Course: Living Sustainably (PGGE11264)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe world is facing a series of significant, inter-related sustainability problems that are, at their core, driven by the unsustainable use of environmental resources by humanity. These sustainability problems are 'wicked' in that they involve significant social complexity and inter-dependencies which make it difficult to envision and implement clear solutions. Even so, individuals have a role to play and there is significant scope for individual agency to play a part in solving these problems.

However, it is not easy to figure out which choice amongst many competing alternatives is actually more sustainable, or how to best harness this agency at the level of the individual to effect change.

The purpose of this course is to explore precisely these issues. The course adopts two ┐lenses┐ to explore this topic: that of individual behaviour change and that of complex systems. By applying both these lenses to sustainability problems of their choosing, students will explore both personally and academically what it means to live more sustainably.

This course is heavily student-led and features experiential learning. The class is structured around a series of challenges, discussions, and training sessions through which the learning objectives of the course will be accomplished. This course will appeal most to students with high levels of intrinsic motivation to understand more about how to live a sustainable life, and requires of all students a willingness to engage in regular critical and reflective discussion in small and large groups, as well as substantive individual reflection.

Course description There are three core 'elements' to this course: Communication Training, Sustainability Challenges, and a Sustainability Appraisal.

Communication Training:
This element of the course will progress in a series of 2-week 'units'. Each unit will involve students learning some principles of effective science communication and practicing applying those principles in the creation, and revision, of short communication pieces.
The first unit will focus on core elements of narrative development and storytelling for science communication, and the mode of practice will focus on reflective writing and blogging.
Subsequent units will focus on how to effectively communicate using a variety of other forms of media (e.g. infographics, pod casts, video shorts, and white board animations).
For each unit, students will get 'technical'/ 'how-to' training as well as guidance on how to reflect core principles of science communication within the particular media of focus. To ensure this component of the course supports students in completing their final sustainability appraisal, the demonstration exercises students complete within each unit of communication training will require students to use each particular media form to communicate what they have most recently learned with regards to the sustainability of the products they are analysing in the sustainability proposal. Across the semester students will build up a clear understanding of the differing strengths and weaknesses of communicating their specific appraisal using the range of media covered in the course.
The specific types of media in the course and their ordering will be made clear in the syllabus provided to students at the start of each iteration of the course.

Sustainability Challenges:
This element of the course will progress in a series of 4-week challenges. There will be a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 3 such challenges each semester. Each challenge will have the following schedule:

Week 1: Collecting a baseline of current behaviour
Week 2: Living the challenge pre-intervention
Week 3: Living the challenge post-intervention
Week 4: Reading academic case studies & reflection
The topics of the challenge (e.g. eating a low carbon diet), the number of challenges (i.e. 2 or 3), and the types of interventions experienced (e.g. information provision, nudging through triggering performance comparisons, social norm cultivation) will all be decided by the class by a vote in the beginning of the class.
Students will be marked not on how well they manage the challenges, but on how deeply they engage with and reflect on what they have learned from the challenges about achieving behaviour change for sustainability. Through participation in these challenges students will explore their own agency for implementing change, the academic evidence base for the effectiveness of different kinds of interventions intended to achieve behaviour change, and the feasibility and appropriateness of devolving responsibility for change to the level of individuals.

Sustainability Appraisal:
This element of the course focuses on analysing a particular choice to determine which of two options is the more sustainable. This analysis starts in week 1 of the course, and will continue incrementally throughout the semester as students are introduced to the following:
- Differing conceptions of sustainability
- Supply chains (including supply chain actors and resource bases)
- Embodied supply chain impacts (social and environmental)
- Uncertainty in relation to sustainability and product supply chains
- Connecting the concept of system resilience to sustainability assessment
- Core circular economy principles and how this may affect the interpretation of product supply chain sustainability
- Approaches to synthesising across diverse forms of evidence to complete a multi-dimensional sustainability appraisal

For each of these areas, there will be a short lecture on key concepts, a specific task for students to complete in relation to the specific products they are analysing, discussion, reflection, and revision. By the end of the semester, students will have to present a completed sustainability appraisal, using one of the media forms taught in class.

