Students were solving global challenges in a new sustainability course

The University of Helsinki opened a pilot version of a new multidisciplinary sustainability course in the fourth period. In the course students learned about the complexity and multidisciplinary of sustainability issues and got tools to understand their role as an individual and an expert in the field to answer these challenges.

Students were also participating in multidisciplinary teams to solve sustainability challenges on a topic of their own choosing. We interviewed two groups about their course experience. 

Worm compost for kindergartens 

Helmi Kohonen and Jukka Kivelä came to the course to get a more holistic view of sustainability science. Kohonen said that the course gave her an opportunity to include sustainability science, which she was really interested in, to her degree, even though it was not initially part of her degree program.  Kohonen and Kivelä found the course also useful, as it encouraged them to think about their own emotions, attitudes and values regarding sustainability. 

-It is really challenging and even uncomfortable to notice your own routine-like behaviors and mind obstacles. I found it really useful that the course also gave  an opportunity for my own  personal reflection, Kohonen says. 

The group of Kohonen and Kivelä presented an idea of bringing up worm compost to kindergartens. The compost would provide an opportunity to use the produced food waste already at site in front of kids, and to produce soil amendment for own small scale vegetable garden. Through play, children would learn to think about biowaste as an important resource, understand the cycle of nature,  and become pioneers of circular economy.  

-For children, worms are interesting creatures and earthworm composting is an ideal way to give environmental education. It is easy to implement and gives a lot of fun opportunities to adapt new skills and knowledge, the team summarizes their idea. 

Kohonen and Kivelä conclude that  their group work process was successful, despite the challenges posed by working remotely.  The group chose their topic collective, by combining the areas of expertise and interests of all team members. They also felt that the team members completed one another, which enabled everyone to bring their own expertise and skills to the project.  

Picture: Helmi Kohonen 

Invasive species are unwanted winners of climate change 

Anniina Hämäläinen, Oona Koskenvesa, Anna Ahdekivi and Mari Kolkki came to the sustainability course to learn more about the questions surrounding sustainability and to gain a broader understanding of the theme that goes beyond what they have learned in the courses of their degree majors. They found the course interesting also because of its interdisciplinarity and the opportunity it provided to work together with students from various fields. 

When choosing the topic for their group work, they wanted to turn the idea of ​​climate change sufferers on its head. Thus, they asked an opposing question: who are the beneficiaries of climate change? The answer for them was - well of course invasive species. 

As a solution to the problems caused by invasive species, the group presented an invasive species phone application, which could be used to report observations of invasive species.  The application would also provide a platform to search  areas for voluntary weed control and to tell others about the already weeded  areas. The group also proposed a general permit for removing invasive species, because at the moment it is necessary to ask permission of the land owner to remove invasive species. The general permit would make the process of removing species easier and faster. In addition, the state could start up a deposit-refund system,  which would operate like the Finnish bottle recycling system. After participating to the invasive species weed control  training, people would be granted with a small compensation from removing invasive species. 

The group told that their group work was very effective. Their diverse backgrounds brought very different knowledge and expertise the work, which was integral for coming up with a solution to the challenge. 

The next pilot will open for students in the fall  

In the course feedback, around 80 % of the students were completely or mostly satisfied to the course, and about 77 % would recommend it for others as well. Students also gave a lot of development ideas, which will be  used to improve the course material. In addition, few completely new study modules are now opened in the course’s MOOC  area. 

Several amazing elevator pitches were also produced  by students as a part of their groupwork. Watch a video by Jenna Kuivalainen, Pinja Jääskeläinen, Meri Konttila and Emma Tuomisto about the ways to solve the biodiversity crisis in Finnish forests. Video is in Finnish

Sustainability course will be organized next time in the autumn 2021 period 2. 

Read more about the course on the course blog.