About Erik Jentges

Educational Developer at D-MTEC

The World Climate Simulation

Teaching anyone properly about Climate Change is a difficult task. The concept is simple to grasp: “if the global temperature rises above 2°C in 2100 – that’s bad!” But understanding the sophisticated climate models that scientists develop and translating this understanding into political negotiations, that’s a tough challenge. The World Climate Simulation, made available by the MIT think tank spin-off Climate Interactive, and facilitated by Prof. Dr. Florian Kapmeier (ESB Business School, Reutlingen University) for MTEC faculty and students on March 19th 2018, did just that. Here are some personal reflections.[1]

Source: Getting to 2°. Emotions (and temperatures) run high in a mock climate negotiation. by Robin Kazmier, SM ’17, MIT Technology Review, August 16, 2017

The scenario is as follows: at the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, the UN Secretary General (enacted by the simulation’s facilitator) asks the participating countries and country blocs to make pledges to curb the negative effects of climate change. USA and Europe get seats at lushly decorated conference tables, stocked with privileges and amenities: coffee machines, food, fruits, and soft drinks. Other developed countries like Russia, Canada etc. find themselves at sparsely equipped conference furniture, but they still get a few sandwiches. China and India both get nothing but some water on their tables, while the large bloc of developing countries face a blunt reality: no food, no water, no chairs, no table. The unequal distribution of wealth across the nations becomes clearly visible at the beginning of the game.

At the sidelines and without voting powers, fossil fuel lobbyists, climate activists, and a delegation of US cities and states, the US Climate Alliance, complete the line-up. The simulation can easily accommodate 60 participants; we played it with 20 and without the fossil fuel activists.

Figure 1  Impressions from the WCS negotiations

Equipped with brief profile information for the participants that summarize their respective positions in the climate negotiations, a first round of negotiations starts. The countries give a two-minute statement in the UN assembly. Their pledge contains concrete numbers: the year their emissions peaks, the year the reduction of emissions begins, the rate of yearly reduction, and percentage numbers for the prevention of deforestation and afforestation efforts. And then, money talks: how much will the regions contribute to the global fund for mitigation and adaptation to climate change in billions USD per year? These variables from all six countries and country blocs are put on a flipchart.

The US delegation opted for realpolitik in the spirit of pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. Climate change is fake news, hence: no contributions. The EU delegation pledged their green agenda, but tied their contributions to the fund with deal breakers: China, India, and the developing nations have to aim for ambitious goals to curb climate change. Which they didn’t. China argued that the causes for the current situation are rooted in the American and European centuries of industrialization; therefore, it is a European and American responsibility to fix the mess. Likewise, India’s delegation saw prospects of their nation’s industrial development. The developing nations sought to catch up economically and would need to produce enough food for their population. Actually seeing the abundance of food in the “first world” and growing increasingly hungry (having skipped lunch) did not lead to appeasement. The Climate Alliance’s meagre donation of grapes rather accentuated their grievances.

A political solution to the climate change negotiations seemed far away. Having given their pledges, participants voted on the expected result for global warming in 2100. Would it be business as usual with its foreseeable catastrophic events of more than 4°C rise in global temperatures? Or would the pledges lead to outcomes around 3.6°C or even approach the ambitious aim of 2°C global warming in 2100?

Pessimism flooded the room as the numbers were punched into C-ROADS. C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support) is a scientifically-reviewed policy simulator on climate change, with which users can test their own emission pathways to limit global warming to below 2°C and thus learn for themselves. The results are calculated in real-time and give a direct visual output on the effects on global warming (temperature), ocean acidification, and sea-level-rise. A screenshot is given in figure 2.

Figure 2 – Screenshot of the C-ROADS simulator

Result of the first round of negotiations: somewhere around 3.6°C rise in temperature. The UN Secretary General took the outcome to give a passionate input to the conference participants of what this would mean in reality: flooded coastal regions all over the world, with an uninhabitable Shanghai, and foreseeable catastrophic weather conditions with ever stronger and more frequent tropic storms.

The second round of negotiations began with Trump walking out and going golfing. India claimed USA’s coffee machine, and the developing nations began looting. They stripped the US delegation of their sandwiches, cookies, and soft drinks, and also took the conference chairs. They left the flowers. The EU, Russia and Canada negotiated as if there is no tomorrow, and China’s delegation opened up to the idea that actually having a tomorrow that is worth waking up to was not too bad after all. The second round of pledges was typed into C-ROADS, and while the result improved upon the first round, it was still far away from the 2°C goal. A sobering outcome.

