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Saturday, 16 October 2010

"I was not the most environmentally friendly person, but now, having done work and research on the harm each individual can cause, I feel a lot more aware of my environment and I will definitely make sure I play my part."

This reflection, by a student on this Professional Communication Unit (PCU) course, illustrates a global challenge:  how to make students green. The course has won the originators, Terri Grant and Claudia Kalil, the Backsberg Group Sustainability Award at the 2010 Green Campus Initiative Awards ceremony held at the University of Cape Town recently.

Criteria for the award included:

  • Initiatives to make the campus more environmentally sustainable
  • Long-term effectiveness
  • Capacity to enact change
  • Commitment and service to environmental sustainability
  • Leadership
  • Co-operation 

Terri Grant, head of the PCU, said:  "For the course in 2008 we selected an institutional scenario, UCT's sustainability policy and the work of the Green Campus Initiative (GCI) to provide the content and a context in which to embed the entire communication module.  It worked so well, we extended it in 2009 and 2010. Winning the Green Campus Group Award this year sends a powerful signal to the UCT community that environmental sustainability on campus is all our business."

Congratulations came from environmental consultant Sarah Rippon, who said: "Well done on your foresight and vision in bringing sustainability into the core of your curriculum. I, too, am convinced of the educational value of setting this topic".

In her recommendation she wrote: "The topics for the course have ranged from energy efficiency, water conservation, water recycling and how to encourage behaviour change amongst students and staff towards greater environmental responsibility. From the feedback I obtained from students, I am convinced that they develop commitment to environmental sustainability as a result of this course. The focus of the student research topics on the context surrounding them is a powerful means of education and change towards a more sustainable campus and society".

Grant said the underlying collaborative teaching and learning approach used was Scenario Pedagogy.

"We have used this for developing business and academic communication in selected short and core PCU courses over the past 10 years. It's a collaborative model of teaching and learning that aims to enhance the learning, interest and motivational aspects for participants of an educational experience and to broaden the educational goals achieved in the classroom.  In this way, it aims to support the goals of Higher Education by producing graduates with the skills and competencies of critical and analytical problem-solving, effective communication, working in diverse teams, self-management and organisation, information processing and use of technology within a real-life context."

In their submission, Terri Grant and Claudia Kalil wrote: "As lecturers in the Professional Communication Unit we teach research and professional communication practices such as correspondence, report and proposal writing, business presentations and group work. We cultivate in students as far as possible a 'real world' view in what we teach and the activities we engage them in. Although our major aim is to teach students professional communication skills and practices, if we can do so within the framework of sustainable business and a wider focus on the triple bottom line, then we feel that we are doing more and doing better."

They co-opted the expertise of academic and administrative staff to plan the topics for student research, consult to the students in their research, and form part of an assessment panel. These staff members have come from Properties and Services, the Energy Research Centre, the Environmental Evaluation Unit, Construction Economics, Law and UCT Libraries.

Kalil said: "Student feedback has been unreservedly positive since course inception, but what strikes a real chord is the changing of behaviour patterns which students attest to in their course assessments and reflections. We feel confident students will sustain these attitudes beyond the course into their own lives and workplaces."

"Indeed, this subject will remain topical and possibly become more critical in years to come. As staff of the PCU, we intend to pursue this teaching and learning approach which is not only rewarding for participants but also teaches far more than communication skills."


Story By : Carolyn McGibbon