> The initiative
In 2020, the UoM along with the rest of the world faced an unprecedented challenge, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the University to transition to a virtual campus. As Victoria was presented with a longer lockdown than other states, the University was closed to most staff and students for over a year. As campus activities transitioned online, new demands for a way for staff and students to keep connected to campus became real. In particular, sustainability while a big priority for many staff and students normally, became less of a priority and the UoM Sustainability Team faced challenges in keeping the community connected, engaged and motivated.
Prior to COVID-19 the Sustainability Team had run bi-weekly Sustainability and Biodiversity Tours during term time for many years, and they were incredibly popular. They not only allowed individuals to connect with like-minded people but also to the natural environment and allowed people to experience the campus as a living lab. Attending tours was also a Green Impact toolkit action. However, with COVID-19 and the closing of the Parkville campus the tours stopped. This caused many people to feel disconnected, esp. the longer the lock down lasted (Melbournians experienced strict stage-4 lock down for 4 months).
To address this challenge, the Sustainability Team developed a Virtual Sustainability Tour, via an online platform, which users can explore sustainable initiatives, services, and infrastructure on the Parkville campus remotely. The tour took approx. 3 months to develop, film initial content and was launched in September 2020. The team used its in-house communications and sustainability officers to develop the content and platform respectively. At its launch users could navigate 13 stops across the online map, through embedded videos. We were able to create this tool relatively quickly based on the demand for a Virtual Sustainability Tour and it was a game-changer for all online events and presentations as it allowed not only domestic students and staff but also international students to view the campus and support initiatives. The virtual tour also allows individuals to browse at their leisure whilst being able to see more stops than time would allow with an on-campus tour. Furthermore, users can now view things they wouldn’t have been able to see from the ground for example the many solar panels on building roofs. The online map provides an opportunity to showcase a broad range of sustainability activities from around the University to new audiences, including international and interstate students, organisations, alumni, prospective students, and industry partners. The stops are diverse and include sustainable operations, research, student-led programs, and broader community engagement initiatives. The platform has since evolved into a valuable teaching and learning resource and is being used in the newly developed Joining Melbourne Module. There are also plans to expand the tour to other campuses, to ensure a whole of University approach and filming has already began at the Werribee campus in June 2020.
UoM officially launched the Virtual Sustainability Tour on the 4th of September 2020, just in time for Open Day (6th September 2020) to provide an engagement tool for prospective new students. It was also used as the centre piece activity in Kids Teaching Kids conference (KTK), in November 2020. Normally the Sustainability Team run campus tours for hundreds of students at this conference, however with the virtual tour they didn’t miss out on finding out what was going on at UoM. Since then, the team have continued to grow the tour with the inclusion of more stops and the aim to expand to other campuses whilst still providing an opportunity to raise awareness of sustainability at the University remotely.