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Saturday, June 10 • 10:10am - 10:30am
‘Head, Hands, Heart: Creative collaborative strategies for engagement on socio-ecological crisis and change within and beyond the university’.

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The University is well-placed to contribute to informing and supporting students’ responses to climate action, mitigation and adaptation as citizens and as community-members. At the same time, however, the mission of higher education tends to align with the perpetuation of growth and profit-focused economic models. Critical-creative pedagogies have been suggested as spaces for ‘possibility thinking’, invoking ‘socio-ecological imagination’ (Slevin 2022) and resisting neo-liberal logics of business as usual. In this context, Sipos, Battisti and Grimm (2008) propose the activation of ‘Head, hands and heart’- or cognitive, active and affective learning domains- as an organising principle towards transformative sustainability education.

We are social science educators who use a range of creative, collaborative and participatory methodologies as part of our pedagogical and research toolkits, as well as each having backgrounds in work with communities. When we designed a project that aimed to build staff capacities (including our own) to integrate socio-ecological issues into the curriculum in our Department, we chose to apply similar strategies of engagement, and emphasised critical links between the University and local community groups and activists. In this paper, we outline some of the approaches we used that were fruitful in terms of beginning to build community-university connections, encourage ‘thinking differently’, and map interdisciplinary ways forward to imagine flourishing in future societies.

Drawing on ‘critical creative pedagogy’ (Schwittay 2021, influenced by Friere, 1970), the integration of diverse communicative methodologies into the project series aimed to empower educators to contribute to the design of a curriculum more fit for purpose, a connected curriculum. This joined up approach between university and community envisaged the development of citizen humanities and climate justice conscientization, to move beyond knowledge to action.

Strategies utilised in organising the seminar series at the core of this project included: Making academic, activist and community connections; a trans-disciplinary World Café event; embedding graphic facilitation methods; invitations to think differently about human-nature relationships; and opportunities for students to engage with arts-based methods. Visual thinking was central for example, since the use of images can stimulate new meaning and insight and promote reflection and deep learning (Espiner and Hartnett, 2016). Visual learning styles support thinking processes, as well as speaking to heart and soul (Bell and Morse, 2012) thereby engaging learners, facilitating creative thinking and problem solving Hausmann, 2017). Activities that involve embodied processes such as walking-together and making are experimental and multisensorial, offering opportunities for learning and thinking differently, through body-mind-material connections (Ingold, 2013). In addition, the inclusion of speakers who brought perspectives from the Global South, or who contributed posthumanist insights, was key to promoting thinking through diverse ontologies (Osgood and Axelsson 2022).

Designing models for engagement that integrate creative and community- connected methodologies contributes to ‘epistemic diversity’ (DeSousa Santos 2016:18, cited in Schwittay, 2021:31), and the decolonisation of the University dominated by Eurocentric knowledges. The paper will provide an overview of project outcomes, our reflections on our own learning and feedback from participant evaluations, indicating pathways for future actions.


Susan McDonnell

Dr, ATU Sligo

Tamsin Cavaliero

ATU Sligo, Ireland

Maire Hanniffy

ATU Sligo, Ireland

Saturday June 10, 2023 10:10am - 10:30am EDT
PS 406 (Design Center)