Chemistry within Education for Sustainable Development #LTHEchat #HEAchat

Tonight’s #LTHEChat and #HEAChat is on Education for Sustainable Development. I thought I’d drain the swamp of my head with some preliminary thoughts.

We run a module called ‘Sustainable Chemistry’. It started several years ago as a 15-credit whole year 2nd year module and covered topics in sustainability, chemistry of technology, industrial chemistry, and various skills. It was split and expanded after the 1st year of operation into two. In the 2nd semester of 1st year, our single honours chemistry do Sustainable Chemistry, then in the 1st semester of 2nd year, they can do Industrial Chemistry. The modules follow one another very well thanks to their shared origin, and follow on nicely from 1st semester 1st year stuff, and lead well into later semesters of studies in terms of the skills.

Our Sustainable Chemistry module also puts the C in the NUS A-Z of Sustainability:

So what do we cover in Sustainable Chemistry? Well one thing we do not cover is the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry and Green Chemistry. That’s in Industrial Chemistry and that’s so we can cover more advanced aspects because the students have a year of university chemistry under their belts. We have a range of topics starting with an overview of what Sustainability and Sustainable Development is and what the module will be like. Then we move into the personal, looking at personal care products and their impact on the environment. The remainder of the topics vary in order but include 3 sessions on energy, then single sessions on plastics, food security, water security, health, and a session on a topical matter. Each session is 2 hours long.

Some of my favourite bits are:

food security –  we discuss lab grown meat, methods of food preservation (lots of nifty chemistry there), and whether insects are viable protein. The best bit? Having some edible insects on offer for the brave!

health – this session gets updated quite a bit but we look at antibiotic resistance, malaria and Zika (with opportunity to discuss gender equality in health care), and other aspects such as the role of plastics in the Ebola epidemic. We finish with so-called ‘life style’ diseases and the issues surrounding treatment of conditions such as obesity.

We spend comparatively little time discussing climate change and global warming, and focus on all aspects of life where chemistry can have an impact to ensure greater sustainability for the future.

The assessments for this module are focussed on research and written communication (presentation skills appear in Industrial Chemistry, this is because the students do a presentation in the 1st year module running alongside Sus Chem and that has to go first). Students are asked to:

– complete short written tasks including an inventory of their personal care products and reflection on why they buy what they do, an investigation into energy efficiency and various types of energy production, and discuss the differences between the UK and China in terms of sustainability with our students who did the module via distance learning from China.* []

– write a short essay and a long essay that are then produced as a magazine (think Chemistry World or Education in Chemistry style of writing) in small groups.

The group work is very ‘light touch’ – 65% of the module is the magazine but 50% is for the individual written pieces, 10% is a group mark for the magazine and 5% is peer-assessment for working in a group. Students are encouraged to discuss their essay topics with each other but don’t need to work together formally until the final two weeks of semester when the articles are formatted into the magazines and additional aspects such as editorials are produced. In Industrial Chemistry the group work is heavy duty with 50% of the module mark being on a group project so this is a nice way to build group work skills before that.

I’ve presented on this a fair few times but most recently in October 2016:


*I need to replace this assignment for 17/18 as I will no longer have students doing the module by distance learning.



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