Education for Sustainable Development – a Virtual Exchange project with partners from school practice

Teacher students from Spain and Germany collaborated on concepts for implementing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in schools. School practitioners and a policy-making institution presented cases of best practices and were involved in discussions with the students. Based on this, the students developed their own ideas, guided by their respective teachers as moderators.

Coordinating lecturers: Dr. Henning Feldmann (Ruhr University Bochum, RUB), Dr. Nerea Gutiérrez Fernandez (University of Deusto, UD), Dr. Luana Ferreira-Lopes (UD), Dr. Arantza Arruti (UD), Lucien Kemper (RUB), Maya Krüger (Kreidestaub e.V.), Jan Miksch (Kreidestaub e.V.), Dr. Marie Vanderbeke (RUB)

Title: Sustainable Learning Journey with Virtual Exchange

Setting: The Virtual Exchange (VE) connected 21 teachers and students from UD and 25 teachers and students from RUB via Zoom. The duration of the exchange was four hours in total and sustainable school concepts were presented by school representatives from Spain (Jesuitinas, Ayalde) and Germany (Stemweder Bergschule) as well as by representatives of UN Etxea in Bilbao (Spain).

Target group: Teacher students from the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education programmes (RUB) and teacher students from the Primary Education Bachelor’s degree (UD).

Collaborative activity: Ideas and concepts of a sustainable school were developed in groups formed by students (5 students per group) from both participating universities within a simulation game and a final discussion was held about different preconditions for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and their implementation in the respective countries.

ECTS: The virtual exchange is integrated into existing courses at the partner universities. At RUB, the VE is incorporated into the course ‘Sustainable Learning Journey with Virtual Exchange’ and is credited with 5 ECTS for the B.A. students and 3 ECTS for master´s degree students in education. In the case of the University of Deusto, the VE is aimed at students taking a degree in Primary Education, specifically enrolled in the subject Didactics of Foreign Languages I: English, which has 6 ECTS.

Preparation: Prior to the VE, the Deusto and Bochum project leaders prepared materials to provide students with the necessary information for the exchange. These materials included brief introductions to the school systems and structures in Germany and Spain and clarifications of the national regulations for integrating ESD in the classroom. To provide students with practical examples of successful ESD integration in schools, the project leaders recruited representatives from schools that excel in ESD integration. These representatives prepared presentations of their ESD concepts and innovative pedagogical practices at the school level. A timetable was drawn up for the exchange in consultation between the responsible people from RUB and UD.

Digital tools: MentiMeter and TaskCards were chosen to ensure that students from Spain and Germany could work together collaboratively and document the results of the group work. The students were asked to (a) familiarize themselves with the preparatory material and (b) get to know the other group through a TaskCard-board showing the presentations of the teachers and students in the exchange.


Icebreaker activity: Due to the tight schedule it was not possible for the students from Deusto and Bochum to get to know each other personally before the exchange, so the first 20 minutes were used to familiarize the students. In breakout rooms, the students talked about their university life and daily routines based on guiding questions, followed by a short introduction of the respective RUB and UD projects, in which the exchange has been integrated. This was followed by a discussion on the intention of the exchange: to get to know different forms of implementing ESD in schools.

Presentation of good practice: To demonstrate the integration of ESD in schools in a practical way, UNESCO´s Basque representative, UN Etxea, gave a talk on ESD and what materials can help teachers in the classroom. Afterwards, two Spanish and one German school presented sustainable school concepts and shared possibilities to concretely implement ESD in their schools.

Collaborative work of the students: After the presentations, the students were asked to participate in a simulation game based on the question: “What would my ideal ESD-school look like?”. With the help of material prepared in TaskCards, mixed groups of Spanish and German students discussed the aspects that are important to them in a sustainable school. They developed their own concept of an ideal ESD school based on information from their previous studies and examples from the participating schools. To do this, each group was assigned two categories. These categories were: 1) school infrastructure, 2) school governance, 3) classroom practice, and 4) school life and community. In doing so, they developed a school concept that referred to selected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ESD practices. The working groups presented their imaginary school and their ESD concept to the other groups. After the discussion of the school concepts, the students were asked to what extent the VE has helped them in their future teaching practice. To collect the different statements, students entered their comments in the digital tool MentiMeter.

Mentoring activities: Since the Sustainable Learning Journey with Virtual Exchange is based on student teaching, the RUB students were supported by the student group leaders prior to the VE. They observed the groups during the working sessions and acted as mediators and moderators between the RUB and UD students. During the exchange, the project leaders from Deusto and Bochum assumed the role of moderators and provided the digital setting for the VE to take place.

Challenges: Language and interaction. During the first Icebreaker activity, the students reacted rather cautiously. In addition, it was observed that different approaches to tasks were discussed within the groups. Some students valued personal exchange and socialization more, while others focused on a quick solution to the tasks set. In addition, a couple of groups faced technical problems which prevented them from establishing clear communication. In general, the planned schedule was too tight. Therefore, during the first project leaders’ reflection session, it was considered to plan the next VE over several days in the framework of a seminar and to give more time to get to know each other, exchange ideas and reflect on the intercultural aspects of the exchange.

Dr. Henning Feldmann, Dr. Nerea Gutiérrez Fernandez, Dr. Luana Ferreira-Lopes, Dr. Arantza Arruti, Lucien Kemper, Maya Krüger, Jan Miksch, Dr. Marie Vanderbeke