Climate University goes Aalto: Innovations and Creativity in Climate Education, 2-3 March 2020

The auditorium in Dipoli, the main building of Aalto University in Otaniemi, was fully packed with multidisciplinary knowledge and climate enthusiasm when the participants of the Aalto Climate University seminar gathered together on Monday morning 2nd of March. The seminar attracted a lot of interest with more than 100 participants.

Figure: Welcome to Climate University seminar in Aalto University.

The seminar started with greeting from the vice dean of School of Science, prof. Ari Koskelainen, who emphasized the importance and acuteness of the climate crisis and the role of university education in mitigating it. The seminar theme “Innovations and Creativity” was discussed through various sustainability and climate-related showcases from Aalto University. Prof. Anniina Suominen from Aalto School of Arts presented how they already have incorporated sustainability issues quite thoroughly in arts and design education. Meri Löyttyniemi from Aalto Sustainability Hub introduced Aalto’s latest effort to map for all Aalto courses to which UN Sustainable Development Goals they relate to. The SDG labels are being introduced to Aalto´s upcoming 2020-22 course plan. Based on the labeling, approximately 10 % of the roughly 3000 courses in Aalto include climate-related content, the SDG#13.

Figure: “Social intrapreneurs” for climate education. “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.” (Margaret Mead)

Entrepreneurship was another focus of Aalto’s seminar. Minna Halme, professor of sustainability management, introduced us the concept of social intrapreneurship – acting entrepreneurially inside a large organization to achieve social or environmental aims. The concept was easily recognized by many participants and found highly empowering. Lauri Järvilehto from Aalto Ventures Program emphasized that there is clear trend going on in start-up world towards more impactful and responsible entrepreneurship, which could have a significant impact in making our societies more sustainable.

Figure: Participants analyzing their own carbon footprint with the 1,5 Degrees Lifestyle Puzzle.

The first seminar day also included several hands-on workshops. Participants got a safe space to discuss their anxieties related to climate change, and they learned how awareness-based approach can help in education to empower students for climate actions and to be more in contact with their inner feelings. One workshop group analyzed the significance of personal climate actions using the 1.5 Degrees Lifestyle Puzzle by D-mat Ltd.

Figure: Participants’ summary of what they will start doing, stop doing, continue doing and change after the seminar.

During the seminar day university researcher Angelina Korsunova challenged us to ponder our personal behaviour and thoughts: what to start on doing, what to stop, what to continue and what to change in order to achieve our individual goals as climate educators and change makers in our home universities organisations.

Figure: The climate challenges were filmed in Dipoli lobby.

The lunch and coffee breaks were utilized for Climate Challenges filming as a continuum to the campaign started at Metropolia workshop last fall. We recorded altogether 13 challenges for various actors including Aalto Student Union AYY, Aalto University and Aalto Campus and Real Estate. The challenges will be published via Climate University Twitter and YouTube accounts.

Figure: Playing sustainability board games by Snowflake Education Ltd.

During the second day participants had the chance to explore climate actions in Otaniemi high school and Aalto Junior, and play sustainability board games (Clime Out and Dilemma) designed for education by Snowflake Education from Sweden. Most of the day was devoted to piloting and developing Climate University course materials in smaller groups. Development concentrated on the following courses:

  • – a Bachelor-level course on sustainable development and its various aspects
  • – a Master level project course for solving climate and sustainability challenges with companies and organisations
  • – a Master-level course on systems thinking and multidisciplinary approaches to climate change
  • – basic course on climate change for high schools

Figure: “I love Java sweet and hot” – A surprise performance by Dominante quartet/quintet during the dinner.

The next steps for the Climate University project community include finalizing the course materials, piloting the courses with students, and most importantly promoting active integration of courses to current curricula in universities, including lifelong learning for all stakeholders and executive education as well. We hope this will proceed as smoothly as the Dominante quartet singing at our dinner in Fat Lizard restaurant!

Figure: Enjoying vegan breakfast at Dipoli.

The conference organizing team was proud about serving fully vegan food at the conference. We hope the effort will continue in the following Climate University seminars! Besides, food waste was successfully avoided during the conference by informing Aalto students of leftovers through a student-led telegram group.

Lady Fortuna was on our side, as the seminar was scheduled well before the restrictions of corona pandemic came into force. Hopefully this pandemic – once it is over – will bring forth and amplify our abilities for coordinated collective measures and improve our behavior and actions to fight the climate crisis as efficiently.

