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Towards effective e-learning on sustainability: a case study-course on participatory processes in environmental politics

Daniela Perbandt (Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, FernUniversity Hagen, Hagen, Germany)
Marie-Sophie Heinelt (Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, FernUniversity Hagen, Hagen, Germany)
Paula Bacelar-Nicolau (Department of Science and Technology and LE@D Distance Education and eLearning Lab, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and CFE, Centre for Functional Ecology, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal)
Mahsa Mapar (Department of Science and Technology and LE@D Distance Education and eLearning Lab, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and CENSE Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, School of Science and Technology, NOVA University Lisbon, Caparica, Portugal)
Sandra Sofia Caeiro (Department of Science and Technology and LE@D Distance Education and eLearning Lab, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and CENSE Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, School of Science and Technology, NOVA University Lisbon, Caparica, Portugal)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 19 May 2021

Issue publication date: 2 July 2021

Abstract

Purpose

Distance universities are of great importance for establishing sustainability literacy, as they operate as multipliers for thousands of students. However, despite several advantages of e-learning environments compared to traditional class-teaching, there are still challenges regarding suitable e-learning tools and didactical models. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of several e-learning tools on students’ knowledge and skills growth and to compare two learning paths, synchronous vs asynchronous, exploring how each affects the level of students’ knowledge achievement and skills acquisition.

Design/methodology/approach

The empirical analysis is based on an online course “Participatory processes in environmental politics”. International MSc and PhD students who enrolled in the course were from FernUniversität in Hagen (Germany) and Aberta University (Portugal). The course was designed as the flipped classroom, applying different e-learning tools and activities, some synchronous and others asynchronous. A pre- and post-evaluation questionnaire was applied to evaluate students’ knowledge and skills. Descriptive statistical analyses were carried out on this data.

Findings

Results showed that in the synchronous group, knowledge about theoretical approaches to citizen participation and sustainable environmental governance improved to a greater extent, whereas the asynchronous group showed greater improvement in nearly all skills related to intercultural communication and e-learning. Also, in the synchronous path, students enhanced their knowledge on “research application” to a greater extent.

Originality/value

Evaluating the effectiveness of different e-learning tools on students’ sustainability knowledge and information and communication technologies skills is a fundamental issue. The study discusses these issues, contributing to enhancing the use of adequate and grounded e-learning models on sustainable development in higher education.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support provided by the International Office of the FernUniversität in Hagen, for undertaking this online seminar. We further acknowledge the valuable support and contribution to the seminar of Annette Töller, Thomas Vogelpohl, Sara Becker and Daniel Otto. The Centre for Environmental and Sustainability Research (CENSE), NOVA School of Science and Technology, NOVA University of Lisbon is financed by the FCT through the strategic project UID/AMB/04085/2019.

Citation

Perbandt, D., Heinelt, M.-S., Bacelar-Nicolau, P., Mapar, M. and Caeiro, S.S. (2021), "Towards effective e-learning on sustainability: a case study-course on participatory processes in environmental politics", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 801-832. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-07-2020-0262

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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