Avit Bhowmik | I care for climate and environment

Core Area 2 - Problem analysis

In this section, I describe and analyze the problem I have identified at the completion of teaching CCGA08 last year, which I intend to solve in this portfolio. The problem analysis section comprises the following subsections.

  • Problem statement
  • A review of the existing syllabus
  • A review of the quality assurance guidelines and legislation
  • Expectations from the field

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Problem statement

The problem I identified in this portfolio regarding the CCGA08 course is:

The ILOs don't deliver ability to act

I had a great set of collaborative students in the classroom, who engaged into intriguing discussions and brought in novel input to the final essay as a fulfillment of the course (described in detail in the next subsection). However, during the presentation of the essay, when I asked them: "How would you apply what you learned in this course to transform your peers into sustainability and mitigate climate change in your context?", there was no satisfactory answer. This shows me something along the process went terribly long. With my seven years' experience of working in the climate change and climate mitigation field, I realized that the absolute urgent thing needed is individual climate action (described in detail in the final subsection). I designed this course with the liberty I was given to deliver this ability among the students. I included output of my own research work and continuously emphasized the need for individual climate action. However, although students' knowledge of climate change and mitigation substantially improved after the course, the ability to act was absent.

A review of the existing syllabus

To dive deep into the root of the problem, I first analyzed the existing syllabus (presented in the "Course, learners and learning outcomes" section) of CCGA08.

  • The syllabus is overly ambitious and is trying to achieve too much in a single course
  • As described in detail in the previous "Course, learners and learning outcomes" section the CCGA08 course aims to provide insights on both about the problem side, i.e. fundamentals, causes and impacts, and the solution side, i.e. policies, mitigation and adaptation tools, of climate change. While many universities dedicated an entire program to teach about climate change, for example Master of Science (MSc) in Climate Change program at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, delivering students with the capability of reflecting on both climate change problem and acting to solve it in a single course is indeed overly ambitious. Whereas there are four other course offered at Karlstad University about climate change problem and solution, of which I myself am teaching the Sustainable development - with focus on Climate Change in this Spring semester of 2020, there seems to be no actual synchronization among these courses and many of their content appear to be redundant. A course that explicitly focuses on delivering the ability to act to solve climate change problem does seem suitable in addressing this particular problem of this portfolio.

  • The ILOs are not designed to deliver ability to act
  • I regard this at the core of the problem I am analyzing since the design of ILOs is fundamental for achieving success in a course. As described earlier, the ILOs of CCGA01 are designed to deliver the ability of describing, reviewing, discussing and to some extent, demonstrating students understanding of climate change, causes, impacts, policies and solutions. However, they are not explicitly designed to deliver the students with the ability to act to solve this problem. This is a crucial gap in the whole course design because each course should ideally provide the ability to act aligning with the demand of respective field of work (which I will describe in the final subsection). A constructive alignment should bridge the actual work conducted in the field by professionals with the knowledge delivered at higher educational institutes with the aim of delivering the students the ability to act (Shulman, 1987). This basis is critically missing is the CCGA08 ILOs.

  • The activities and assessments don't explicitly address the ability to act
  • The activities and assessment procedures designed for CCGA08 include lectures, seminars, group discussions, group and individual presentations, literature review and a final essay. Visible skills were obtained by the students with the ability of communicating climate science, critical review and thinking of existing policies, tools and documents and giving account of theories, causes and impacts related to climate change dynamics. However, the activities and assessment procedures also don't explicitly deliver the ability to act towards climate solution. Students may implicitly get the notion of possible action that could be undertaken, but a solid understanding of possible individual action is missing. I would particularly like to focus on the final essay, which covers 60% of the final grade, and point to the missing ability to act in the assessment design in the description below.

Description of the final essay assessment for CCGA08 in the Autumn semester 2019.

Note that the final essay assessment is explicitly designed around climate action and ask for solutions that may lead to rapid impact and abrupt changes in the status quo. The assessment also encourages local examples from participants own regions and seeks for novelty and innovations. However, the design doesn't explicitly ask for participants own action in context, be it a professional, concerned citizen, activist or social member led action. As a result, many novel, innovative and interesting solutions with great potentials were documented in the essays, but no connection was made to actual individual ability to act.

A review of the quality assurance guidelines and legislation

While the Ability to Act is critically missing in the course ILOs, activities and assessment procedures, an inherent question arises: Whether it is legally and legislatively required from the university?. To answer this question, I reviewed the following documents concerning quality assurance in higher education and higher education act and ordinances adopted in Swedish universities.

As it turned out from my review of the above documents that the universities in Sweden and Europe are indeed legally and legislatively bound to provide, through a course or through a program in combination of courses, the ability to act and autonomy for the work in the respective field. For example, in page 7 paragraph 3 of "Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area", it is explicitly stated:

Higher education aims to fulfil multiple purposes; including preparing students for active citizenship, for their future careers (e.g. contributing to their employability), supporting their personal development, creating a broad advanced knowledge base and stimulating research and innovation.

Moreover, "The Higher Education Ordinance" of Sweden, 1993, states in the clause 100:

After completion of a bachelor's program, a student should demonstrate the skills required to work autonomously in the main field of study.

"The Higher Education Act" of Sweden, 2006, also states in the clause 173:

The aim of a course or program is to develop the students' potential for professional activities that demand considerable autonomy, or for research and development work.

In a nutshell, delivering the Ability to Act is a legal and legislative requirement and should be implemented either in each course or synchronized among courses in a program.

Expectations from the field

I have been involved with the climate change science-policy field for the last seven years. I have substantially contributed to climate change and climate solutions literature. Currently, I am leading modelling activities and working as a senior research fellow in two research projects focusing on climate mitigation and adaptation. Moreover, I am actively involved with the climate policy arena, for example, I participated in the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and Global Climate Week. These provide me with a solid knowledge base for shaping, designing and updating CCGA08 outline, literature and content according to the latest research and policy needs.

Video showing how global greenhouse gas emissions have increased despite national policies and efforts. Credit: Global Carbon Project, 2020.

The major hindrance to climate action in the field is the overburden of responsibilities on the nation states, and a lack of focus on every level of society, i.e. individual to global levels. I describe this in Bhowmik et al. (2020) in detail. The reason is four-fold: (i) the population sizes of 193 UN signatories vary by four orders of magnitude and hence, indicate different degrees of capabilities, resources and contributions, (ii) several local and community level sustainability initiatives often demonstrated more success and impact than global and national level initiatives, (iii) governance on local level has more capability to interconnect different policy realms such as sustainable livelihoods and jobs, creation, environmental sustainability, sustainable energy, and sustainable consumption; and (iv) implementation of sustainability action strategies demand active formation of human agencies to govern transformation, which relies on the actual size of the population in different societal levels rather than imprecise national or global measures. Distributed global responsibilities from individual to global levels through agencies is thus fundamental to enable transformation in every social sphere and implementation of SDGs across every level of society.

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