Sincere thanks for all seminar participants for making the seminar in Aalto such a great event!

Speeches from Dipoli auditorium and all seminar materials are available at:

Follow the climate challenge campaign on Twitter and YouTube: 


Text: Emma Sairanen, Sanna-Liisa Sihto-Nissilä & Meri Löyttyniemi

Photos: Cvijeta Miljak 

Tips for digital pedagogy in the time of (climate) crisis

The global COVID-19 pandemic is speeding up the digital leap in the academia. During the last couple of days, many universities have decided to fully transition to digital teaching until the epidemic situation has settled down. All mass events are cancelled and we are advised to avoid contacts and move to the virtual meeting and teaching environments.

After teaching courses online since 2016, and Leadership for sustainable change, both having hundreds of students every year, I thought to share some experiences on digital pedagogy. These are my personal experiences as a teacher, no official guidelines. Feel free to criticize and add yours! I have also attended some courses and trainings, and want to thank University of Helsinki digital pedagogy support and pedagogy courses.

My tips for digital pedagogy:

  1. Don’t leave the student alone. Climate change as well as global pandemic are terrifying to a student, who feels uncertainty about their future. Show that you care. Personal contact to the teacher and other students creates feeling of community and belonging and keeps the student motivation high.
  2. Set weekly deadlines. When studying remotely, it is easy to get lost with many tasks (tell me about it, I’m also working from home with my kids around me!). Deadlines are the student’s best friend, that keeps them in the study schedule.
  3. Digital tools are tools, not aims. They are there to help you to deliver the message. Think always about the learning aims first, and then how you can best enable the student to learn them. There is not much difference between digital pedagogy and pedagogy in general. Good teachers are usually good teachers also online.


I have tried (at least) the following online ways of teaching:

Lecturing online – streaming lectures online from your laptop gives intimacy to the teaching, even more than a mass lecture in a huge lecture hall (half empty). With virtual conferencing tools, like Zoom, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams or Skype, you can enable student comments and questions, and small group discussions in the middle of the lecture.

Recording teaching videos – this takes some time to prepare from beforehand, but is very student-friendly, when the lectures are available online whenever and wherever they are. However, my experiences are that students do not watch long videos. So keep the videos short (max 8 mins) or have activities (like H5P) in the middle.

Online help for students – set an hour of your calendar when you are available for the students via chat and video link, for them to ask any questions related to the course. Like you would have an office hour for the students, but virtual.

Online groups – climate change, for example, is a huge topic to study and students have a lot of questions and concerns related to it. It is important to have people next to you for sharing and peer-support. In courses with hundreds of students, I don’t have the opportunity to discuss with every student individually, so I find it important for them to have groups to work together. In my courses, students do assignments, write learning diaries, or do projects in groups. Most of the online groups work fine, but sometimes it is challenging to get started, especially if the students have very different motivations and challenging schedules. Extra support might be needed.

Online discussion forums – in all my online courses I have also provided the students open discussion forums to share any ideas, thoughts or questions related to the course topics. I have wanted to give them the opportunity to share what they feel they want to share, but I have to say, those have never really worked out in my courses. However, I know other teachers have used online discussion forums successfully in their courses, when students have had clear instructions and participation to the online discussions has been part of the grading.

Peer-review – reviewing other students’ assignments is a learning experience, where the student learns for example critical thinking and different ways to approach the same problem. In mass courses it also makes the teacher work load scalable. Remember that the course grading should never be based on peer-review alone, but the teacher is always responsible of the grading. So you can use the student reviews as a guiding line, but ensure that they are fair for example by checking those where the individual peer reviews differ significantly. For that reason, it is good to ask at least three individual peer-reviews for each assignment, and to have a grading matrix for the students to base their peer-review on.

Online activities – like quizzes and polls, they are nice additions that make the online learning not so boring. Moodle has many options for that and with Flinga you can create different kind of flip charts and mind maps. Don’t take it too seriously and just try – it can be also fun!

In Climate University, we are preparing online courses on climate change and sustainability for any university or other actors to use for free by the end of 2020. By providing online education in these crucial topics we aim at building the society’s capacity to face the global challenges around us.

Laura Riuttanen

University of Helsinki

Figure from, licensed as Creative Commons Zero – CC0