RCE Greater Western Sydney - 2022


Australian-India Virtual Program on Land and Water Conservation
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Australian-India Virtual Program on Land and Water Conservation
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Greater Western Sydney
Contributing organization(s) : 
RCE Lucknow, Centre for Environment Education
RCE Greater Western Sydney, School of Science (Western Sydney University), Australia-India Water Centre
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Brittany Vermueulen
Organizational Affiliation: 
Format of project: 
Online program
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Geographical & Education Information
Address of focal point institution for project: 
Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, 2751, Australia
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
As the world population continues to grow, much more effort and innovation will be urgently needed in order to sustainably increase agricultural production, improve the global supply chain, decrease food losses and waste, and ensure that all who are suffering from hunger and malnutrition have access to nutritious food. Many of these sustainability issues are shared connection across Indian and Australia, but at very different scales.
June, 2022 to August, 2022
Research highlight that the most significant experience an undergraduate student can have while at university is an international learning program. However, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an unforeseen disruption to these programs due to ongoing travel restrictions. Building on a long-standing sustainability student exchange program between RCE-GWS and RCE-Lucknow, we partnered to co-deliver an virtual experience (completely online) to enhance student learning and development from home.

This short-term virtual program provided students with an understanding of transdisciplinary approaches to farming systems and touched on the concepts of sustainability thinking. Specifically, the 8-week program guided students to take a deeper look at farming practices, urban water challenges and conservation systems, through a sustainability lens, between Australia and India contexts. It addressed varying domains from from soil formations in the geological formation of continents, to varying scales of subsistence farming supporting rural livelihoods VS industrial, techno-enhanced animal production, to the role of cultural, historical and traditional practices in food harvesting and consumption.

The STEM disciplines have an increasingly important role in addressing the worlds grand challenges, but without a boarder understanding of the complexity of the larger system solutions are often inadequate. This program aimed to broaden their perspectives.
The aim of the program was on transdisciplinary approaches to farming systems. Our inter-RCE initiative, the "Australia-India Land and Water Conservation Virtual Program", was co-led, co-designed and co-taught by WSU’s Sustainability Education (RCE-GWS) with academics from the School of Science, in partnership with Centre for Environmental Education (RCE Lucknow) and the Australia-India Water Centre. The overaching learning outcomes for the program were:
- develop an understanding and appreciation of sustainability issues and complexity as they relate to concerns of farming practices in Australia and India.
- interpret and critically investigate real agricultural issues linked to poverty, hunger, livelihood, biodiversity and climate change in view of Sustainable Development Goals (Goals 2, 10, 13 and 15)
- identify needs of education and action through a virtual research project in a small student team.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
The program hosted a group of Western Sydney University science undergraduate students who buddied up with Indian STEM undergraduate and postgraduate students (representing 18 different partner universities across India through various partnerships). Student teams worked together on a mini comparative desktop virtual research projects producing a video presentation and written summary, and their learning was supplemented with bi-weekly expert discussions on various sustainability topics, e-learning resources for further self-led exploration and informal peer-peer cultural activities (such as a biodiversity related games, a virtual cook off, sharing bucket list travel destinations, cultural dance performances liked to women, water and climate, and a student talent show). Students developed an understanding and appreciation of the complexity of sustainability as it relates to agriculture in varying global contexts, linked to poverty, hunger, livelihood, gender, culture, biodiversity, water, and climate change in view of SDGs – co-delivered completely online (via Zoom).
Size of academic audience: 
30 students and 15 academic/staff
The program proved to be an extremely rich learning collaboration. It is clear from student feedback that brining students together from different countries was a major benefit to their learning and development, as was exploring sustainable agriculture from varying cultural, social, economic, historical, technological, and environmental perspectives. Our students indicated that all of them (100%, n = 22) learnt something new as a result of the program, and almost all (86%) said that the program changes the way they viewed their future career in STEM.

We also asked our students what they believed the major highlights was from being a part of this virtual program. Written feedback included:
- “Getting insight from people working on the ground in another country was really great!” – Australian student
- “I loved being able to connect with people outside of my community and comparing issues.” – Australian student
- “Meeting new people and learning about them.” – Indian student
- “I learnt a lot from the program especially the change of thoughts.” – India student
Lessons learned: 
While the program was an overall success, we did find that students are struggling with 'Zoom fatigue' which meant recruitment into our online program was more challenging than first thought. We decreased the level of week involved to try and support their on-going engagement, with fairly high weekly rentention rates (once the program commenced) - but due to low enrolment numbers originally the program was shifted back from April to July. We managed to find a suitable time that worked for both cohorts (with differences in our timezones) to host weekly live Zoom session, but even with the time gap students going above and beyond the connect outside class times with one another - some staying up to 1am AEST to work on their project with their peers. We supplimented formal learning, with informal cultural activities to add an element of fun, and used an e-learning site to contain all the information and resources the students needs to support their learning. Zoom worked really well to connect our faciliators, speakers and students.
Key messages: 
Looking deeper look at farming practices, water challenges and conservation systems, through a sustainability lens, this virtual program was co-led, co-development and co-taught by Australian and Indian partners, and provided university STEM students with an understanding of transdisciplinary approaches to farming systems and sustainability thinking.
The virtual mobility program was funded by the New Colombo Plan Mobility Progam.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon Class Photo - Aus-India Zoom.png (1.17 MB) 'Class Photo' from final Zoom session with our faciliators and some student participants Brittany Vermeulen
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere 
SDG 2 - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture 
SDG 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
SDG 5 - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls 
SDG 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all 
SDG 10 - Reduce inequality within and among countries 
SDG 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 
SDG 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
SDG 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss 
SDG 17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development 
Traditional Knowledge  
Plants & Animals 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 3 - Developing capacities of educators and trainers 
Priority Action Area 4 - Mobilizing youth 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level 
I acknowledge the above: