Introducing the Sustainability Bootcamp and the SDGs: Western Sydney University



Organizations/areas of the university involved

Sustainable Futures, Office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor Learning Futures, Faculties, Students as Partners and Community.


In 2017 Western Sydney University embarked on an institutional 21st Century curriculum renewal and transformation program. A flagship initiative of this work was to develop and deliver a cross-disciplinary signature sustainability learning experience accessible for undergraduate students and at scale. The result was a new Global Sustainability sub-major approved late in 2018 and an interactive online ‘curiosity pod ’called ‘Sustainability Bootcamp’ SB developed as a ‘taster’ for students. The aim of this pod is to introduce the core concepts of sustainable development and the SDGs through worldviews, systems awareness and future thinking. The pod was also designed to be accessed as a resource for academics to incorporate into their current programs as well as a standalone extra curricula activity. The Sustainable Futures team managed the pod development with the pedagogical framework informed by Education for Sustainable Development principles and led by a School of Education academic. A team of research and teaching academics, professional staff, community partners and student interns supported and contributed to the work using a ‘partnership pedagogy’ approach.
The SDG framework was used to clearly articulate to all students the importance of the global goals firstly from a personal and discipline perspective and then to start to think about systemic connections with other disciplines. Students can self-direct their learning by exploring an interactive SDG wheel (with Australian and Western Sydney data) that clearly identifies how the SDGs relate to each other. The case studies profile inspirational local initiatives and research across Western Sydney and include diverse issues such as the fashion industry, urban heat, refugee resettlement, pollinators and local food systems and how Australia is tracking against the SDGs. The SDGs are explicitly mapped to each case study. The pod includes lists of local initiatives and community groups that students can connect with and take action. The pod was reviewed by student reviewers over December 2018 and also an academic peer review. It’s first at scale offering to the university community was in 2019 and in 2020 the pod has been piloted as a Professional Development opportunity. The SB undergoes a cycle of continuous review and improvement.

Results and impact measured or expected

The results to date are impressive with strong interest and engagement across faculties and programs. Throughout 2019 over 900 students from business, health, industrial design, architecture, nursing and education interacted with the SB. An extra curricula version with a campus activation event on urban heat was introduced in Spring 2019 with over 40 students graduating. In May 2020 the first cohort of 100 staff are engaged with the pod to pilot it’s value as a PD opportunity. The below feedback from an Arts student is representative:
“I think this module provided a great introduction to the SDGs without either sounding overly complex or simply assuming the students’ knowledge prior to the bootcamp. That is, the introduction to the SDGs was informative and easy to digest and understand, and it did not feel like we were being judged for not having much or any knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Connection with the SDG framework

The SB consists of 4 modules each taking up to 2.5 hours each to complete including readings. The modules were designed to progressively build on concepts and contain a lecture pod, an interactive learning activity and case studies with SDGs explicitly mapped:
Module 1: ‘What is sustainability? Why does it matter?’ Discover why we are talking about sustainability and what it means for you.
Module 2: ‘The Future is now’. Introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Module 3: ‘Worldviews and Systems Thinking’. Sustainable development involves a transformative approach to thinking and action that engages with worldviews and values, systems understanding and an orientation to the future we want.
Module 4: Where to from here? Take action: Global Sustainability sub-major.
For students undertaking as extra curricula they must complete an additional module on urban heat and attend a campus activation event which provides them with eligibility for a digital badge.

Barriers and follow up

The development of an online academic teaching/resource pod involving different disciplinary paradigms and community organisations was not without challenges. Translating complex research projects into learning activities at an introductory level while balancing disparate theories took time. The process took longer than anticipated however it was valuable in that it has cracked open traditional academic silos, created increased academic engagement and allowed for large numbers of students to engage. The time spent building partnership pedagogy has underlined the need for multiple sectors of community to engage with SDG education. The online platform requires in-depth follow up in class to unpack and make meaning of the SDG concepts and challenges and also needs to be supported by academic capacity building. By the end of 2021 we aim to have the pod embedded in every key program at the University so all Western students are aware of the critical importance of the SDGs.

Updated June 2020 by Jen Dollin