SDGs and Digital Realities

Recreating a school in a virtual world using the online game Minecraft? Let’s play!

The SDGs will only be reached if the goals and their targets can be meaningfully brought to life in a school community and not only at the tables of policymakers. Yet how often are young people invited to act on the SDGs?

Accepting the challenge, this team sought to achieve sustainable development in a school in Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, by recreating that school in a virtual world and redesigning it to align with the SDGs using the online game Minecraft. As a partnership project with secondary school Presentation College Bray and human rights charity 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World, the aim was to produce an open-world thinking platform to enable the whole school community to be involved in mapping environmental and social footprints with the potential of the SDGs.

Inverting the often top-down dissemination of education, the project began with this unique context and analyzed it using the goals; enabling participants to become active producers and engineers empowered with visualizing how these changes might look as a planning project led by young people. The challenge was on the languages. Textual language is often the typical vehicle for policy development. Visualization, however, can be empowering, lasting and bridges words with imagined realities. This initiative galvanized students to lead on visual design-based thinking linked to sustainable development, gradually involving 37 students (ages 13-17), 11 teachers and staff from 80:20.

The ‘sustainable school’ model was created by the community and for the community; each modification reflected one of the 169 targets and underpinned by the 5 P’s of the SDGs (people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership) in what kind of school they would like to see by 2030. Students drove new ideas in transforming the school into an SDG-friendly community and acted as spokespeople and champions of the visual design experiment, such as:

  1. field visits and peer-exchanges with other social justice student groups and peer-platforms such as the Let’s Talk project;
  2. presentations with national and SDG platforms, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Sustainability Research Coordination Group; Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland;
  3. used social media: 20,000 project video views, and findings published in a research portfolio.

The project’s next steps are 1) to use a sustainable development open-world design model to test priority action ideas to bring about changes in the wider school community and accelerate other schools in getting started with their important role in implementing the SDGs; and 2) to share ideas and methodologies with schools and SDG stakeholders locally, nationally and globally to empower all educational institutions to nurture whole-community involvement in sustainable planning and visualisation.

Who is behind this?

Clifton Rooney, Tony Daly, Shane McInerney and Stuart Hannon.

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