Asmalina Saleh, Peer Educator Program Intern
The Peer Educator Program is an educational initiative targeted to improve sustainability literacy among students, faculty and staff on IU campus. The first core workshop being developed is centered on the relationship between consumption and waste reduction. One of the most compelling projects that feature this topic is the Story of Stuff. This project began as a simple examination of where everyday human ‘stuff’ comes from and has since then provided a wide range of educational resources for anyone interested in exploring our relationship with material objects.
There is no doubt that these educational resources can promote awareness of sustainability issues. However, given that the overall goal of the program is to transform practices, it is necessary to utilize a comprehensive framework that can meet its goals of transforming practices at the personal as well as institutional or societal level. There are several frameworks that have been successful in fostering sustainable practices such as the Community Based Social Marketing. The newly developed Peer Educator Program however leverages a broader social theory – Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) which draws on the works of Engeström (1987); Leont’ev (1974); and Vygotsky (1978).
This framework assumes that human activity (e.g., learning, working) takes place as a part of a system which is mediated by resources (tools) and members of the system who also shape its rules and roles (see Danish, 2013 for a brief overview). The framework leverages both practices at the individual level as well as the community level. It helps identify the inconsistencies and discrepancies within an activity system given a particular goal by focusing on normative practices, physical structures and roles that are adopted by members of a given system. To this end, changes in sustainable practices are defined as an overall goal to transform the activity system, and not only at the individual level. Educational resources such as those provided by the Story of Stuff project are therefore only part of the picture; such resources are useful tools that can be leveraged to foster these changes. Ultimately however, changing one’s practices is a confluence of factors; to impact change, we must not only pay attention to the resources available to us but to take into account the cultural norms and roles that are most salient to us.