Closing the Loops
Disseminating skills and tools for a circular economy
A sustainable development goal that engages the hearts and minds of the IIIEE team is Responsible Consumption and Production. It’s all about managing the flow of important materials which can be found in the products around us – using them more efficiently, longer, and in closed loops.
When Dr. Jessika Richter, course coordinator, went to Berlin to pitch her idea of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Circular Economy it not only led to a popular course but also to new opportunities for cooperation.
“I’m really proud that I got the online course going from something that started as just a personal idea!” says Jessika Richter, Associate Senior Lecturer at the IIIEE and the designer of the MOOC on circular economy, which focuses on sustainable materials management. “This course not only represents a collection of compiled knowledge. Instead, it has come together as something that has a really cohesive course plan.”
This course not only represents a collection of compiled knowledge. Instead, it has come together as something that has a really cohesive course plan
Jessika grew up in the USA where she also studied history and geology. After going overseas to study pedagogics and law in Australia she became increasingly interested in policy-making, especially regarding green issues. After some googling she found a M.Sc. course in environmental management and policy at Lund University. Feeling that she had found her niche, the next step became Ph.D. studies.
The Circular Economy online course is part of the Greening of the Economy MOOC Series offered by the IIIEE. The curriculum is built around the Sustainable Development Goal number 12, which is about ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. ”In the course, we go through the life cycle of different materials, and look at business models which represent various ways to think,” says Jessika Richter.
Jessika Richter was still a Ph.D. student when she heard about Lund University being part of the EIT Raw Materials (EIT RM) network and providing funding for educational projects. She had the idea of a MOOC about the circular economy because she hadn’t seen this topic offered as a MOOC yet. To get inspiration, feedback, and partners for such a project, she went to an EIT RM pitch event in Berlin, Germany. Here she had the opportunity to present the idea among EIT RM partners – something that led to the development of a project consortium. “The basis of the course is the IIIEE study curriculum, but wherever it is needed, we have called in expertise in the form of practitioners of different kinds. The workshops of the course have all been put together with our partners in the circular economy field – from research, business, and organizations.”
The video content turned the production of the course into something like editing a documentary
Designing the course was an enjoyable piece of work for Jessika where her background in pedagogics proved useful. Videos are an essential part of the content, but in the mix they are always kept short and serve as either introductions, summaries, or case stories. “The video content turned the production of the course into something like editing a documentary,” says Jessika Richter. “For every course week, I made a video where I brought in the topics and summarised what we had learned. I have been watching these videos, over and over, and I am still thinking they are great.”
The feedback for the course has been very positive. Bringing in all the partners under the same wide umbrella proved a challenge but nevertheless, the course is considered very well-structured. “Personally, I think a MOOC can be defined as something between communication and education,” Jessika concludes. “It can serve as a quick and effective way to get the basics of a field of knowledge. On the other hand, it may serve as a scholarly introduction for the participants who wants to go deeper and motivate them to take a regular university course on the subject.”
The impacts – on team, organisational, participant and societal levels
On a team level:
- Working with different actors in a trans-disciplinary project to create this MOOC helped to consolidate teamwork.
- Structuring and packaging knowledge in the MOOC contributed to both working with creativity and problem-solving in the team.
On an organisational level:
- Working with different actors in a trans-disciplinary project opens the door to new knowledge, alternative ways of working, valuable contacts, and opportunities for further cooperation.
- MOOCs constitute an increasingly important complement to the traditional, location-bound university training and in addition, the training material for university education may be used as MOOC material, as well as the other way round.
On a participant level:
- Over 51,000 people have enrolled in the course, and 6,000 participants have completed the course, as well as over 1000 active learners at any time of year.
- There has been considerable interactions with industry about the course and how to provide further training on this important and timely topic.
On a societal level:
- Disseminates knowledge and useful case stories – not only to individuals but also to organizations. For example, some public authorities in different places have given positive feedback.
- Helps the industry turn awareness and knowledge into action through increasing capacity building on the circular economy and the Sustainable Development Goal number 12.
During her career, Jessika Richter has become increasingly interested in initiatives for closing loops in a circular economy, policy-making, and evaluation of environmental economic instruments for a green economy. Areas that she has been studying from these perspectives are waste electrical and electronic equipment as well as lighting products. In her free time, she volunteers at a Repair Café and enjoys swimming and hiking with her family.
Creating impact and lifelong learning
Challenge: To not only increase textbook knowledge but also have a working understanding of how new facts about responsible consumption and production emerge, it is crucial for students and professionals to be introduced to the professional networks – in academia, industry, governance, and civil society – that explore and develop these complex fields.
Approach: This is a MOOC that focuses on how to create a circular economy through sustainable materials management. This course looks at where important materials in products we use every day come from and how these materials can be used more efficiently, longer, and in closed loops. It looks at choices and strategies by suppliers, designers, businesses, policy-makers and all of us as consumers.
Outcome: Over 51,000 people have enrolled in the course, and 6,000 participants have completed the course (which means 12% have finished the full course (which is a relatively high number for online courses) as well as over 1000 active learners at any time of year. There has also been considerable interactions with industry about the course and how to provide further training on this important and timely topic.
Audience: The participants represent a diverse global audience, and they have different reasons for approaching the subject. Some are students who take the whole course to add it to their resume, others are professionals in need of sustainable solutions for their companies, some, again, are motivated by curiosity alone. Many search to implement newfound knowledge of circular economy.