up2date. Das Onlinemagazin der Universtiät Bremen

Sustainability Studies

The Virtual Academy of Sustainability Offers Free Online Courses Open to All

Teaching & Studies / Sustainability

Are you studying in Bremen and are you interested in sustainability? Then perhaps you might be interested in the courses of the Virtual Academy Sustainability (VAS). They allow for flexible learning, at your own place and time – and to earn credit points in the field of General Studies.

Whether it is food consumption, shopping, or planning your vacation – many people pay attention to sustainability in their daily lives. However, if you additionally want some academic input on the topic, you can take one of currently 13 courses at the Virtual Academy of Sustainability. Openly accessible to all, the academy offers learning videos from a variety of disciplines, from communication studies to economics to psychology. Here, we explain the concept behind it and what you can get out of it.

How Did the Virtual Academy of Sustainability Came About?

“Originally, it was mainly about sustainability education,” says Denis Pijetlovic, manager of the Virtual Academy. Students were to be inspired to act in sustainable ways in their later professional life – with this idea the first courses were created in 2011. Sustainability was supposed to play a role not only in terms of course content, but also in the delivery of the courses: From the beginning, they have been digitally accessible to anyone. In addition, students can take exams not only at the University of Bremen, but also at our partner universities throughout Germany. 25,000 examinations have been performed so far.

Initially, the Virtual Academy of Sustainability was a project, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU). However, it has been a permanent institution of the University of Bremen since 2021.

What Are the Topics of the Courses?

There is a wide range of topics. For example: In the course “Literature, Films, eGames, and Sustainability,” you will learn how media can raise awareness for sustainability. The “World Financial System and Sustainability” course will focus on how financial crises arise and how they can be avoided in the future. And in the “Psychology of Socio-ecological Transformation” course, you can learn how we as individuals perceive environmental risks and what determines whether or not we act in sustainable ways.

It is important to the team of the Virtual Academy not to stop at dwelling on problems but to show possible solutions in the seminars. Nevertheless, Denis Pijetlovic emphasizes that sustainable living also entails costs. “Incorporating sustainability, for example, often complicates decision-making processes in companies,” he says.

Who Can Take the Courses and How Are They Organized?

The courses are on the OnCourse virtual platform and consist mainly of learning videos. The scope of the courses is similar to that of regular courses. That means, each course consists of 14 chapters; each chapter is roughly equivalent to one lecture. Some of the videos are accompanied by quizzes or additional texts for self-reading.

Unlike an in-class lecture, you can choose the pace at which you want to view and learn the content. However, there are fixed dates for the exams, at the end of each semester. These take place at the test center of the University of Bremen. If you study at a university in the State of Bremen, you can earn three credit points in the field of General Studies for each course.

If there is something you do not understand, you can always contact the Virtual Academy team. “We usually answer students’ questions within 24 hours,” says Denis Pijetlovic.

How Do You Create the Courses?

“From the first idea to the finished course it usually takes about a year,” says Denis Pijetlovic. In addition to teaching staff from the University of Bremen, other researchers from various German and international universities give seminars. Calls for papers are regularly published for this purpose. Every year, about two to three new courses are created. Currently, for example, the team is shooting videos with economist Niko Paech, who presents the concept of the post-growth economy. In turn, courses whose content is no longer up to date are removed from the curriculum.

What Are Your Plans for the Future?

“We want to be broader in both the types of examinations and the course formats,” says Denis Pijetlovic. Currently, all exams consist of multiple-choice questions. In the future, there will also be exams with key feature questions. That means, you will be confronted with decision-making scenarios during the exam. Depending on how you decide, the scenario will change and so will the subsequent questions.

In addition, the Virtual Academy Sustainability team is working on new course formats that will allow you to network more with other students and teaching staff: To this end, they are going to host welcome events for all students and virtual consultation hours.

Theme of the Month: Sustainability

Since its foundation in 1971, the University of Bremen has been committed to social responsibility. Climate protection and sustainability are fundamental principles guiding the university: in research, teaching, and operations. For this reason, up2date., the University of Bremen online magazine, will focus on the topic of sustainability in May. The theme of the month explores current projects, issues, and challenges.

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