Avit Bhowmik | I care for climate and environment


This section describes the steps and methods I followed to arrive at a solution of the problem I am addressing. The content comprises the following subsections.

  • Aim
  • Pedagogical research
  • Personal meetings and discussions
  • A test course
  • Reflection diary

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I aimed to design a constructive alignment for the course in this portfolio that will deliver ability of climate action among the students. I developed a Pedagogical Strategy that includes students' ability to act at the core of the design and plan. The strategy, as you see in the figure below, includes a revised set of Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO) and examination criteria, an extended profile of organizational setup, combined into a systematic flow to produce the aimed pedagogical strategy (the output will be described in the next section in detail).

Pedagogical research

To achieve the aim of designing a pedagogical strategy that delivers the ability to act in the CCGA08 course, I first looked into the existing pedagogical research. The following listed input scientifically instrumentalized my pedagogical strategy of delivering the ability to act.

  • Teaching Critical Thinking
  • “How do I teach Critical Thinking to my students of Environmental Science discipline?” This is a question I have been asking myself since I started teaching in Karlstad University. I regard critical thinking as an essential tool for current and future environmental scientists and professionals, in order to methodically analyze the results and conclusions of literature acting as our knowledge hub as well as to scrutiny facts and problems transparently to shape them into action. Author Daniel D. Chiras second my opinion in his article Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the Biology & Environmental Science Classrooms published in The American Biology Teacher journal in 1992. Although the publication of the article dates quite back in comparison with the status quo, to my knowledge, no further article dived deep into teaching critical thinking and Chiras (1992) is the first and only article that provides a comprehensive and thorough understanding of the challenge. The article also points at the societal value of critical thinking that it enables individuals to distinguish facts judgment. Overall, as Chiras points out correctly, although teaching critical thinking may appear to be a time tradeoff from teaching the actual content of the course, the payoff becomes manifold in turn and the students become actors and change agents of society.

    Chiras (1992) outlines a process comprising 11 principles for teaching critical thinking in environmental science classrooms. The process starts with gathering complete information about a fact in order to avoid systematic biases. A teacher then should define all terms regarding the facts noted in the used literature and marginalize ambiguity as much as possible. The students should then conduct a through review of the methods that were used to derive the facts they are studying. A particular focus of this step is on the reproducibility of the results that supported the facts. The students should then learn alternative interpretations of results and analyze if the drawn conclusions from results were sensible to them. Looking for hidden assumptions and biases and questioning the sources of facts were the next steps to assure transparency in the studied facts. A logical next step is to be open about the knowledge gaps and embrace the big picture the facts convey. The students should also be wary about causation and should not regard every correlations as causation without considering the moderating variables. My most important learning from the article is “watching out for thought stoppers”, to distinguish emotional and dogmatic statements that prevent further thinking from actual thought provoking statements. Finally, students should also be aware about their own biases and values and put them in the context of the facts.

  • Problem based Learning
  • My teaching philosophy of "Problem-based learning" (PBL) was shown to provide increased problem-solving ability and self-directed learning, in turn, increased ability to act, as pointed out and illustrated by Belland et al., 2009. In their meta-analysis "Validity and Problem-Based Learning Research: A Review of Instruments Used to Assess Intended Learning Outcomes", particularly focusing on teaching medical students, the authors have precisely described the difficulty in achieving the ability to act in the PBL setting. The difficulty however lies in operationalizing and measuring the ability to act, as well as in the lack of transparency in the activities and assessment procedures.

    The authors suggest a PBL tactic that enables students to generate and pursue learning issues to understand an ill-structured problem and develop a feasible solution. This tactic also aims at promoting deep content learning and students’ problem-solving and self-directed learning abilities. The activities under this tactic are three-fold: 1) theoretical frameworks for the assessed variables and constructs for the ability, 2) rationales for how chosen assessments matched the constructs measured, or 3) other information required for assessing the validity of the tactic.

