While Higher Education is grappling with enormous sustainability challenges Ghent University is about to downsize its successful Green Office

n a time where universities across the globe are trying to figure out how to remain relevant, responsive and responsible in times of climate urgency, biodiversity collapse and rising inequality, Ghent University is about to downsize its infamous Green Office in light of necessary ‘budget cuts’. I have worked with the Ghent Green Office and some of its key members for many years and find it hard to believe. Later this week the university leadership will determine whether it will downsize or continue to fully support some of the most dedicated and capable people and the structures they have created over the years to make sustainability part of the DNA of university and the wider community of Ghent. Together with educators and researchers based at universities across Europe we wrote a letter urging the leadership to rethink its down-sizing plans and to adopt a more visionary and hopeful stance. You can read the letter here:

I couldn´t resist: A SWOT analysis of ChatGPT – implications for educational practice and research

Source: https://evaluationcomics.freshspectrum.com/comic/chatgpt-and-plagiarism/

After a very good impromptu explanation of how ChatGPT works and will affect the future of research and education by ELS colleague Auke Westerterp in a homemade videoclip (have a look here), a lively discussion started among colleagues about the pro´s and cons of ChatGPT.

I found myself on the side of being skeptical and, indeed, worried. But there were also colleagues who see AI and chatbots as inevitable and potentially beneficial. In fact, it turned out they were already using it in both research and education, and, upon asking around a bit, I found out that many students are using it to (re)write their papers and to save the time of reading (which apparently is seen as an inefficient activity).

I then tried it out myself and was perplexed by what ChatGPT can create in seconds. I out in key words we use in our RiverCommons project which focuses on things like ´rights to nature´, ´water justice,´ ´decolonization´ and sustainable development, social learning, etc. I put in these words and asked ChatGPT to write a 300-word paper, with references APA style. To convince the project leader – Prof Rutgerd Boelens of Wageningen University´s Water Resource Management Group, I also asked to refer to the work of Boelens in the. article. The result was impressive and could have easily fooled the reviewers of a bunch of journals. To top things off, I asked ChatGTP to include a 100 biography of Rutgerd Boelens.

In fact, a good colleague of mine, also active in sustainability in higher education, Debby Cotton based at the University of Plymouth, submitted a paper to a journal, together with colleagues, to a journal which had been written by ChatGTP. They told the editor beforehand. The editor was in for an experiment and the paper went through a proper review process and… was accepted and then published with a discussion of what happened and what might be possible implications of this. The paper – have a look here – got featured in major newspapers like the Guardian and the Washington Post.

In the meantime, my colleagues working on ICT-supported learning had already started working on a SWOT of the use of ChatGPT in education. When I showed my interest in the debate, they asked me to join. Given the magnitude of the phenomenon, I could not resist and agreed to join. The paper just got published in Innovations in Teaching International and can be downloaded here. Have a look and see what you think. One of my concerns, not highlighted in the paper, is that these technologies will only expand our screen time (videophilia) and further disconnect us from places and people and the relations between them. As such they serve Nasdaq-listed companies and their shareholders most, while further eroding life on this Earth (biophilia). Perhaps, now that the AI is becoming so powerful, it will lead to a new discussion about the purpose of education and people´s motivations to learn. That, in the end, might be the best outcome.

Full citation:

Farrokhnia, M., Seyyed Kazem Banihashem, Omid Noroozi & Arjen Wals (2023) A SWOT analysis of ChatGPT: Implications for educational practice and research, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2023.2195846

High school biology students’ use of values in their moral argumentation and decision-making in times of polarization, confusion and unsustainability

Another paper based on PhD Tore van der Leij just appeared in the Journal of Moral Education. I took the liberty to add a few words to the title… ‘in times of polarization, confusion and unsustainability’ to emphasize the importance of this work.

In this qualitative case study Tore examined the impact of a specially-designed classroom intervention for a group of 15–16-year-old Dutch biology students’ use of values in contemplating five socioscientific issues in the human-nature context. The students worked in small groups to support various aspects of their morality. An ethical matrix was used as a heuristic to explore different arguments and moral values from different perspectives. The collected data consisted of written assignments, group conversations, and individual interviews. The results show that students’ use of values differed from one issue to another. The values they used in their moral decision-making indicated that the influence of the intervention activities, aimed at enhancing a relationship between moral agent (student) and moral object (topic), was limited. The study provides evidence that the intervention positively conduced to students’ cognition of the values that are personally relevant. Recommendations for further theorization, research and practice are discussed.

Here is the link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03057240.2023.2185595

Full citaton:Leij, Tote, van der, Martin Goedhart, Lucy Avraamidou & Arjen Wals (2023) High school biology students’ use of values in their moral argumentation and decision-making, Journal of Moral Education, DOI: 10.1080/03057240.2023.2185595

White Paper on Regenerative Higher Education – Rethinking education in times of dysfunction and collapse

Regrettably this white paper is only available in Dutch. Some ot the ideas artuclated in the paper can also be found in The Regenerative Education Podcast Series created by PhD Bas van den Berg see: The Regenerative Education Podcasts – Planting the seeds of change

Ik maak sinds een paar jaar deeluit van een Nederlandse  Community of Practice rondom Regenerative Higher Education bestaande uit PhDs en medewerkers van verschillende universiteiten en hoge scholen. Dit White Paper is het resultaat van de samenwerking in de Community of Practice en is samengesteld door Martine de Wit en gebaseerd op interviews met Bas van den Berg, Daan Buijs, Mieke Lopes Cardozo, Marlies van der Wee en Arjen Wals. Met input van Nina Bohm, Linda de Greef, Michaela Hordijk, Naomie Tieks, Koen Wessels, Rosanne van Wieringen, en Roosmarijn van Woerden. De illustraties en vormgeving zijn verzorgd door Mari Genova.

