Creating a sense of community and space for subjectification in an online course on sustainability education during times of physical distancing

Robbert Hesen, Arjen E.J. Wals*, Rebekah L. Tauritz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This study aims to demonstrate which course elements were responsible for community building, fostering subjectification and learning for being in an online course on environmental and sustainability education (ESE) during the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing. Design/methodology/approach: The study investigates a graduate-level course on Environmental Education for Sustainable Living that due to COVID-19 had to be taught mainly online. A retrospective analysis was conducted when the facilitators reflected on why the course, against expectations, appeared to have affected so many students in such a meaningful and profound way as shown by their personal reflections and the course evaluation. Methodologically, this study can be described as explorative and interpretative, although it was complemented by a standardised empirical analytical end-of course evaluation. Findings: Within the context of this study, sense of community is linked to and facilitated by the online learning environment and the educators’ and students’ roles throughout the course. This study found that interaction and inclusion can be augmented by a hybrid educational design and supported by the mutual efforts of educators and students. Reflective tasks and discussions most prominently evoked subjectification. The encouragement of students to see themselves as central subjects and the inclusion of creative tasks supported both personal exploration and sense of community. Originality/value: This study provides educational institutions teaching online with valuable information regarding course elements that foster subjectification and create a sense of community. This is particularly of interest for the design of online ESE emphasising learning for being and more relational approaches towards teaching and learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-104
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Environmental and sustainability education
  • Hybrid learning
  • Online learning
  • Sense of community
  • Subjectification


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