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Digitised Story Telling to embed Sustainability Development Goals in higher education

14 Sep 2020 | Dr Soum Choudhury and Dr Sian Joel-Edgar Following their presentation at STEM Conference 2020, Dr Soum Chowdhury and Dr Sian Joel-Edgar explain how their research has developed through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Digital Story Telling and Sustainability Development Goals

Embedding the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) is imperative in higher education to address growing needs of society and contemporary business organisations for sustainable innovation, corporate social responsibility practices, and adhere to government initiatives, policies and sustainability goals. Therefore, it is necessary for higher education (HE) graduates to develop essential skills and competencies around the SDGs, and be able to reflect on and apply their knowledge to real-world business operations and across complex global supply chain ecosystems, where leanness, sustainability, and productivity are crucial for the organisation to remain competitive.

Advance HE STEM Conference 2020 provided us with a conducive platform to demonstrate our innovative digital story-telling conceptual framework, which is developed using an open source software, ‘TWINE’, to design engaging SDG learning activities for business, management and information technology courses. The workshop was attended by multidisciplinary academic practitioners, and the discussion during the session helped to reflect on: (1) relevance of SDGs in individual modules as a way of practicing the knowledge, as opposed to creating knowledge on sustainability; (2) SDGs within various multidisciplinary, complex and interconnected decision-making contexts, which will be relevant in their future workplace

What we have done since STEM 2020

Since the workshop, taking into account all the feedback, conversations and discussion with colleagues during the STEM conference (primarily focussing on student engagement, demonstrating the value of the learning activity, and capturing their interest), we have employed a story-boarding approach to contextualise the non-linear story and set it against Dante’s Paradiso, where students will visit different levels of paradise by answering questions. The aim of the questions, context and the levels are to help the students understand the impact of their current practices with respect to SDGs, and ways to improve their own sustainability journey. This idea to set against Dante’s Paradiso was conceptualised by a new member (Dr Lauren Traczykowski) joining our team.

Covid-19 and HE Transformation

However, we have extended our research, as the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped and transformed higher education system across the globe, bringing new shifts in education approaches, innovation and mindset. The Covid-19 pandemic caught the higher education sector unawares, making face-face teaching revert to virtual sessions, delivered through an array of digital tools. Overnight, HE across the globe has moved teaching and learning online, which had led to changes at various levels – process, organisation structure, work culture and human mindset. This has not been an easy ride, and though technology has always been available, the fast adoption was driven by ability of teachers and students across institutions to come on board for this change, and the unforeseen situation due to the pandemic. Commentators and practitioners have widely discussed major implications on several fronts, including fee structure, student engagement, innovation, human element in teaching and digital divide.

Knowing the unknowns

Our research focuses on understanding, exploring and examining the key strategies and their effectiveness, to bridge the gap in a blended style learning environment, between: how students will learn and how teachers can facilitate this learning; how students can effectively with technology led learning activities that will facilitate engagement both online and offline; training needs for the teachers, administrators and the students. Few questions we would like to answer or at least aim to discuss in our research are:

1. Teaching using masks – How to pace the teaching, organise breaks and content, manage productivity (for both students and teachers)

2. Organising delivery of contents (Less is More)

3. Engaging students – in class, remote and hybrid using activities using technology tools

4. Creating student bubbles – for group projects (engaging offline)

5. KISS: Keep it Simple and Straightforward.Collaboration and Partnerships for evidence-based research

This is an unprecedented time in our history. We know that higher education teachers and institutions are continuously adapting amidst the uncertainty. Drawing on from Diffusions of Innovation theory, HE is in majority stage already with online teaching, but to further sustain these changes effectively over time requires behavioural changes and evolving teaching pedagogies to fit online learning.

There are still many unknowns which need to be discovered and eventually managed, beyond just the use of technology. Therefore, collaboration, cooperation, and connections between HE practitioners across the globe will be the key to enhance online, distance and blended learning, understand needs of teachers and trainers, and safeguarding the inclusive nature of digital learning opportunities.

We believe more than ever, Advance HE’s STEM Conference can provide us a platform to share experiences, listen to and learn from each other, that will help to amplify student engagement and learning experience in this new pandemic era. This conference will facilitate constructive and thoughtful discussion between cross disciplinary HE practitioners in different roles, to develop partnerships, working groups and agenda exploring HE needs and transformation.        


The call for proposals for #STEMConf21 Rethinking STEM Higher Education are now open. Submissions are invited that address one or more of the following themes:

  1. Rethinking practice-based education
  2. Rethinking assessment
  3. Re-Connecting
  4. Renewed

The deadline for submissions is midnight on 5 Oct 2020, for more information and to submit your proposal, click here.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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