Tackling Food System Challenges through Experiential Education

The food system is the middle point for many of the challenges we face in the world today, such as environmental degradation, malnutrition, and social inequality. This also means that innovation and creative solutions to these challenges can have a large impact on the future of our planet.

However, we cannot change a system with the same methods that created the current challenges. The same is true for education. Universities need to ask: how can we ensure that our graduates have the new knowledge, skills, network, and values necessary to tackle complex global challenges?

Participants meet with villagers, farmers, and small-scale processors in India (Image: WFSC)

Participants meet with villagers, farmers, and small-scale processors in India (Image: WFSC)

This question embodies the core of the unique educational courses offered by the World Food System Center at ETH Zurich (WFSC), including an intensive, residential two-week short course called the World Food System Summer School. The summer courses have been running since 2013 and have trained 166 participants from 53 different countries. This system-oriented program has run seven times in four different countries, bringing together university students from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. The course in 2017 and the next course in 2019 was/will be run in the framework of the DEVIL project.

In a newly published paper in GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, the team of authors from the DEVIL project, Michelle Grant, Nina Buchmann, and former team member Aimee Shreck, share their experiences from running these summer schools around the world. The article discusses the conceptual framework for the summer school program, elucidates the criteria used to design and deliver the program, and shares some lessons learned and challenges faced.

The 12 discussed design criteria used for the courses, ranging from using a systems thinking approach to appreciating participants as both producers and users of knowledge, allowed the WFSC to deliver a consistently highly evaluated program.

The authors hope that outlining this holistic design supports other educators to reflect on existing food systems education initiatives or to design new ones.

Read the full GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society article "Tackling Food System Challenges through Experiential Education: Criteria for Optimal Course Design" by Michelle Grant, Aimee Shreck, and Nina Buchmann online here.