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Interview with Prof. Booyuel Kim: Foundations of sustainable development

01 Dec, 2017 News Center 1,273

Prof. Booyuel KIM

It is about time that we reimagined the education system. We have seen modern technologies infuse all aspects of our lives with new dimensions, but why not education? KDI School recognizes the incredible effect that the internet is having on education and is embracing the new possibilities it offers. Online education will undoubtedly become the next big thing for academia since the printing press. It is not an enemy of residential education but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally. It offers professors of KDIS an opportunity to shift the paradigm of classroom dynamics. This semester we have met up with Prof. Booyuel KIM who offers KDIS students a course that merges the benefits of online education with the time-proven techniques. Prof. KIM is a Columbia University graduate with a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development. His course, Foundations of Sustainable Development, is in part taught traditionally with in-class weekly lectures and with online courses provided by The SDG Academy. The SDG Academy is an initiative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network to create and curate free, graduate-level online courses on sustainable development. The platform brings together the world’s foremost experts to offer a comprehensive core curriculum on issues integral to the sustainability of our planet – including health, education, climate change, agriculture and food systems, sustainable investment and other related fields. The course that Prof. KIM focuses on is “The Age of Sustainable Development.” Narrated by Prof. Jeffrey D. SACHS, an American economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development, Earth Institute at Columbia University, the course gives students an understanding of the key challenges and pathways to sustainable development – that is, economic development also socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

The Globe interviewed Prof. Booyuel KIM to get his story and appreciation of how this new approach to education is working out and what are the benefits and challenges.

The Globe – Why did you decide to pursue the field of development studies, when did this education path start for you?

Prof. KIM – In college, I was majoring in Computer Science but towards my junior year, I realized that it was not really what I wanted to do. On one occasion I had a chance to read a book by Muhammad Yunus, a civil society leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. Shortly after, I was deeply touched by that experience. I believe that was the point when I decided to shift my area of studies. After serving in the Republic of Korea Air Force I had taken steps to pursue further studies in the field of development. I managed to attend a Master of International Affairs and a Ph.D. program in Sustainable Development both at Columbia University.

The Globe – What are the roots of this course and how did it start about?

Prof. KIM – Prof. Jeffrey SACHS has been teaching Challenges of Sustainable Development, an undergraduate course for Columbia University students and in 2013 he further developed this course into a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Age of Sustainable Development. It was a huge success that about 100,000 students from more than 100 different countries took this MOOC online. This 14-week MOOC is designed as an introduction to the most challenging question facing our generation, sustainable development. The course discusses the complex interplay between the economy and our planet’s physical environment, as well as the consequences of human activities on the planet’s environment. I believe introducing the world best introductory course on sustainable development to KDIS students would be important. Thus, I designed a blended learning (flipped learning) course combining the online ‘Age of Sustainable Development’ course and off-line lectures and discussions.

The Globe – Are there any challenges that you think this particular style of learning could pose to the education system and how do you think it blends within the KDIS curriculum?

Prof. KIM – Blended learning approach taking full advantage of using both MOOCs and traditional offline lectures can be very effective but only under specific circumstances. First, students should be motivated enough to study online contents by themselves before class. Without students’ active preparation in advance, it would be difficult to run the offline class as effective as one can expect from blended learning. Second, given students’ preparation, it is important that a lecturer facilitates offline discussions. How to organically combine online contents with offline lectures and discussions at classroom is one of the key factors to make blended learning successful. I don’t think that MOOC and other online education contents can entirely substitute traditional offline classroom education. Rather, they can complement each other. There are millions of online education contents out there and how to choose the right contents, how to organize them, and how to incorporate them into classroom activities would be the main challenge that may create complementarities. Online contents need synergy and guidance; otherwise, it would be difficult to reach its full learning potential. The KDIS curriculum actively adopts innovative teaching pedagogy such as project-based learning (PBL), capstone project, and blended learning including this course, Foundations of Sustainable Development, in order to effectively coordinate the learning experience and offer students the possibility to apply their knowledge.

After speaking with Prof. KIM I was convinced of the added value a blended model of education, one that reinvents and reimagines what we do in the classroom. Education hasn’t really changed in the past years, it’s about time to evolve our approach. And everything has to change in order to allow present and future students a more comprehensive and intuitive experience. We need to go from a lecture on the board to online exercises, online videos. We need to give students access to interactive experiences and gamification with peer interaction on discussion boards. I am very fortunate to have been part of an academic institution that embraces this change. KDIS has again proved its ability to surpass expectations and achieve academic excellence.


By Valentin CROITORU (2017 MDP, Moldova)