  • Affective Teaching
  • Teaching and assessment of sustainability in the field of environmental sciences focus too much on cogitative skills of knowledge and understanding rather than on affective outcomes of values, attitudes and behaviours, which in turn, hinders the ability to act, as pointed out by Kerry Shephard in his conceptual article "Higher education for sustainability: seeking affective learning outcomes". Shephard (2008) showed how educational theories of the affective domain (values, attitudes and behaviours) and relevant experience in other educational areas can benefit the education for sustainability.

    Shephard (2008) in his review article demonstrated the learning and teaching activities to effectively pursue affective outcomes in the education of environment and sustainability. Key activities include assessing outcomes and evaluating courses, providing academic credit for affective outcomes, key roles for role models and designing realistic and acceptable learning outcomes in the affective domain. A review of the liberal traditions of higher education and how they align with the affective teaching is also vital for the success of providing ability to act.

  • Active Learning
  • The final pedagogical input was taken from Deslauriers et al. (2019), where students’ self-reported perception of learning and their actual learning were compared under controlled conditions when they received active instruction (following best practices in the discipline) and passive instruction (lectures by experienced and highly rated instructors). Deslauriers et al. (2019) in their research article "Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom" demonstrated that students in active classrooms learned more although their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than that of their peers in passive environments. Hence,the lack of confidence of the ability to act that I observed from the students in CCGA08 may relate to (1) their perceived constrains of being active (a thought stopper as described above in the critical thinking subsection) and (2) only partial implementation of active learning during the semester.

    This inertia of action can be overcome by early intervention and explicit presentation of the value of increased cognitive efforts associated with active learning, as suggested by Deslauriers et al. (2019). An early assessment where students can gauge their actual learning and ability to act would be vital. A teacher should adopt the role of a facilitator (described in the next section), should encourage students to work hard during activities, and should remind them of the value of increased cognitive effort. A teacher should also solicit frequent feedback from the students about their progress and respond to them to keep the students motivated in active learning environment.

Personal meetings and discussions

Besides the course leader Tomas Jansson and other participants and discussion group members of AUPU2, I regarded the core persons who could help in this portfolio process were the experienced sustainability and climate teachers, primarily in Karlstad University but also in other universities around the world. Their view on how to materialize a course to enable climate action among students would be valuable. Environmental educators are the primary experts in this field and can provide valuable input. Experts in the climate mitigation field and my own research can provide knowledge on what needed and demanded in the practical world. I also regarded that the director of studies on my discipline could help putting this effort into the organizational context.

I have organized online meetings with two climate and sustainability university teachers outside Karlstad University as well as with two environmental educators working in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The University teachers were Associate Professor Dr. Sarah Cornell from Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden and Professor Dr. Johan Rockström, the director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. The environmental educators were Mark McCaffrey from UN Climate Change Community for Education, Communication and Outreach Stakeholders (ECOS) and Abigail Ruskey from U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. In addition, I had personal meetings with Max Hansson, the convener of the course CCGA08 and Magnus Johansson, the director of Studies of Risk and Environmental Studies at Karlstad University. All meetings and interviews took place during March 2020.

The discussions during these meetings were focused on the identification and application of proper ILOs, teaching activities and assessments method that deliver and evaluate students' ability on climate action. When ability may refer to intellectual ability of analyzing, explaining, interpreting and communicating climate action, which almost all students in the previous session acquired, the target of the discussions was to provide the hands-on ability in the field. As a scientist and non-practitioner, it was difficult for me to conceptualize and design a proper strategy, which I overcame through the consultations with experienced environmental educators and practitioners, and also by comparing my strategy with their strategies successful in providing action. One crucial aspect of the discussion was how to design the excursions, which were identified as a strong manner of involving the students in hands-on activities by all the interviewees.

In addition, continuous guidance and feedback was received from the course leader Tomas Jansson during the strategy development process. Formal knowledge on the procedure of developing constructive alignment received during AUPU1 and AUPU2 were helpful, which I could also potentially apply for other courses. Input from the course participants, e.g. Asif Javed, from disciplines dealing with practical education, e.g. engineering, on how they interface classroom and practical field was valuable.