The ensuing discussion lead to a much deeper understanding of the different factors and their effects on the climate change projections. It is difficult to describe the increased comprehension of the participants for the numbers and the data in the complex climate models. But the questions and attempts to solve the climate dilemma made it clear that the World Climate Simulation succeeds in engaging participants with a truly mindboggling dataset. It accentuates the interdependencies of the different countries and the need to collaborate to reach solutions. In a more striking way, the potential health benefits for people that will accompany a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources surprised me. To pick just one example: less fossil fuel use means less asthma; treating asthma is expensive, not having to treat it saves money. In a bigger context, and maybe touching the game’s underlying metanarrative, if we simply stop poisoning ourselves with CO2 emissions, we could be ready for big strides into the right direction. But we have to act immediately.

Figure 3 Part of the briefing information for participants

From a didactic point of view, the simulation combines learning about a complex dataset and its interrelated factors with an emotional dimension. Participants play a role, and receive immediate feedback about their negotiation results via the C-ROADS tool. Intense discussions within the countries and country blocs begin to merge with attempts to collaborate across parties. Concepts about climate change, including false concepts, are addressed in a constructive way that allow participants to model and adapt their decision-making to what they learn. It’s a powerful learning and teaching format.

If you want to play the WCS, I believe that the simulation needs a good facilitator to regulate the game dynamics and deliver the Secretary General’s content-heavy input. The teaching notes are very well prepared (see figure 3 for example) and should make it possible for anyone to organize the WCS for the first time. The simulation (in the setting that we played) requires a time slot for about 3.5h-4h. It then gives enough time for a debriefing to summarize the learning experience and let participants reflect on their next steps individually. We had faculty from all levels (Prof, Postdoc, PhD) and master students learning together as participants in the simulation, which added a new opportunity to meet in the department. It was a great learning opportunity!



Information on the simulation, including the full set of slides and materials to play the simulation (also in other languages including German, French, and Italian):



C-ROADS can be downloaded for free here:



[1] The event was organized by Johannes Meuer (SusTec) and Erik Jentges (MTEC Teaching Innovations Lab). A huge “thank you!” to Florian Kapmeier for an energetic and passionate facilitation of the simulation.

Teaching Innovations on Corporate Sustainability

Last year I helped with the redesign of the lecture Corporate Sustainability at D-MTEC. Several teaching innovations were implemented and I would like to share a few of our experiences. Prof. Volker Hoffmann and his team of the Chair of Sustainability and Technology implemented a skills-based approach and emphasized the development of critical thinking. The course unit explored current challenges of corporate sustainability in the business world. Climate change, innovations on renewable energy technologies, and new sustainable business strategies are topics that are related to corporate sustainability and controversially debated. Just think of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal and the consequences it had for the company’s management and you have a pretty good idea about the general theme of the course and its relevance.

The lecture’s three learning objectives were:

  1. Students understand the key concepts of corporate sustainability and form learned opinions about them;
  2. Students develop a critical thinking disposition on corporate sustainability issues;
  3. Students gain confidence to speak up for corporate sustainability in a professional setting.

The lecture aimed at enabling students to become champions for sustainable business practices in their professional careers.


A new course structure with flipped classrooms

The course originally had a classic lecture setting of teaching with PPTs from the front stage with PPTs. The redesign was a complete overhaul and implemented a new structure. The course now has two phases. First a lecture phase, in which key concepts are presented and students can work on e-modules to develop their critical thinking skills, and then a track phase in which flipped classrooms are used to develop group work projects (see figure below for the course structure).

course structure

Figure 1 – Course structure


During last year’s lecture phase, Prof. Volker Hoffmann gave an introduction to corporate sustainability through a series of lectures. These inputs addressed one theme each and built a foundation for the group work. In addition, each lecture was supported by an e-module that allowed students to apply the concepts, improve their analytical skills, formulate a purposefully structured and reasoned argument, and conduct anonymous peer reviews to analyze arguments of two fellow students. The e-modules trained students to find creative and innovative solutions and communicate their thoughts clearly through writing a logically structured arguments in six sentences. The new 6SA method was specifically designed for the course.

In the track phase, students participated in one of four tracks that specialized on the lecture’s sessions on assessment, strategy, innovation and technology, and finance. Each track had up to 40 students and was coached by two to three Postdoc and PhD researchers. The teams of four to five students focused on one of the four topics water, energy, mobility, and food (WEMF). All assignments for the teams were designed in such a way that they built up towards the final product and warranted a feasible and fair work load across the tracks. The final products of the group work were presented in a puzzle session at the end of the semester. All students from the four tracks that had worked on the same topic came together to present their projects and thereby assemble four different perspectives on each topic. A final conclusion and reflection session with a guest speaker concluded the course.

course impressions

Image 1 – Impressions from the course


In the fall semester 2015/16, the lecture had about 160 students from more than a dozen disciplines, ranging from management and economics to engineering and environmental sciences. The diversity of the student body (BA, MA, MAS, and exchange students) was seized as a learning opportunity by ensuring that during the track phase each team represented different study backgrounds. The course’s progress was monitored by a weekly online feedback survey with 10% of the students during the lecture phase and a semester-end evaluation after the track phase.


