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IUSC Challenge

In the Interuniversity Sustainability Challenge, second-year bachelor students from different disciplines have reflected on how to change and adapt for the sustainable city of the future. In this course of 5 to 7,5 ECTS, learners tackled the question: 

“What will a city look like at 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase, or what should a city look like?”

This inter-university collaboration aimed to bring people together outside of learners’ familiar settings and benefit from the expertise and perspectives others offer. It also revealed from which knowledge, expertise, skills, perspectives and cultural aspects learners approached the project. 

The learners collaboratively worked on a complex, real-life challenge and worked on possible solutions using a design-based approach. The project was called Almere Pampus, and the project experts had the role of societal stakeholder. The learners’ task was to develop a scientifically-sound solution to this challenge from a transdisciplinary perspective. They were required to integrate various academic and non-academic perspectives to create new knowledge and work towards a common goal. 

Learning outcomes

After successful completion of this course, the learners will be able to:

  1. Describe their project’s dimensions of sustainability from a transdisciplinary perspective using the relevant SDGs.
  2. Critically analyse/examine real-life sustainability challenges in a specific city on systems thinking level.
  3. Develop, present and critically discuss a scientifically sound and sustainable solution, using a transdisciplinary perspective and a design-based approach.
  4. Reflect on transdisciplinary, inter-university online collaboration in the context of this course and their personal role.

Learning journey

The figure below shows the course structure, indicating the three phases of Challenge Based Learning. All course activities lasted 1.5-3.5 hours and were scheduled at predefined timeslots.

In the Proposal Phase (Weeks 1-4, Engage – Explore) the partners of Almere Pampus introduced the project, and the work was distributed. It included an exploration of the problem, creation of a concept map, initial literature study, identification of relevant stakeholders, development of the socio-technological system, role of visualisation and futuring, and was finalised by submitting the proposal including the intended approach and planning.  

For each team, the final result comprised a visualisation of an SDG-inspired solution, visually presented and substantiated by a written paper. The different phases of the course were not linear. Instead, the development of the solution was an iterative process where the learners went through (parts of) the three phases several times. The course contained a series of lectures using the Virtual Classroom, a very interactive environment for live online sessions, offering insights on the SDGs from several science fields and on methodological approaches towards interdisciplinary work. These lectures supported the group project/challenge; most course meetings include workshop-like activities in which the learners worked on their projects. 


The final assessment was divided into a number of group and individual deliverables

  • The group deliverables were a project proposal, paper, visualisation and presentation.
    • Project proposal
      In this course required the learners to develop a solution (an implementable design) to a problem experienced by specific stakeholders, and thereby contribute to transformative change towards a sustainable city of the future. Thus, this course focused on a design-based approach, and the proposal was a document that detailed the problem the learners wished to explore. It demonstrated that the thinking of learners, coaches and lecturers was aligned.
    • Paper
      The learners wrote a paper to describe their challenge solution. The challenge goal was Creating sustainable value: an integral approach for the city of 1.5 degrees. In the paper, the learners shared the solution – obtained using a design-based approach – including a visualisation (see next item). The solution was based on theoretical knowledge, which they can acquired through lectures or literature relevant to their challenge. The paper had to be not more than 7,000 words or 12 pages, excluding figures, references and appendices.
    • Visualisation
      How can a visualisation contribute to futuring, and design for sustainability? To begin answering this question, the basic concepts and insights about sustainability, visioning and design were introduced. Next, the learners explored visualisation and its characteristics, including several examples from innovation, visioning, and urban planning. And finally, the specific role of visualisation in this course was discussed.
    • Presentations
      The final session of the course was an interactive presentation. During the on-site session, there was ample opportunity to present and discuss the project’s outcomes with the stakeholders, teachers, coaches and fellow learners. The session began with 5-minute pitches by each group. Here, the learners presented their project’s goal, solutions and visualisation. These pitches should convince the audience to come to the interactive presentations. After the pitches, the interactive presentations took place, spread around the room. In the interactive presentation, the learners had to show the main findings in more detail (max 10 minutes).
  • The individual deliverables consisted of personal check-in forms and personal evaluation assignments. 
    • Personal reflection
      In weeks 2, 4 and 6, there was time to ‘stop’ and reflect on how the learners and their team were doing. Over time, their approach became more concrete, and they developed a clearer perspective on the what, why and how. What they wanted to focus on as a team, why it was relevant and to whom, and how they got there.
    • Personal evaluation paper
      The learners wrote a personal evaluation paper to describe their contribution to the challenge and their views on multidisciplinary collaboration. Additionally, they reflected on the course as a whole. The paper had to be not more than 2,000 words or 5 pages, excluding figures, references and appendices.

Peer feedback was also part of the assessment. Learners had the opportunity to read the draft paper of another team. After a short introduction to peer-feedback by the coaches, the learners were paired with a learner from another team. They read each other’s draft proposals, provided feedback and discussed it together. 

Course evaluation

The CBL course has been evaluated afterwards by the learners. The evaluation results were discussed, together with the lecturer’s recommendations for improvement, by the education committee and the management team. 

General information and contact details of this CBL course can be found on the EWUU website.