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Archive for the 'RSECon23' Category

RSE and Education for Sustainable Development: A Call to Action

By Samantha Ahern, on 12 September 2023

RSECon23 opened with a keynote from Gael Varoquaux, introducing themes synergistic to my conference workshop “How do we design and deliver sustainable digital research education”.

The actual theme of the workshop, what role(s) does RSE have to play in Education for Sustainable Development probably wasn’t what most participants were expecting. However, there were some very good conversations and ideas for action.

The workshop opened with two questions:
1. What does Sustainable mean to you?
2. What does Education for Sustainable Development mean to you?

These set the scene for the discussion in the session.

Key definitions and the SDGs

“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

UN, 1987

Sustainable Development
“An aspirational ongoing process of addressing social, environmental and economic concerns to create a better world.”

Advance HE / QAA 2021

Education for Sustainable Development
“The process of creating curriculum structures and subject-relevant content to support sustainable development.”

Advance HE / QAA 2021

The workshop participants were introduced to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and asked to consider which are areas for development in RSE and which of these areas can we affect through education?

There was a general consensus that almost all are related in some way to RSE activity and impact that activity. The most notable being SDG 4: Quality Education.

Through RSE led education activity it was felt that the SDGs that could be affected were:

  • Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Goal 4: Quality Education
  • Goal 5: Gender Equality
  • Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Goal 12:Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Goal 13: Climate Action

For Goals 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnerships For The Goals) it was unclear as to how these would apply.

Barriers and Opportunities

The discussion then focused on barriers to having an impact on the SDGs but also what opporunities we had for making a positive difference.


Key themes from the discussion on barriers were:

  • Resources: time, people, data sets
  • Funding
  • Lack of training, confidence in education skills
  • Lack of recognition
  • Lack of support / mentorship


Key themes from the discussion on opportunities were:

  • Ability to design our own materials and select data sets
  • Work collaboratively, as a community
  • Ability to raise awareness of issues
  • Access to experts from across our institutions
  • Access to education related CPD (if in a university setting)
  • Our learners want to learn
  • Our educators are passionate about their work

Although there are some well recognised barriers, there is also a lot of opportunities and connections we can leverage to make change.

The Call to Action

The workshop concluded with a design task to identify concrete steps we could take to address the barriers and leverage the opportunities.

The calls to action were:

  • Never teach alone
    • Enables different ways to explain
    • Could lead to a variety of role models
    • Less pressure
    • More perspectives
    • Broader variety of disciplines
    • Different background knowledge
  • Encourage those who found it difficult to return as helpers and instructors
  • Humanise the educators
    • Introductions
    • Live coding
    • Coding confessiona
  • Co-development of lesson materials
    • Share ideas and examples
    • Examples from different domains
  • Talk to learners
    • What is needed?

Most importantly, we are community and should leverage that community to learn from and support each other.

So, let’s work together to make a positive change!

You can view the original results on Mentimeter.

View the Twitter / X thread from the workshop.