A chance to help in making a change for the better – join us in creating a brand-new sustainability course  

Our process for developing a brand new, multidisciplinary sustainability course at the University of Helsinki has reached the next stage – creating teaching materials and content, or the actual substance of the course. As advertised before on this very blog, the learning objectives and core contents of the course have been chosen, and to build on from that, we need you, the students and staff of the university. 

During autumn semester 2020, we will be establishing small groups of interested students and staff to brainstorm and produce content for the course over teaching periods 1 and 2. This could be anything from text, video, activating exercises, ideas for student projects, to evaluation criteria for when the course launches. The registration for these groups is now open and will continue until September 6, 2020.  

There are altogether eight groups – or thematic hubs, as we call them. They will each cover a segment of the course and work on producing materials that correspond to their topic. The following groups will launch this fall: 

  1. The Introductions-hub: Sustainability as a concept, the complexity of sustainability challenges and systemic approach. 
  2. The solutions hub: Solutions to sustainability challenges – students as future experts, individuals and citizens.  
  3. Thematic hubs:

A) Global environmental commons
B) Human well-being and capabilities
C) Sustainable and just economies
D)Sustainable food systems and healthy nutrition
E) Energy decarbonisation with universal access
F) Urban and peri-urban development 

The core contents of the course – the thematic hubs – are based on the United Nations 2019 report on entry points for sustainability transformations. You can read more about them on our previous post here. 

We have several roles for both staff and students within these hubs: 

  • Developing teaching materials (staff) 
  • Group leader (staff) 
  • Developing teaching materials (Master’s students) 
  • Testing teaching materials (Both Bachelor’s and Master’s students)

We will kickstart the work on week 37 in September with an event for everyone who signed up to the hubs. After that, the groups should meet every two weeks or so, either over Zoom – or in person given the situation with coronavirus allows for it. The groups can work and produce content in Finnish, Swedish or English.  

As the work is spread throughout the autumn semester, the participants can choose if they participate either in both periods, or just one of them. The goal is to finish the first version of the course by the end of the year, but it is likely some development work will continue in spring 2021.  

The participating students can receive a certificate of their role in the process. If you wish to, you can check with your degree programme whether or not this could be counted towards your degree studies in a suitable study module. If there are more enthusiastic students registering than we are able to accommodate, priority will be given first in order of registration, unless it is necessary to weigh other factors in order to ensure hubs are as multidisciplinary as possible.  

You can sign up for the groups here. Registration will remain open until the 6th of September 2020. When signing up, you can indicate which group you would like to work in and tell us when you would be available to join usYou can also describe your field of study/research and interests, if these are something you would like to utilise in the development work.  


Learning objectives and core contents for the sustainability course – Next steps and planning for the fall

In Finnish below! 

A lot has happened in May and June on the course-development front. The development team hosted a workshop at the Vice-rector’s summer meeting for the University of Helsinki pedagogical network (more on this later) and presented a proposal of the core contents and learning goals to the Academic Affairs Council. The proposal is based on expert interviews, student survey resultsstaff workshops and literature 

The meeting of the Academic Affairs Council ended up being very encouraging, as the steering group’s proposal received positive feedback, which ultimately means that the planning can continue in the fall. This feedback will also help with refining some of the learning objectives and will be helpful for the development process in the future as wellSome vice-deans voiced their worries on student workload, which is a concern in the planning of a course such as this one – however, this will be kept in mind going forward.  

You can read the proposal in full on University of Helsinki Onedrive. To give you the long and short of it, though, the proposed course has the following learning objectives for students to:  

  1. Understand the complexities involved with sustainability and the multidisciplinary and the philosophical and ethical dimensions of the subject matter
  2. Understand their own role as an expert, as an individual, and as a member of a society in solving sustainability challenges
  3. Have the ability to discuss sustainability-related questions in an empathetic and constructive manner, and to understand alternative viewpoints 
  4. Understand the changes, and the related processes, phenomena and potential solutions to sustainability challenges 
  5. Have the ability to apply sustainability-related knowledge in a multidisciplinary project 

The course itself would be based on six steps (see picture above), during which the student would familiarize themselves with sustainability as a concept, the complexities involved with sustainability questions, multidisciplinarity, and systems-thinking (1). The student would also think about their role as an expert, as an individual and as a member of society in solving sustainability challenges (2). During later stages of the course,  students would examine the changes (3), underlying processes and phenomena (4) as well as solutions (5) related to sustainability challenges through six cross-cutting multidisciplinary thematic modules (A-F, see picture above). The student will study some of these themes more in depth.  

