Learning from and with Nature #47 #cong20


We need to put nature at the centre of our education systems to resolve our climate crisis and avoid environmental catastrophe.

Total Words


Reading Time in Minutes


Key Takeaways:

  1. We are part of Nature
  2. Nature should be central to our education system
  3. Doing so will help us address climate change and environmental catastrophe
  4. This is urgent

About Jimmy D'Arcy:

I am the Youth Leadership & Sustainability Manager with the GAA. As such I oversee the development and implementation of our non playing related contributions to the Primary and Post Primary curriculum as well as our bespoke youth oriented programmes. I also manage our GAA Green Clubs Programme aiming to support GAA Clubs to operate in a more sustainable way. I am passionate about learning, creativity and community.

Contacting Jimmy D'Arcy:

You can contact Colin via email, and LinkedIn

By Jimmy D’Arcy

The Western Educational system is out of touch with the world around it. It is too focused on passive consumption and lacks critical thinking; lessons are most often held indoors and students are disconnected from the environment around them. What if we could learn from and with nature? It is proven that being in nature can improve children’s development, their mental health and physical health and their imaginations.

Furthermore, society is facing potentially catastrophic crises such as climate change and biodiversity loss and we need to foster a culture of dreaming in order to transition to alternative and resilient futures. How might the educational system have to change in order to learn from and with nature, to understand our place within the ecosystem and to foster a culture of dreaming alternative futures?

Universities Need to Remain Relevant #15 #cong20


As universities become successful businesses focus has shifted away from the local community to the global consumer. Deindustrialisation, austerity and now Covid-19 are decimating communities. Universities need to shift some of their focus inward to ensure they remain relevant.

Total Words


Reading Time in Minutes


Key Takeaways:

  1. Universities are tasked to serve the entire community
  2. They need to engage more with communities living with austerity
  3. Universities need to re-think access to learning
  4. Value lies in recognising the entire community as a learning canvas

About Joanna Norton

I teach creative research at a UK higher education institution. I work with the Departure Lounge, a contemporary art gallery in Luton to develop bespoke creativity sessions for communities living with austerity. I am also a teacher educator, app developer and artist..

Contacting Joanna Norton:

You can connect with Joanna on Twitter, LinkedIn or see her work.  

By Joanna Norton.

For universities to remain relevant, they need to deliver benefits for the whole community, especially for those who will never have the privilege of studying at one.  Stephen Ball from the Institute of Education argues that universities have become bastions of neoliberalism.  Higher Education in the UK has the second highest proportion of temporary, short-term and zero-hour employment contracts after the leisure and tourism industry.  Entry to higher education is increasingly governed by access to personal finance.  Escalating tuition fees along with the rising cost of study is causing a reduction in the diversity of the student body.  With insufficient income to invest in their education, lower middle class and working class students are disappearing from registers. To plug the gap, each school now has their own business team focused on tempting international students to their respective campuses.  While international students add huge value to learning, their presence has ensured university strategy has turned global, while the need remains local.

Austerity has ravaged communities. Its imposition on swathes of people forcibly separated from their industrial pasts has been brutal. As Covid-19 moves through these same streets, the ability of these communities to navigate their way to a 3.0 society is increasingly precarious. Universities are investing heavily to ensure their student-consumers are prepared for an uncertain future. While all stakeholders acknowledge that this uncertain future is coming, they struggle to predict with any great certainty when it will be. Yet, the lack of economic privilege along with the time to simply ponder such questions prevents underserved communities joining the debate. Indeed, many simply dismiss the question at hand. For such communities, the uncertain future that others are frantically trying to mitigate against, is already here.

