Broadening Horizons in CEMUS Education

Course Coordinators at CEMUS explore ways to challenge traditional academia and create innovative, insightful and inclusive education.

Here at CEMUS, Course Coordinators have jointly created and participated in a Course Coordinator Series that aims to share knowledge, experience, and best practice in the planning and preparation phases of autumn courses. Building upon a model of active participation, the Course Coordinator Series comprises of multiple workshops that engage staff in dialogue on questions of education for sustainable development. We explore our roles as coordinators, asking questions on how it affects the way education designed and conducted. We aim to provoke reflection upon how we can build upon the unique model of Active Student Participation here at CEMUS, facilitating students in becoming resources for each others’ learning. We seek to break the expert/student barriers within education by valuing all knowledge in the classroom, and in doing so empowering students to co-create learning.

Fitting with the collaborative environment central to the CEMUS model, coordinators collectively explore various themes to help develop challenging and interdisciplinary courses that grapple with the complexities of sustainability and the modern world. CEMUS runs four Course Assemblies that facilitate brainstorming around central pillars of course design, these are 1) Course themes and content; 2) Literature; 3) Examination; and 4) Pedagogy and didactics. Alongside these assemblies, coordinators choose to participate in 3 of the 9 elective sessions that have been developed as part of the Course Coordinator Series. These are:

  • Sustainability and Climate Change Education – starting points and ways forward and The Course Coordinator Role and Mission – navigating balmy and choppy waters at CEMUS
  • Multi-Inter-Trans-Disciplinary Methods and Processes at CEMUS – transcending boundaries and breaking down walls
  • Gender, Intersectionality and Norm-critical Education
  • Reading, Writing, Revolution – honest education, reckless talk and challenging students
  • Deep Adaptation and Education for Survival – between hope and a hard place
  • Extinction Education – the myth of human supremacy (Jensen) and the love of nature
  • Active Student Participation at CEMUS – ways of involving, engaging and enraging students
  • Fact-Based Education and Calculating The End Of The World – carbon budgets, footprints of giants and the changing nature of facts
  • CEMUS and Sustainability Myth Busters

Gender and Norm-Critical Education, May 8 

Warren Kunce joined CEMUS course coordinators this spring to discuss Gender and Norm-Critical Education. Warren has been an important voice at Uppsala University in addressing biases and discrimination inherent in the practices of academia. Writing an ‘Introduction to Gender Identity and Gender Expression’, Warren seeks to expel the misinformation around gender identity to help create fair, inclusive and safe educational spaces. You can find a link to the handbook here and more information about Warren’s work on Gender Diversity at this address

When asked about the importance of gender and norm-critical education, Warren says:

“Norm critical approaches to gender diversity and other facets of higher education are vital because norms affect who gets to create knowledge, which knowledge is passed on and what types of knowledge are considered legitimate and important.”

A ‘norm’ is something that is considered normal behaviour within a particular social group. Norms are constructed through culturally held beliefs and practices over time; they shape our everyday behaviour and condition us to think, talk and act in certain ways. Importantly, those who abide by these norms have access to greater privilege and power within society, which is no less true in educational spaces.

Stereotypes of what it is to be a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ in society are examples of norms that give access to privilege and power. Ranging from norms that determine acceptable ways for men and women to dress, to speak, and to interact hugely affect biases against those who do not conform to these standards. However, as Warren’s workshop highlighted, gender identity is more than a binary choice of man and woman; and is not determined by anatomy. The way people identify with gender is unique to one’s self. The way people express their gender, through the way they dress, their mannerisms, their names and pronouns, their facial, and body hair etc. should not lead to exclusion or discrimination. The simple example of using pronouns “he” and “she” in educational material highlights how individuals who do not conform to these identities are excluded, and as educators we should understand how this affects whose knowledge is legitimised in the classroom.

In education there exists a myth of objectivity, a view that we are able to leave our identity with our perceptions, assumptions and beliefs at the door. However, Warren’s workshop highlighted that approaches to education often neglect the influence of identity and the way it determines our approach to the classroom; the way it affects who we interact with, and how we interact with both course content and different people.

Understanding what norms are present is an important first step in being norm-critical. Norm criticism refers to methods and theories that are used to deflect attention from those who do not comply with certain norms to the actual norm that is taken for granted. Norm-criticism is not merely concerned with representing the ‘under-represented’ or ‘alternative’ views in academia, but rather asking why is the ‘norm’ is the norm, and similarly, why the ‘alternative’ is considered alternative? To be norm-critical is about questioning what knowledge is legitimate and why. Rather than positioning the ‘other’ as pieces of a puzzle that must be forcefully fit into certain constructs of ‘normal’, we must strive to re-imagine education in ways that accommodate and constructively utilise diversity.

As course coordinators and pedagogues, we must be aware of how we frame problems and what stereotypes we may (unwittingly) promote. Similarly, we must engage students in doing the same in the classroom. In the workshop run by Warren, course coordinators used personal experience to think of times that their assumptions may have affected their thoughts and actions. The session got Course Coordinators to ask tough questions about their worldviews and confront everyday biases that may permeate their approaches to the classroom. For example, when we use collective identities such as ‘we’ and ‘society’ are we aware of who this includes and excludes? Is the absence of the ‘other’ problematic for how we approach certain issues? Thinking in this way allows us to understand what generalisations are made and what values these generalisations are promoting or undermining. The workshop provided Course Coordinators with food-for-thought on how education and academia can be challenged and re-conceptualised in ways that utilise the best of everyone’s knowledge and abilities; and how this can help us at CEMUS create interdisciplinary education that contributes to creating a better world.