During the course, the student will complete a project together with a group of students from different disciplines. The project will be evaluated by peers. The ethical and philosophical questions on sustainability will be integrated across the course, not as a separate element. The course structure and modules A-F are based on the sustainability course workshops, the student survey, expert interviews and the United Nations proposal on the six key transformations needed to achieve the sustainable development goals (United Nations, 2019see pictures below).  

The development of course content will begin in August – we will keep you up to date here on our blog and our mailing list (instructions on joining here).  The idea is to gather thematic groups to work on the different elements of the course, with representatives from different disciplines. You can also keep up with the course planning on our Teams-area. Joining is easy – just follow this linkYou are welcome to join the planning and creation of the teaching materials for the MOOC – more information will be coming in August. In the meantime, we wish you a warm and relaxing summer.  


Osaamistavoitteet ja ydinsisällöt kestävyyskurssille – seuraavat askeleet ja kurssin valmistelu syksyllä 

Kurssin suunnittelu on edennyt touko- ja kesäkuussa vauhdilla. Kurssia on esitelty muun muassa vararehtorin ja yliopiston pedagogiikkatoimijoiden kesätapaamisessa. Lisäksi opetusvaradekaanit käsittelivät ehdotusta kurssin oppimistavoitteiksi ja ydinsisällöiksi opintoasiainneuvoston kokouksessa.  Ehdotus on laadittu avointen työpajojen, haastattelujen ja opiskelijakyselyn tulosten sekä kirjallisuuden pohjalta. 

Opintoasiainneuvosto otti kurssin vastaan positiivisesti. Saimme kuitenkin opetusvaradekaaneilta palautetta, joiden pohjalta kurssin oppimistavoitteita pystytään vielä tarkentamaan. Tämän lisäksi opintoasiainneuvosto toivoi, että kurssin suunnittelussa pidettäisiin huolta siitä, että työtaakka ei muodostu opiskelijoille liian raskaaksi. Nämä asiat pyritäänkin huomioimaan kurssin suunnittelussa.  

Opintoasiainneuvostolle esitellyt materiaalit voi lukea kokonaisuudessaan täältä – linkki aukeaa Helsingin yliopiston Onedriveen, joten tarvitset yliopiston käyttäjätunnuksen. Kurssin oppimistavoitteet ovat seuraavanlaiset: 


  1. Ymmärtää kestävyyskysymysten kompleksisuutta, monitieteisyyttä sekä kestävyyden eettisiä ja filosofisia ulottuvuuksia.
  2. Ymmärtää omat roolinsa asiantuntijana, yksilönä ja yhteiskunnan jäsenenä kestävyyskysymysten ratkaisemisessa. 
  1. Osaa keskustella empaattisesti ja rakentavasti kestävyyskysymyksistä ja ymmärtää toisten ihmisten näkökulmia. 
  1. Ymmärtää kestävyyshaasteisiin liittyviä muutoksia, niiden taustalla olevia prosesseja ja ilmiöitä sekä mahdollisia ratkaisukeinoja. 
  1. Osaa soveltaa kestävyyteen liittyviä tietoja monitieteisessä projektityöskentelyssä.


Kestävyyskurssi rakentuu ehdotuksessa kuudesta vaiheesta (ks. yllä oleva kuva), joiden aikana opiskelija tutustuu kestävyyteen käsitteenä, kestävyyskysymysten kompleksisuuteen ja monitieteisyyteen sekä systeemiseen lähestymistapaan (1). Opiskelija pohtii kurssilla omaa rooliaan kestävyyskysymysten ratkaisijana tulevana oman alansa asiantuntijana (suhteessa muiden alojen opiskelijoihin), yksilönä ja yhteiskunnan jäsenenä (2). Globaaleihin kestävyyshaasteisiin liittyviä muutoksia (3), muutosten taustalla olevia prosesseja ja ilmiöitä (4) sekä ratkaisukeinoja kestävyyshaasteisiin tarkastellaan kuuden läpileikkaavan monitieteisen temaattisen modulin kautta (A-F), joista opiskelija keskittyy tarkemmin osaan (esim. 1-2 teemaan perehtyminen tarkemmin). 

Kestävyyskurssin aikana opiskelija laatii monitieteisessä ryhmässä projektityön, joka vertaisarvioidaan. Kestävyyden eettiset ja filosofiset kysymykset integroidaan kurssin kaikkiin osiin läpileikkaavana teemana. 

Kurssin rakenne ja modulien teemat perustuvat kestävyyskurssin kehittämispajoissa, haastatteluissa ja opiskelijakyselyissä nousseisiin teemoihin sekä YK:n esitykseen (Yhdistyneet Kansakunnat 2019ks. kuvat alla) tiedeyhteisön kokonaisnäkemyksestä kuudesta tärkeimmästä systeemitason painopisteestä kestävyysmuutokseen, joihin keskittymällä YK:n kestävän kehityksen tavoitteiden saavuttamista voidaan vauhdittaa. 

