Creating opportunities for students to practice and experience what we teach in the classroom in transform themselves and their communities has been at the heart of my practice during the 25 years of my career. I have developed a number of innovative pedagogical approaches to encourage student’s passionate engagement using action learning and experiential practice. I believe that passion is an essential element in our teaching: Being influenced by the students movements of the 1990s in Latin America, I have been inspired by educational reformers Paulo Freire’s education for empowerment, and Gabriela Mistral’ emphasis of moving the class-room into real life and practical experience. The spirit of student passionate engagement and practical learning has guided my work as a lecturer in the United Kingdom. Early in my career and responding to my generation’s need to respond to social issues, I pioneered a program called Reunirse as part of the Opcion Colombia initiative aiming at offering opportunities for students to have a practical experience while helping remote communities across the country. During 1995-2000 I coordinated the work of 200 students working in the monitoring of the social policy in Colombia, challenging the traditional notions of education and promoting horizontal and empowering discussions. This experience is relevant because many of the students benefited from this are now occupying prominent positions in politics, industry and academy.
The same spirit has permeated my work as an educator in the United Kingdom where I have been working from 2002. I have done that through three main strategies:
- Developing action learning programs and assessment strategies aimed at enhancing employability options;
- Promoting and developing education for sustainability programs, projects and strategies for students at the national and international level;
- Merging my work as an artist with my work as a lecturer, creating art-based methodologies for teaching and research, in particular in the area of sustainability.
The project that encompasses the development of these dimensions is GoGreen: It started as a way of creating opportunities for undergraduate students to develop environmental management programs for their own households: during the 12 weeks of the academic semester students need to create, manage and evaluate a program aimed at reducing their carbon footprint. In average of 360 have applied this program in their households, reporting savings of £20-60 per semester, and most importantly, 50% of these students have continued championing environmental practices after the module. The idea of creating action learning opportunities coincided with an increasing attention of universities concerning environmental management, thus, I joined forces with the dynamic team of Green Impact of the National Union of Students, and from 2010-2013 I coordinated a group of students to facilitate and evaluate the effort of university teams in complying with the Green Impact and improving their environmental practices. This experience formed the basis of the GoGreen Pilot’12, funded by the Higher Education Academy, aiming at creating action learning opportunities for 12 students, working with 12 organisations of the third sector in the promotion of environmental practices. This was a collaborative project with the National Union of Students and the University of Bristol. The students benefited from this experience in terms of research skills, defining their career paths and finding jobs; organisations actively changed their practices and national policies and their actions equated to approximate savings of 12704 kg CO2 and £4700. GoGreen Pilot’12 became also the opportunity to test the potential of art-based methodologies in management development (Ladkin 2010, Rippin & Gaya 2012) and organisational research (Hopfl, 2000; Warren, 2002) applied in the area of education for sustainability.
In this endeavour, I am inspired by the work of John Dewey in relation to experiential learning and aesthetic education, linking the issues of beauty, experience and pragmatism; his views on education resonate with the discussions on education for sustainability (Morin, Leal-Filho, Shrivastava). I’ve been told that one of my major strengths is my capacity for mobilising people around ideas such as those related to education for sustainability, and I have received a number nominations to prestigious awards such as the VC Inspire Award (obtained in 2012); the Green Gown Award for GoGreen Pilot (nominated in 2013); the One World Action (nominated in 2010) and Made a Difference Award (nominated in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015). Last year I also became Principal Fellow of the HEA.
Currently I am coordinating a project merging art, sustainability and education called RawTag which has great potential in merging my talents as an educator and as an artist, in the effort of transforming people, communities and education itself.