A test course

In this Spring semester of 2020, I am teaching the course Sustainable development - with focus on Climate Change (CCGA01) both on campus and distance with an allowance of 220 hours in total. The objectives of the CCGA01 course align very well with the CCGA08, since this aims to provide a broad knowledge about the climate change and sustainable development, and an overall vision on how sustainable development can be achieved with focus on climate change. In particular, the final ILO of the course that intends to "take a position on how society at the individual and political levels can take measures designed to minimize the detrimental effects of climate change long-term and to promote a sustainable development" provides an excellent test case scenario for my portfolio and pedagogical strategy to pre-evaluate the effectiveness of my design to deliver ability to act. The education level and requirements of CCGA01 are the same as of CCGA08 while this runs at a 50% (day) pace between week 4 and 23 of 2020.

The syllabus of CCGA01 course from the Spring semester 2020.

The CCGA01 course constitutes four themes covering different aspects of sustainable development and climate change (see the course Canvas page for details). I chose to work on Theme 4: Societal transformation to sustainability (will be described in detail in the next section) as a test case of my portfolio since this theme is designed to deliver the ability to sustainability transformation aligning with the final ILO of the course. A preliminary syllabus was developed for theme 4 including revised ILOs and activities and assessment procedures and the evaluation of the effectiveness is on-going.

The test module design of the CCGA01 course ensured avoidance of the seven form of discriminations as reflected in the The Higher Education Ordinance (1993:100). Particular emphasis was given on the discrimination of gender and physical ability. However, both CCGA08 and CCGA01 are well represented by female students and no handicapped students were enrolled so far.

The Reflection Diary

A reflection diary was maintained throughout the whole AUPU2 course as instructed by Tomas Jansson, to reflect on the important learning points and experiences gained in and about the course. Below I summarize the important highlights from my reflection diary that contributed to the development of this portfolio.

Evaluate ability, not knowledge

6 February 2020, during AUPU2
Grid Image A work flow of Constructive Alignment. Image taken by Avit Bhowmik during the AUPU2 session on 6 February 2020.

The first important lesson from my reflection diary, which also shaped the problem of this portfolio, is that ILOs intend to deliver ability not knowledge to the students. While higher education institutes are certainly knowledge hubs and resource centers, the principle aim of the courses and programs, as discussed in the previous section and also outlined by several quality assurance documents, is to provide capability, skills and autonomy to the students to works in the respective field. This also connects to the benefit of active learning, as Tomas shared, from his experience, students learn the most when they are active.

If the problem is big, analyze it in chunks

3 March 2020, during AUPU2
Grid Image Area Blended Connected (ABC) Learning Design for CCGA08. Image taken by Avit Bhowmik during the AUPU2 session on 3 March 2020.

An important lesson from the AUPU2 participant Alexandre Sukhov during the group discussion on 3 March 2020 while reflecting on the problem we are dealing with in the portfolio, was that I have to divide the problem into small chunks for analysis since the overall problem seems too big to tangle. The exercise on Area Blended Connected (ABC) Learning Design on the same day with Ehsan Abshirini on the same day seemed to be a perfect fit for the endeavor as I managed to divide and analyze the problem and reflect on possible solutions to some extent (see the proposed design in the image above). A short exercise about frustration during problem solving led by Tomas on the same day aligned very well with the overall progress back then and opened up an opportunist view.

This lesson was taken to the meeting with Max Hansson on 6 March 2020, when we discussed about possible solutions and the actual output of it (which is described in the next section).

Learning evolves from questioning

1 April 2020, during AUPU2 Zoom session with Lena Brunzell
Grid Image Problem solving activity through active pedagogic meeting. Screenshot taken by Avit Bhowmik during the AUPU2 Zoom session on 1 April 2020.

This lesson was from an excellent session led by Lena Brunzell about flipped classroom. I received important input about designing active learning in the classroom combined with problem based learning. Effective questioning from students is central to active learning and should be mentored and motivated by a teacher in the classroom, which also reflects the charismatic role of a teacher outlined by Tomas on 3 March 2020.

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