Kurssin kehittäminen jatkuu elokuussa kurssin rakenteen pohjalta koostettavissa teemaryhmissä. Tavoitteena on, että monien eri tieteenalojen edustajia saataisiin mukaan kurssin suunnitteluun ja opetusmateriaalien rakentamiseen MOOC-kurssia vartenSuunnittelutyötä on helppo seurata esimerkiksi kurssikehittäjien Teams-alueella, jolle voi liittyä tämän linkin kautta. Lisäksi tiedotusta voi seurata täällä blogissa, sekä sähköpostilistallamme. Toivotamme kaikki kiinnostuneet mukaan kehitystyöhön, ja tiedotamme asiasta lisää elokuussa. Lämmintä ja rentouttavaa kesää kaikille!  


Student survey heading into its final week

The last week of the student survey is here! So far, our survey has received altogether 700 responses with respondents from every faculty at the University of Helsinki. There is time until Friday, so if you have not done it already, go ahead and fill out the survey here!

Even though proper analysis is still pending, it seems that the majority of the respondents (74%) are female. This is maybe less surprising considering the majority of the students at UH are female  (64% in 2018). Furthermore, whilst reading answers to our open-ended questions, I noticed many respondents mentioned the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as an important moment for them in thinking about sustainability. It also seems that many students identified the Australian bushfires and the decision made by Unicafe to remove beef from its menu as impactful sustainability-related experiences for them in the past academic year.

Once the survey is closed, we will begin a more careful analysis of student responses. I hope that we will be able to tell you more about the results soon, but until then, thank you to everyone who responded – this information is vital to the project!


Next up: A Student Survey!

 Amidst the slight change of plans brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working on a student survey with plans to launch it in April. Having an idea of what students think of sustainability and sustainability education is very important to us.  

Once the survey goes live, students will be invited to fill out the classic e-lomake survey – we’ll announce things over e-mail, in Flamma and through social media channels. And here on the blog, of course. So stay tuned!

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are underpinned by the notion of inclusion, so it wouldn’t be great if we didn’t at least try to include students in the course development process. That’s exactly what we’re aiming for with the survey – we want to know what the students think so we can drive our course development based on their experiences.  However, the survey won’t be the last chance for students to get involved – more on this later!


 Photo by Sofia Lavaste 

Some changes

Things don’t always go the way you plan them. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the consequent actions taken by the Finnish government, we will suspend our plans for hosting campus workshops, at least for the time being.

So instead, we will do remote workshops for everyone who wants to participate, likely in late April. We also want to encourage any interested parties to join our course planning Teams area. Joining is easy – just drop a line to uhsustained-team@helsinki.fi and one of our team members will add you.

Things are not entirely clear as of right now, and we will do a trial run of the workshop before official invitations go out. For now, we hope you take care of yourself and those at risk.


All the best,

Course coordinator team

Photo by Sofia Lavaste

What’s next?


Photo by Sofia Lavaste (@slavaste on Instagram)

The course development process has been kicked off with a plenty of meetings across campuses and faculties. In reality though, the process started much earlier – for example, last fall, a HELSUS trainee wrote a comprehensive report on all sustainability-related courses organised globally. This has given us an idea how multidisciplinary courses on sustainability have been organised in other universities.

The next formal step for us is to introduce the project to the Council of Education Affairs (ONE) at the university and hear their thoughts. Before that, however, the coordination team is conducting a student survey to hear thoughts from university students (we’ll tell you all about this in an upcoming post).

In addition to the more formal avenues in the development process, we will also launch workshops for enthusiastic university staff. These will be both online and in person across campuses.

If you want to know more, contact us at uhsustained-team@helsinki.fi ! You can also subscribe to our mailing list, or join our Teams-area. For both, you can contact the team above and we’ll get you sorted!


A sustainability course for all UH students

University of Helsinki is planning its own multidisciplinary sustainability course for students of all faculties. The development process will be led by university teacher Rami Ratvio. The project stems from a need to ensure graduates of the university have the skills and knowledge to deal with sustainability challenges of today and tomorrow.

Ratvio invites all university staff and students to join in on the development process. “I appreciate the work faculties, programmes and student organizations have already done on sustainability. I would be happy to acquaint myself with the ongoing sustainability projects” Ratvio says.

The development process will be kicked off with collaborative online workshops.

The course development is carried out by the Centre for University Teaching and Learning and Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science.

For additional information, contact Rami Ratvio at rami.ratvio[at]helsinki.fi