Teach-in: Ecological Literacy in Design Education

The 2012 Imperative was launched with a Teach-in at the Victoria and Albert Museum in October 2009. The project has an ambitious goal: to embed with ecological and sustainability literacy in design education by 2012. Several hundred design students, lecturers and practitioners participated in the Teach-in and 250 have signed up to a collaborative site to continue working towards project goals. Resources and videos of the speakers presentations are viewable on the project website. The project explores an ecological view of education: i.e. one that that is relational, holistic, participatory and practical while encouraging participants to initiate a process of change at their local institutions.

Embedding ecological and sustainability literacy in design education will only become possible through a collective effort. Sustainable education is a profound challenge within higher education in part because transmitting information about environmental issues is not enough. Information alone does not necessarily lead to change. Dr Stephen Sterling, Schumacher Reader in Education for Sustainability at the University of Plymouth, explains that ‘not only does it not work, but too much environmental information (particularly relating to the various global crisis) can be disempowering, without a deeper and broader learning process taking place’. (Sterling, 2001) 

Sterling describes a four stage learning process towards sustainable education:
1- no change (no learning: ignorance, denial, tokenism)

2- accommodation (1st order - adaptation and maintenance)
3- reformation (2nd order learning - critically reflective adaptation)
4- transformation (3rd order learning - creative re-visioning) (Sterling, 2001)

The Teach-in attempted to create conditions for transformational 3rd order learning by creating a participatory social learning process. This orientation is needed to allow learners to re-access basic assumptions in regards to the systemic roots of environmental problems. Reflecting on our own ideas and perceptions in relation to the environment is necessary to create an ecologically literate basis for action. This epistemic learning provides a foundation to enable designers to create suitable solutions.

The 2012 Imperative challenges individuals within education to work towards embedding ecological and sustainability literacy in the curriculum, while also attempting to transform university facilities to reflect good environmental practice. A ‘Ten-Step Checklist’ is provided as a guide for reducing carbon emissions locally. Institutions are encouraged to sign up to a programme to reducing carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. 

Surveys and feedback forms demonstrate a strong desire amongst participants for universities to address sustainability. 95% of respondents thought that universities have a responsibility to teach students skills to deal with environmental and social problems. However, questions on the survey that asked participants to rate their familiarity with common words and phrases associated with sustainability literacy revealed that important concepts in sustainability literacy were still unfamiliar for many participants. Responses in regards to ethics were enthusiastic and committed to the idea that we are responsible to future generations.

The 2012 Imperative is a framework for change in design education. It is intended to encourage collaboration in the design of a sustainable educational paradigm. It is open to be adapted to local institutions although there are common themes such as carbon reductions that we all need to address. A global network with 250 participants and 17 institutional groups has been established on-line to create a space to share resources, strategies and ideas. The 2012 Imperative, Ten Step Checklist, videos of presentations at the Teach-in and other resources are posted on the project website. For more information see the project website www.teach-in.eco-labs.org.uk and the collaborative Ning http://teach-in.ning.com.

Sterling, S. (2001) Sustainable Education
.  Totnes: Green Books.