Engaging Students in Extra-Curricular Learning – The Ethikum Certificate

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-16-13-07Reutlinger University in Germany, along with a newtork of other universities of applied sciences across southern Germany, offer students the opportunity to gain an Ethikum certificate. This certificate, awarded at graduation, shows the students‘ exposure to and experience in ethical and sustainability topics during their time at University. I spoke with Ulrike Baumgartner from Reutlinger University about this opportunity for students.

Introduce the Ethikum certificate and how it came about

The Ethikum certificate documents that students have been engaged in ethics and sustainability questions beyond their regular degree programmes. All universities of applied sciences in Baden-Württemberg in South Germany issue the Ethikum certificate. The idea of this certificate is rooted in a tradition universities in South Germany have practiced for a long time. Thus the network of universities of applied sciences (RTWE), which all have ethic and sustainability officers, decided to adopt this idea.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work. 

The ethics and sustainability programme is an offer for students of all schools at Reutlingen University on a voluntary basis. Each semester we organise a variety of courses as workshops or lectures on different aspects of ethics and sustainability.

In addition to input oriented thematic workshops students may get involved in concrete social or political projects. This offers them a learning experience in a social context. Usually they work with other students, people with disabilities or refugees for one semester. After the semester they present their experiences in a colloquium we organise. For the participation at the workshops, the social projects and the colloquium students gain ethic credit points -usually 20 credit points per event. To obtain the certificate students need 100 credit points.

What have been some of the challenges? 

There are three challenges that I consider to be the most important.

First, the definition of the amount of ethic credit points per workshop or per social project is a bit complicated. We decided to base this definition strictly on the respective workload students have to complete.

Secondly, the transfer of experiences in social or political projects to the academic environment was not clear in the beginning. That is why we established the colloquium as a venue to present and discuss individual experiences and reflect on them with regard to a wider societal impact.

Thirdly, it is always a challenge to advertise our programme to students so that they will engage and choose to pursue the certificate.

Successes? 

First, we managed to integrate the awarding of the Ethikum in the official semester speech of the president of our university. That means that the president hands over the Ethikum to the students and our ethics officer gives a special speech honoring the students who receive it. This has increased the visibility of the programme.

Secondly, we now cooperate closely with the School of Textile and Design. We have now allocated ethics credits to their classes which can be used towards the Ethikum certificate.

Over 100 students are currently working on their Ethikum certificate at the moment and the programme is increasing in popularity.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

The better an extra-curricular programme is interlinked with regular degree programmes the better. Thus, I would advise talking to individual professors in the schools on their regular teaching issues and ask what kind of extra-curricular course would match.

What’s next for the initiative?

Our next project involves reshaping our course work, to intensify the cooperation with other universities of applied sciences and to create a central conversion table for credit points. This last point is a very ambitious project which involves contacting all the responsible persons in the different degree programmes to arrange a mode of converting ethic credit points as each school at Reutlinger currently has its own system in this regard. A central conversion table would increase the transparency for students on how to obtain the credits they need.

We also aim to broaden the range of courses we offer our students in the programme. By advertising the ethics and sustainability programmes of other universities of applied sciences in the region we invite our students look at these other schools as well and pick courses according to their personal interest and collect further ethical credit points outside our university.

Finally, we are looking to organise more field trips to local companies that are role models in ethics and sustainability. Such an offer would broaden the diversity of the learning formats in our programme.

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