Learning Experience:
Class time is used in this course for reflection, discussion, synthesis, training in communication techniques, giving/acting on constructive feedback, and introducing the next stage in the analysis required to complete the sustainability appraisal. The class focuses on student-led, experiential learning. Those students who invest appropriately and actively in this process will have significant opportunities to wrestle with the different facets of 'wicked' sustainability problems. They will gain academic knowledge (about sustainability appraisals and behaviour change), transferable skills (related to facilitation, communication, and feedback), and personal insights (related to the topic of personal agency and what it can accomplish).
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students must gain the approval of the course organiser prior to enrolment in this course. Additionally, space for visiting students will be contingent on there being fewer than 40 GeoSciences students interested in taking the course in any given semester.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Reflect critically on the role individually agency can have in addressing sustainability problems
  2. Independently research and appraise the actors, resource base, uncertainty, and resilience in product supply chains to systematically compare the relative sustainability of different products
  3. Formulate and defend an evidence-based recommendation, underpinned by synthesis across the multiple dimensions of sustainability, about how to live more sustainably
  4. Employ a variety of communication techniques/media in order to communicate clear sustainability recommendations to non-academic audiences
  5. Facilitating the work of small groups (including giving/receiving of feedback, revising draft work, asking/answering challenging questions, emphasising inclusivity, upholding accountability, etc.)
Reading List
There is reading associated with each of the three core elements of the course: Communication Training, Sustainability Challenges, and the Sustainability Appraisal.

These readings will provide the complement to the lecture portion of the class in terms of providing a basis for conceptual understanding, analysis, and skill development. However, they will ultimately function as reference material. The core analytical content of each sustainability appraisal will be generated by the weekly research efforts undertaken by each student individually in relation to the topic they have chosen for their sustainability appraisal, and the core learning with respect to individual agency will come from student reflection on a mix of experience, discussion, and case study readings.

In this indicative/draft form of the syllabus, we don┐t yet have the specific readings identified, but we do have the topics that will require readings (see below). If approved, the design team will be supported with time to find specific readings that cover the following topics. With the exception of the case study packets associated with sustainability challenges (which will aim to have 5 case studies each), the goal will be to find a single, clearly and concisely-written resource per topic for students to use as a reference as they conduct research for their sustainability appraisal.

Communication Training:
Reflective Writing:
Storytelling in Science Communication:
Systematic Searching:

Sustainability Challenge:
Case Study Packet - Information Provision:
Case Study Packet ┐ Nudging through triggering cognitive anomalies:
Case Study Packet - Establishing Collective Norms:

Sustainability Appraisal:
Differing Conceptions of Sustainability:
Supply Chain Basics:
Supply Chain Resource Bases:
Product Footprints:
Lifecycle Analysis:
Embodied Impact Types:
Measuring & Quantifying Embodied Impacts:
Uncertainty in Complex Systems:
Resilience and ┐Hot Spot┐ analysis:
Circular Economy Concepts:
Multi-dimensional Synthesis:

Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Academically, students learn about product supply chains, lifecycle analysis, product footprints, embodied impacts (and how they might be measured environmentally and socially), complex systems concepts, resilience, uncertainty, circular economy principles, multi-dimensional synthesis, and behaviour change interventions (both in general, and in connection to a specific set of products of their choosing)

In terms of transferable skills, students receive training in small-group facilitation, giving/receiving of feedback, reflective writing, storytelling and narrative for science communication, and then a variety of media for communicating with non-academic audiences (currently envisioned to be: blogs, infographics, pod casts, video shorts, and white board animation). The course focuses students on developing evidence-based judgment in the context of complex issues as well.

This course is intended to be an optional course open to all in the GeoSciences PGT community. It complements those courses that involve formal team work and applied methods training (e.g. PPP, AEE), and builds on a lot of the problems studied and systems studied in other courses in the school. It gives students another way of understanding and analysing sustainability problems from a systems perspective.
KeywordsSustainability Appraisal,Systems Analysis,Behaviour Change,Circular Economy
Course organiserMs Corinne Baulcomb
Tel: (0131) 535 4031
Course secretaryMrs Elspeth Martin
Tel: 0131 535 4198
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