University Educators For Sustainable Development

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Responsibility in Higher Education -strengthening sustainability in university teaching

Organisations: University of Zurich (Lead Organisation)

Funding organizations = the Sustainable Development at Universities Programme, which is supported by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Science and the Mercator Foundation Switzerland.

Authors: Sara Petchey


The Responsibility in Higher Education professional development program at the University of Zurich is a series of workshops which bring together teaching staff from all faculties to deepen and broaden their understanding of sustainability and the innovative pedagogies which will enable them to transform the way they integrate sustainability in their teaching. The program aims to increase the prevalence and significance of topics of sustainability in the curriculum of all university study pathways and to create an interdisciplinary community of innovative teachers who support and learn from one another.

ESD Focus

In order to best prepare our students for a changing world, university teaching should shift away from a traditional focus on decontextualized content towards student-centered, active learning embedded in real-life sustainability issues which helps students develop competencies such as critical thinking, imagining future scenarios, and collaborative decision-making. Students should be allowed to grapple with difficult challenges such as climate change, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption in their courses regardless of their major.

Professional Development Approach

The driving assumption behind our workshops is that many teachers have not had sufficient training in innovative pedagogies or opportunities to learn deeply and broadly about sustainability such that they have the confidence and skills to transform their teaching. We use sustainability expert presentations, pedagogical coaching, peer collaboration, and peer and self reflection to improve participants’ senses of self efficacy as innovative ESD leaders. We discuss stealth to thematic strategies for integrating sustainability. We look at a vision of education in the Anthropocene era. A panel of colleagues share their experiences (good and bad) with teaching about sustainability in their courses. We reflect upon principles from psychology to help people change. Most importantly, our participants work in interdisciplinary teams to develop their own teaching ideas into realizable teaching practices.

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