We need to re-think access to learning. Access to learning journals remain locked behind paywalls, while wider debate, often ill-informed, rages online. Academic staff, mostly hourly paid, are tasked to serve the needs of the global elite rather than the needs of the communities in which they live. Obsession with shiny buildings ignores the increasing availability of learning spaces and local expertise within communities. Solutions to real-world challenges often lie outside academia, yet the exclusion of diverse voices increasingly undermines the relevance of universities. The following are some initiatives I developed to ensure knowledge is both relevant and accessible:

1. Luton 2050 is inspired by the concept of Paris 2050. Paris is committed to reducing greenhouse gasses by 75% by 2050 and proponents suggest architecture will play a crucial role in this process. With schools and members of the wider community we looked at:

  • the future of housing for a community of renters
  • converting disused buildings into urban farms as a solution to food poverty
  • sharing learning around aquaponics and hydroponics with communities in sub-Saharan Africa through the local diaspora

2. Learning in the launderette. A local Kashmiri woman has run the local launderette in Luton for over 25 years and has a hidden wealth of knowledge behind the science of washing clothes. She has repeatedly turned down offers to collaborate with scientific experiments because those who approach her use ‘too many big words’. Finding ways to connect her local expertise with scientific innovations is a learning objective for students. Identifying areas of expertise with the wider community is another.

3. As the fashion industry strives to become more sustainable students need greater exposure to successful models. Traditional practices within sub-Saharan communities along with the Asian subcontinent are part of the solution. Connecting fashion students to local designers to improve practices and share technical knowledge makes learning relevant. Business models that emerge from this process have greater potential to be sustainable. The local diaspora is the mediator.

Universities need to remain relevant especially in this precarious environment. They also need to remain relevant for those who will never set foot on campus. Using the community as a site of learning offers one possible potential.

Opening the door to creativity.… #55 #cong18


How many ideas are wiped from our whiteboards (and the students’ minds) every day. How does our education system foster these ideas? Does it allow for creativity and ideas to be developed?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. What happens when we give time to ideas?
  2. Break the mould.
  3. Tap into the talent.
  4. Fail again, fail better.

About Eva Acton:

Biology, Chemistry and LCCS teacher.  Raspberry Pi Certified Educator & CS first tutor.

Contacting Eva Acton:

You can follow Eva on Twitter

By Eva Acton

This seed was sown for this blog in a bustling computer room. It was BT young scientist application time; thirty students, one teacher, the room a hive of activity. Each student working in small groups perfecting their applications. Somewhere in all of this noise, I overheard a discussion of SnapChat and how it was now becoming passé, but that students are continuing to use it because, well, what else is there?

I chimed in on this conversation, suggesting that they should come up with the “next big thing”.

“My goodness, with the crew in front of me, surely you could come up with something better than SnapChat or Facebook?!?” Within moments these students began to collaborate in a way I had never witnessed before. Pitching ideas back and forth, building on each other’s suggestions, this impromptu “think in” had a fluency, urgency and excitement to it that one does not encounter often.

All the while I had one ear on the ideas and one on the applications. I often reflect on what the outcome may have been if I had given those students both ears. These students were passionate about their ideas, and I believe they were driven not just by the relevance of the topic, but also the ownership. This was theirs. I had not dictated to them, I had not lectured, I had merely believed that they could and so they did.

That was, until the bell tolled. They picked up their bags and jackets and left the classroom; leaving with it their ideas. Those ideas may have been worth millions yet they were wiped off the board, ready for the next class to make its way in. My creative entrepreneurs became Pavlov’s robots, shuffling mindlessly to the next preordained wedge of ‘education’.

I began to think, how many other ideas are wiped from our whiteboards (and the students’ minds) every day. How does our education system foster these ideas? Does it allow for creativity and ideas to be developed?

In my opinion, as it currently stands, we do not. Each moment is mapped out from when the students enter the classroom to when they leave. Although this ‘set menu’ philosophy may be beginning to evolve in the Irish education system, will it be too late for the students of today, who need these creative, problem-solving skills more than ever? By its definition, different isn’t normal, and we as a society quash and quell ideas which stray away from the norm, with only the brave stepping out from the mould. The conformity of the normal is streamlining our thought processes, and it is beginning right at the heartbeat of society, the classroom.

My idea, such as it is, is simple. Make room in that mapped out, pre-planned timetable for ideas: safe spaces to think to foster those ideas, helping and encouraging students to inspire, to build and to create.

Equally, students must learn to fail. Every idea will not work, but you have been given the chance to try to engage with creativity and to embrace your ideas. This can start out small, and heavily linked to the current topic being covered in your subject, but can grow in a nurturing environment to unlock the potential of our youth, which is of course, limitless.