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An auto-photographic study of undergraduate students’ conceptions of ocean sustainability

Chi-I Lin (Center for General Education, National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan)
Yuh-Yuh Li (Research Center for Promoting Civic Literacy, National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to investigate students’ understandings of ocean sustainability and the pedagogical influence of higher education on those conceptions.


The conceptions of ocean sustainability of 54 university students of various academic disciplines enrolled in the 2014/2015 semester course “Sustainable Oceans” were assessed through use of auto-photography. Data were collected at the beginning and end of the course. Inter-rater reliability was measured by percentage of identical coding outcomes by two coders.


Auto-photography is effective in assessing notions of sustainability. Social and economic dimensions were captured less frequently than environmental aspects in the students’ photographs. Overall, students demonstrated vague perceptual awareness about who should take responsibility concerning lifeworld-related issues. Also, their perceptions were affected by their choice of academic discipline. Engaging students in inter-/transdisciplinary learning, integrating the arts, science and community, helped develop a more balanced, action-motivated conception of sustainability. Post-test patterns of change in students’ vision and action were observed.

Practical implications

Implementing sustainability education in a university’s coordinating bodies is effective in constructing a campus-based learning network, and participation in local community empowerment promotes a substantial and multidimensional concept of sustainability, and teaching material that includes content from the fine arts, literature or music stimulates students’ awareness of, and sensitivity to, lifeworld issues.


This paper provides an innovative, auto-photography-based methodology, including an operational procedure, coding book and method of analysis, for assessing students’ conceptions of sustainability. It also develops an interdisciplinary course that serves a “threshold” intervention role in ocean sustainability education.



The authors would like to thank the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan for funding this research project (MOST 103-2511-S-110-003).


Lin, C.-I. and Li, Y.-Y. (2017), "An auto-photographic study of undergraduate students’ conceptions of ocean sustainability", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 554-575.



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