Joy, frustration and working in a distant nature in online environmental and sustainability education.

Year: 2021

Author: Power, Kerry, Almeida, Sylvia

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Education across schools and universities has been affected by replacing face to face learning with online learning initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote education has been a continuing aspect of learning in most university contexts; however, changing environmental and sustainability education units to online delivery was challenging.  For example, planning and delivering units that had previously offered nature walks with pre-service teachers were modified to serve digital learning and lockdown conditions.  Accessing ‘nature’ was an abstract experience for some students, as photographing a tree was done through a dormitory window.  Uploading a nature encounter would follow, and students would interact in an online forum. New materialism helps to re-conceptualise these sorts of virtual abstractions and address the complexity of teaching environmental and sustainability education online. New materialist theorisation challenges human/nature binaries which serve a neoliberalist disregard for environmental and sustainability issues. Although teachers and students needed to modify their behaviour in lockdown conditions, part of the change promoted ontological questioning ‘am I in and outside of nature?’ Re-imagining environmental and sustainability education speculates how and why online delivery and experience can affect teaching practice and experience.  Being in nature and being separated from it at the same time invited interdisciplinary considerations.  Learning activities such as remembering childhood nature encounters, documenting lockdown experiences, challenging consumption, creating multi-modal artworks, and allowing time to think advocated a change in thinking.  This paper draws on the experiences of two academics teaching environmental and sustainability education online courses initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic and provides insight into their joys, frustrations, and learning.