Road to Rhodes – Bridging geographical distance and approaches to science

After the impressive start, the opening of the Future Africa Campus took place. We had so many thoughts and impressions to process, but only 48 hours on a rocky road to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, more than 1,000km south of Pretoria. Even more impressions were added, when meeting many inspiring people from the field of Education for Sustainable Development. We met Professor Kensuke Chikamori, from Naruto University of Education, Japan, who honoured us by spending his very first day of retirement with us and presented a transformational model of ESD from Japan. We also got to know Professor Rob O’Donoghue, who presented us Kamishibai (a Japanese street theatre technique for story telling) as a way to teach, and Kartikeya Sarabhai introducing the Handprint concept, focusing on positive impact through “Action towards Sustainability” instead of the negative impact of the common environmental footprint. We also got introduced to Jim (Dr. Jim Taylor) who took us for a morning run, telling us about the history of Grahamstown and the university, all while running up a steep hill from where we enjoyed the foggy view over the city, without a sign of exhaustion (at least from his side). And we met Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka, one of the most known experts in the field of ESD who participated in one of our workshops, where we also talked about the great work she and her PhD students work on. We said that it would be amazing to meet her and her PhD students to start building a stronger connection between Leuphana and Rhodes, between Germany and South Africa. So when the Robert Bosch Foundation contacted us and offered to go to South Africa, we knew we had to add Rhodes University to our research road trip. When we met with the group of PhDs, we all sat together in an open round where everybody shared what their research is about and how they approached it. This has started some interesting discussions about the different approaches to (transdisciplinary) research, the methods used and our experiences as early career researchers having to fulfil multiple roles. As always, as soon as the discussions became interesting, time was already up. So, what remained was that familiar feeling of being super energized saying “let’s stay in touch and continue this discussion”, followed by the usual question of “how do we want to stay in touch as a group?”I was very happy about this question coming up, as it directly relates to the part of my research that looks at how to best support mutual learning and what digital tools can contribute. This is also something that I started to engage in back home at Leuphana University. If you ever tried to maintain a longer discussion for a period of over a month in a Slack channel, or using email, you’ve probably experienced similar issues like I did. Having longer discussions in a Slack channel, I usually loose the red thread, because in the meantime other conversations have started in the same channel and interrupted the flow of previous discussions. Longer discussions via email just become hard to read with all the nested replies and to follow exactly who replied to whom and to which part of the message. The same is true for email lists and list-servers.In short: They are both not made for longer and/or ongoing discussions.Therefore, I suggested setting up a platform where we could continue all our discussions and I was happy again, when the others agreed to give the experiment a try. I built the platform using Discourse, a software dedicated to civil discussion around topics. It is an open source solution used by leading organizations such as the Mozilla and the Wikimedia foundation, twitter or Udacity and Codecademy. That’s where we hope to continue some of our discussions that started evolving during the rest of our journey!

Stefan Hilser

Stefan studied his Master in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science (M.Sc.) at Lund University (Sweden), where he developed his interests in the fields of knowledge and learning as well as power relations and reflexivity. Within the project, he focuses on the mutual learning processes in inter- and transdisciplinary research settings and how to best support them, applying a Communities of Practice perspective. He investigates these processes as one of the two PhDs conducting Formative Accompanying Research to promote integration of different types of knowledge. Learn more about Stefan's PhD project!

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