Overview on Teaching Innovations

The lecture Corporate Sustainability supported the ETH Critical Thinking initiative by implementing several teaching innovations in its new design. The approach focused on the development of students’ critical thinking abilities and the hands-on application of theoretical concepts and analytical tools. The lecture integrated a new course structure and successfully implemented online learning modules with peer review during the lecture phase, group work in flipped classroom sessions during the newly devised track phase, and an innovative group puzzle session to ensure learning across tracks.

The lecture introduced new learning processes and new methods that had been specifically designed to realize the course’s learning objectives on developing critical thinking skills.

In the lecture phase, the learning process was based on the combination from lecture inputs with the critical thinking elements in the e-modules. The key innovation was the 6SA method that Dr. Julian Kölbel and I developed (see also my input at the Refresh Teaching lecture series). 6SA stands for 6 sentence argument and allows students to structure their thinking in a writing exercise. The method channels interactions amongst students through a writing and anonymous peer review process and gives them a secure space to test their arguments and their critical thinking skills.

In a 6SA text, each sentence a specific function for the logic and coherence of the overall argument. The elements are adapted from classical dialectics and critical reasoning in philosophy: #1 introduction, #2 position, #3 supportive reasoning, #4 challenge, #5 rebuttal, #6 conclusion. For the writing and the peer review, seven criteria help students to formulate their argument in consistent structure. The exercise trains students to clarify their position in a short and concise form of 120 words (max. 20 words per sentence) and communicate it in a way that can convince a critical reader.

The learning process in the 6SA method builds on five distinct phases:

6sa phases

Figure 2 – The five phases of the 6SA method


The 6SA method allows students to cultivate their skill in formulating an argument with logical consistency and a high degree of critical reflection. As they become experienced in composing their own argument, they mature as critical reviewers for their peers. After being shown general class performance, creative solutions, and best-in-class examples, they then read the reviews to their own texts. In the last step, students encounter their peer’s reading experience. While students expect appreciation for their thoughts, they are also open for criticism and eager to improve. The last step increases the students’ cognitive maturity and critical thinking disposition. As an incentive to work with the e-modules, students could earn a bonus and replace 10% of their final exam score with their grades from the e-modules. The application, learning progress, and effects of the 6SA method were closely monitored throughout the semester, and our first analysis indicated positive results.

In the track phase, innovation in teaching and learning was integrated in the flipped classrooms and the group puzzle.

In the flipped classrooms, learning took place in the intensively coached sessions and within the teams for the group work. Students were allocated to teams that were formed according to their preferences for a track and a topic (thanks to Urs Braendle LSP/D-USYS for the help!). Each team represented diversity with regard to study backgrounds, gender, age, language competences and cultural backgrounds. Increased diversity created opportunities for interdisciplinary, intercultural, and intergenerational learning processes. A ‘meet & greet’ activity was offered in the first track session to facilitate the teamwork. To create a common understanding on how students wanted to work together, they signed a team commitment that clarified that they shared responsibility for their learning success. It also formed a basis for a high degree of involvement, engagement, motivation, and fun.

The tracks culminated in a group puzzle in which the teams presented their work in different formats. In the assessment track, students prepared a debate in which they questioned and defended a firm’s sustainability performance. They refined first their analytic and then their debating skills. In the strategy track, students applied numerous concepts and tools to prepare a pitch presentation to convince a firm’s management to implement more sustainable business practices to solve specific problems. In the innovation and technology track, students analyzed different models for technology choices that are relevant for companies and presented them in a quiz format. In the finance track, sustainable investment decisions were prepared in 5 minute videos that were of immediate use for investment committees, for example of a pension fund. Each team received one-page assignments that guided students towards their final product and motivated them to be creative and learn with and from each other. The teams continuously integrated advice and feedback from the track coaches.

Lasting and positive impacts of the corporate sustainability lecture at ETH were that students, especially from management and engineering backgrounds, received training in articulating a well-refined position, a skill that is broadly applicable in academic and professional life. They experienced efficient group work and were exposed to presenting their output in different formats. In addition, close interactions in the track phase between students and coaches led to high levels of motivation. The lecture benefited the cooperative atmosphere amongst all involved researchers (professor, postdocs, PhD candidates and educational developer) and has a potential to become an important element to define and strengthen the profile of the SusTec group.

In my conclusion, the lecture on Corporate Sustainability can have a sustainable influence on teaching at ETH and beyond. With regard to training critical thinking, the 6SA method is broadly applicable in various lecture and seminar settings in higher education and makes an innovative use of online learning platforms, in particular the moodle workshop module. Each of the tracks in the flipped classroom phase can be a basis for independent course units. The modular architecture of the course allows adapting the lecture for PhD summer schools and executive classes in continuing education. The redesign of the course was supported by Innovedum (link to the project report here).