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Transforming higher education

CEMUS, the student-led transdisciplinary centre at University of Uppsala, is incorporating the three spheres of transformation in their course design and setting an example for the future of higher education. Read More

At most universities, instructors impart knowledge upon a room of docile students. Students receive the knowledge, complete assignments and examinations, and–somewhere along the line–are given a degree. So goes the traditional, dominant model of higher education.

The Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS) at Uppsala University is challenging that model.

CEMUS is a student-led, transdisciplinary centre whose foundation is built upon a deep commitment to contributing to a more just and sustainable world.

In the early 1990’s, two students at Uppsala University felt that their courses were lacking the interdisciplinarity needed to address the crucial environment and development issues of the time.

How did the university respond? By giving these students the opportunity to design and run a new course. Soon enough, CEMUS was born.

Since then, the centre has been transcending traditional academic disciplines and the boundaries between academia and society at large. Students at CEMUS not only collaborate closely with course coordinators, teachers, researchers, university administrators, and societal actors, but design and lead the courses themselves.

We spoke to Jakob Grandin, a student-turned-educational-coordinator at CEMUS, about the  and the use of the three spheres of transformation in CEMUS courses.

Grandin co-teaches a course called Processes for Change: Leadership, Organization, and Communication which integrates a rich array of teaching strategies–guest speakers, interactive workshops, student-led applied learning projects, and student discussion and reflection. The course intends to foster student agency and leadership, enabling students to engage in deliberate transformations to address key issues of the time. He expresses the value of this kind of education:

“I think it’s extremely important to create education that is proportional to the issues we are facing…so that we create education that is in line with the types of challenges and the types of problems we are learning about.”

In this course, the three spheres of transformation–the cCHANGE framework that highlights the nonlinear interactions between practical, political, and personal domains of change–is used by the students to understand processes for change and design their own applied-learning projects. The framework has been used in varying capacities: from designing projects that get dental care for EU migrants to analyzing Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood in an effort to understand the actors and strategies involved in change.

To Grandin, the three spheres framework builds upon the widely-acclaimed Leverage Points framework by Donnella Meadows, but is more efficient in conveying the abstract. In his words:

“Sometimes we give our students a menu of different perspectives to use and many of them choose to use the three spheres of transformation because it’s very clear and it captures the complexity of society and social change in quite a graspable and simple way, which I think makes it extremely efficient.”

Grandin goes on to illustrate how the framework relates to the course, CEMUS, higher education, and society at large. Read more about the course and CEMUS here.

Image retrieved from www.web.cemus.se

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