Studying sustainability requires a global discourse

The Centre for Alternative Technology is located in a beautiful site in mid Wales. The masters courses run here are taught in a world leading environmental building – the Wales Institute for Sustainability Education (WISE). In many ways, the unique location is one of the things that make studying renewable energy or environmental building at the Centre for Alternative Technology so special. So why do we offer a distance learning option where students never have to actually attend CAT? The answer is that it enables us to create a course that gives sustainability a global perspective.

Doing a course by distance learning puts you into a classroom that spans the whole world. It means the range of perspectives that are brought into that classroom are more diverse than any other method of learning. For a course based on sustainability this is crucial. Sustainability shouldn’t be taught as an abstract theory amongst a group of people that all basically come from the same background, it should be taught as a discourse amongst people with diverse experiences of its practical application.

Of course, all university courses will have some international dimension to their intake. But the barriers of increasingly restrictive visa regulations and cost mean that in reality physically attending a course in the UK is increasingly difficult for many overseas students. Distance learning courses, on the other hand, are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

We offer a distance learning option for our MSc Sustainable Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Systems course (we call it AEES). The course is open to people from all backgrounds and professions who are interested in getting the edge in sustainability, sustainable design and the built environment. There is ample opportunity for students to pursue their own interests in depth, choosing eight modules from a wide range of topics covering global energy issues, renewable energy system design and sustainability in the built environment.

Each unit is taught through the online learning environment. Students attend seminars and discussions online, but can access the lectures at a time to suit them. They can access support online from academic tutors and student support officers as well as UEL library staff and UEL technical and student support staff.

Anna Pamphilon has recently graduated. She valued the course for its technical depth:

“I wanted to find a course with sufficient technical depth that would compliment the knowledge I had already acquired. The course at CAT was detailed and technical enough to do this, whilst also being offered in a long distance format that enabled me to choose when I studied, which was ideal for my situation.”

Flexibility is at the heart of the course. We are still accepting applications to start in September but there is also a March intake. Students can study where and when they please, and also pause the course for a period if other commitments arise. We find these things mean that the students that are attracted to AEES are often professionals already, with their own wealth of experience that they can bring to the course. The other students you interact with on the course become as much as a learning resource as the lecturers, books and exercises – they also form a great network for professional collaborations.

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