Redesign of the course Sustainability Analysis, with focus on student diversity

BCT-32806/ORL-3AA06 Sustainability Analysis


There are several opportunities to extend the scope of the course Sustainability Analysis to a more comprehensive discussion of sustainability assessment and the multi-criteria decision context it is applied in. This course has always had a relatively heterogeneous student population1. Student numbers were limited, so there was enough time to deal with differences in prior knowledge in the lectures and tutorials. The number of students as well as the heterogeneity is expected to increase in the future, as many WUR students are interested in the transition towards more sustainable food and biobased supply chains, and also see that quantitative sustainability assessments play an important role in supporting this transition. The diversity of students is a merit as well as hurdle for this course. The merit is that students learn the various views on sustainability and the various applications from their peers. Such diversity of student perspectives is essential to develop innovative, game-changing (re) design strategies for sustainable chains. The hurdle is that the students do not have a ‘common language’ at the start of the course, e.g. social sciences students are used to observations and qualitative studies while engineering students want to execute measurements in predefined experiments and quantify as much a possible.

The focus of this education innovation project is twofold, i.e. on overcoming the ‘hurdle of diversity in background’ at the start of the course and strengthening the use of student diversity throughout the course.

1: The students prior knowledge ranges from literally every BSc study given at WU (BSc minor is open for every study programme), to Erasmus students from abroad and WUR MSc students specialised in different MSc programmes. These MSc programmes are either engineering focussed (Biosystems Engineering and Biotechnology) or Management and Operations Research oriented (Biobased sciences)

We want to teach the course to a group of students with diverse backgrounds. The course focus is quantification of sustainability and using sustainability in (re)-design of chains. We want to take advantage of the diversity in student background to teach them how to perform a solid analysis and be able to apply it to their own expertise area, while also understanding how other expertise can contribute in (re-)designing/optimising future sustainable production chains. In the end a diverse set of expertise’s is needed to achieve a sustainable future. 


Aligning the students’ starting level and preparing students for the course with use of an online module on sustainability and basic calculation skills.


  • A module has been developed that provides the students with a personal learning part for preparing the course.
  • Students are more aware of which level is expected from them in the course (important for the BSc students and ‘instroom’ students.
  • Teachers are more aware of the background level differences within the student population.
  • Students use the diversity to propose innovative re-design strategies in the case studies (criteria: level of innovation in proposed re-design strategies in the case study reports – comparison before and after redesign of course judged by the lecturers, peer review of the strategies)


The setup of the module/test can be an example for other teachers. Contentwise however, it is not easy to transfer as each course has it’s own prerequisites, also depending on the students taking the course. For recommendations, please contact Ellen Slegers