ABEL: Back at the end of the spring semester, I had just completed ‘Politics and Governance of the Environment’ at Noragric taught by Arild Vatn. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it provided great theoretical structure, critical thinking and analysis to understand the big picture and bring about institutional change towards a regenerative/sustainable society. But myself and many of my classmates wondered how we would implement this knowledge in society.­ It felt like something was missing, like we had just started the journey but I didn’t want to stop. Then I remembered a course I had seen from Aalto University, Design for Government [DfG], which could be a model to operationalise this theory in society. While the idea about DfG made it onto the course feedback sheet, I had a burning desire to discuss its potential in person with Arild.

I ultimately presented a few of these ideas at a Pecha Kucha during the Green Festival under the theme “What could Ås be?” The DfG course was amongst the ideas presented. The two shared ideas about building community resilience culminated in a Facebook group, Rethinking Ås, where a larger group of motivated students became involved in the project. We have met many people who want to act on improving Ås and many have great ideas, but they get burnt out and end up having to prioritise getting credits and paying the rent. I remarked at the time “wouldn’t it be great if you could get credits for addressing issues in the local community, putting the knowledge into practice”

IDIL: Earlier in the year I played a part in using the ‘special syllabus’ mechanism to explore the topic of Carbon Farming & Holistic Management with a group of motivated fellow Agroecology students. The special syllabus mechanism is a powerful opportunity for student democracy and autonomy, an exercise in self-development, heavily reliant self-discipline and learning what the situation requires. This differs significantly to the traditional educational approach, where students are considered as vessels to be filled up with knowledge. I was engaged in social change by cultivating in people a desire to transform through seminars and podcasts, which further pushed me towards finding ways to link academic thought with the outer world. In addition, I was building ideas that could improve the social, cultural, and environmental sustainability of the community.

TONY: I had also been busy during the Spring semester of 2018 following an exchange at American University, in the United States. I was exposed to an applied approach towards teaching and research which inspired me to think about how to change NMBU's approach to learning. This ultimately led to conversations with the Director of the Writing Centre at the time, Clayton Gouin, about skill development and student needs. We exchanged our ideas for service learning and courses to build students' capabilities. My exchange experience ignited a pathway to build on the potential of NMBU's strength as a centre for theoretical research, where I saw the opportunity for professors to consolidate student learning in the classroom through applied teaching. These initial thoughts developed into ideas for skills courses to develop student capacities in GIS, statistics, or economics, but it was not the holistic approach it would later become.

ABEL: One day I mentioned the idea in passing to Tony, about the DfG course in Aalto. We ended up having a conversation about how theoretical many of departments were at NMBU, including Noragric. Many students are left unequipped to be change agents to bring about sustainability transition (such as implementing the SDGs). Tony became quite engaged with the idea as it was a concrete way to address the potential competencies his program could offer. In his words the course was “as an opportunity to create sweeping change that was more holistic than [his] original ideas for something like a skill or competency requirement in my program, or a university wide writing program that he was a part of developing at NMBU's writing centre”

After brainstorming together around ideas for challenges in Ås and this DfG course, Tony and I sat down with professor Arild Vatn to propose our idea of a DfG style course, but one that is not restricted to government problems. This course would seek to solve community problems with multi-disciplinary student teams from various departments. It had the potential to bridge the gap between different student disciplines, academics and departments at NMBU. The course had the potential to be a unifying project for the Landscape and Society Faculty, LANDSAM. The faculty had recently been formed during the last round of reorganizing at the university. The formation, while disruptive, presented opportunity as the Faculty was looking for ideas that can bring the former units on common projects. Regardless, this course would be also be applicable for those outside LANDSAM.

Ourworking group was referred onto the Dean of LANDSAM, who further referred us onto the Education Committee of LANDSAM, and to utilise the student representatives for the next meeting. The student representatives, Taale Kjøs and Veronika Olsen were enthusiastic advocates of the idea, exceeding our expectations, and gave tips to help it attract support at the next meeting. They delivered a one-page brief we had prepared. It was received with great enthusiasm. This is really where it all started.

TONY: Following on from the discussion with Arild and submission of the idea to the LANDSAM Education Committee I brought the idea to the head of the Learning Center, Mike Moulton, where I am employed. My relationship to the Writing Center and the Learning Center allowed me to see where this course could fit into the university, and the potential it had to become something more than a course. The head of the learning centre had been working with the central administration to identify programs at the university that were implementing NMBU's learning strategy, which included the SDGs. He was more receptive to the idea than I anticipated, which ultimately led to us meeting with the chairperson of Padriv and sending the idea to the Vice Rector of Education, Sølve Sæbo, at the university.

Having launched our Facebook site after a meeting with the course responsible, we wanted to take our online presence offline and build some momentum amongst the students with an offline event. We broadcasted our presence through posters around campus and various relevant Facebook pages. Our primary purpose was to build a good attendance at our first event, a sort of launch and information session in a poky room next to Café Klubben. By introducing ourselves, we gave the audience a preview of the course and the potential cases they could be involved in. There were many questions when we mentioned we wanted to address the traditional gap of teaching which does not prepare one for life outside academia. The hope is that if things go well, students could end up continuing the project in the form of an internship, maybe then a thesis and then beyond.

Head to facebook.com/DfS.NMBU for more information and details.

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