An experiential learning approach (hands-on experiences), in contrast to passive listening, enables students to acquire knowledge through their active involvement in problem solving and the subsequent analysis of and reflection on the possible solutions proposed. Three different subjects on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) taught at the Alava Campus of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) form a unique framework for promoting the direct involvement of students in their own learning process.

EIA is a statutory procedure that ensures that the environmental implications of a proposed project are taken into account before its approval. This procedure has been in force since 1985 (Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council) and has become recognized as an important management tool for ensuring the optimal use of natural resources for sustainable development. The skills and competences acquired by graduates through the study of any of the three subjects referenced to above enable them to take part in EIA processes throughout their professional career.

The heart of an EIA is the environmental impact assessment report (EIAR), a technical document by which the anticipated effects on the environment of a proposed project are measured. The EIAR includes an ecological analysis of the different options suggested for the project, as well as a justification for the environmentally friendly nature of the version chosen. The approval or authorisation of the project on the part of the authority is based on the information contained in this document.

The student body, divided in groups of 3 to 5 people, must meet the challenge of developing and drafting the EIAR of a self-selected project, applying an active and cooperative methodology, developed and coordinated by the subjects’ teachers. While students are completing their EIAR, the subject is complemented by theoretical expositions and practical exercises. This arrangement enhances the autonomous management of the knowledge gained by students, making the most of the group members’ interrelation.

The methodology employed allows the bases for a systematic realization of an EIAR to be established and the global impact of a project to be determined in an objective and precise manner. In this case, the students carry out the quantitative assessment of the environmental impacts relating to all stages of their project (planning, construction and operation) by means of a computer tool developed for this purpose. Finally, the environmental viability of the proposed project in the selected location is determined after the judgement of the abovementioned environmental impacts.

Once the task is finished, each student assesses the functioning of the working group as well as the level of involvement of their team-mates. Additionally, they draw up a brief observation regarding the learning process and any possible improvements.