Het paper vertrekt vanuit de vraag:

Onderwijs dat het beste haalt uit onszelf en onze studenten, op weg naar herstel van de aarde. Hoe komen we daar?

Lees hier ons verhaal en laat ons weten wat resoneert, schuurt of wat het anderzins losmaakt!

Designing a module for supporting secondary biology students’ morality through socioscientific issues in the human-nature context – new research

One of my PhD’s. Tore van der Leij – jointly supervised with Prof Martin Goedhart and Prof. Lucy Avramidoo, both from Groningnen University here in The Netherlands where Tore hopes to receive his degree sometime this year – just had one of his studies published in the Journal of Biological Education.

The paper, of which Tore is the lead-author, poses that in addressing contemporary socio-ecological challenges it is imperative to engage individuals with the moral dilemmas in the human-nature context. A socioscientific-issues (SSI) approach to secondary biology education can contribute to engaging students in moral dilemmas and reflecting on their values.

Following a design research methodology, the paper aimed to: (1) develop a set of design principles of an intervention in Dutch upper secondary SSI biology education, aimed at supporting secondary biology students’ morality in the human-nature context; (2) concretise the design principles as a module.The practical output of the study is a module, which was refined and improved during the design phase, and then implemented by two biology teachers. In this paper, we present an exemplary example of a lesson from the module. As theoretical output, the paper discusses the role of the design principles: nature of the dilemmas; Four Component Model of morality; group work; and ethical matrix. Based on experiences in classrooms, recommendations are provided for further research and practice.

The paper can be found HERE: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00219266.2023.2174160

Full citation: Leij, T. van der; Goedhart, M.; Avraamidou, L. & Wals, A. (2023) Designing a module for supporting secondary biology students’ morality through socioscientific issues in the human-nature context, Journal of Biological Education, DOI: 10.1080/00219266.2023.2174160

For another paper related to this research see:

Tore Van Der Leij, Lucy Avraamidou, Arjen Wals & Martin Goedhart (2022) Supporting Secondary Students’ Morality Development in Science Education, Studies in Science Education, 58:2, 141-181, DOI: 10.1080/03057267.2021.1944716


Just out: Embodiment Talk – a podcast on what embodiment might mean for education and creating true connections with ourselves, the other and the world

In this Embodiment Talk I am interviewed by Marjon van Opijnen of the Embodiment Lab

We talk about the importance of embodiment in education. And how we can create education systems that create space for connections with ourselves, the other and the world. We talk about:

• What embodiment means for education;

• How education can help to create true connections with ourselves, the other and the world;

• The different forms of learning in eduation and how these can contribute to a more sustainable world;

• How education can teach us to criticize, connect and care. And that vulnerability can exist next to strength;

• How to integrate a systemic perspective in the education system.

Here you can go straight to the Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJlpE3rK0MM&t=153s

Go to: https://www.youtube.com/@embodimentlab-marjonvanopijnen for all the podcasts Marjon has made so far.

 Education in Times of Climate Change – comprehensive NORRAG Special Volume

Climate change is not a new issue for education, but new levels of consensus and concern are emerging, suggesting that new policy developments may follow. This NORRAG Special Issue (NSI 07) addresses the question of how education is to equip learners to participate in climate action that would fundamentally disrupt existing problematic systems. This NSI has the potential to inform pedagogical praxis, co-learning, curriculum, climate action, policy formulation, frameworks for evaluating success, resourcing decisions and what we might consider educative acts for engaging with climate change and its multi-dimensional uncertainties, risks and opportunities. 

Edited by South African Professors Eureta Rosenberg and Heila Lotz-Sisitka, this is one of the most comprehensive and ground braking collections of papers available at the moment. The special issue is completely open access. You can find the full table of contents here.

I am very pleased to have found two wonderful Norwegian colleagues – Astrid Sinnes of the Norwegian Life Sciences University and Ole Andreas Kvamme of the University of Oslo who were willing to join in writing a contribution which is titled: School Strikes as Catalysts for Rethinking Educational Institutions, Purposes and Practices

I am also delighted to see two of my former PhD’s, Thomas Macintyre and Martha Chaves, based in Colombia in the special issue as well with a paper on Climate Change Resilience through Collaborative Learning in the Colombian Coffee Region – they co-authored with Tatiana Monroy who, like omas and Martha volunteers for Fundación Mentes en Transición, Colombia, South America

There will be an online launch of the NORRAG Special Issue 07 (NSI 07): Education in Times of Climate Change, will take place on 6 October 2022 at 16:00 – 17:30 CEST. For more information about the llaunch event have look here!

‘Sweet Acid’ An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Students’ Navigating Regenerative Higher Education

Another important paper appeared led by PhD candidate Bas van den Berg. This time is appeared in a Special Issue edited by Santiago Alonso-Garcia on  Educational Research and Innovation in the First Global Catastrophe of the 21st Century: Committed to Education in the journal Education Sciences. The paper is completely Open Access an can be downloaded here. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-7102/12/8/533 but to give you a taste of what you can expect I am pasting the abstract below.


Regenerative forms of higher education are emerging, and required, to connect with some of the grand transition challenges of our times. This paper explores the lived experience of 21 students learning to navigate a regenerative form of higher education in the Mission Impact course at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. This semester-length course ran for two iterations with the intention of connecting the students with local transitions towards a more circular society, one where products are lasting and have multiple lives when they are shared, refurbished, or become a source for a new product. At the end of each iteration, the students reflected on their experience using the Living Spiral Framework, which served as basis for an interpretative phenomenological analysis of their journey navigating this transformative course. The results of this study include four themes; (1) Opting in—Choosing RHE, (2) Learning in Regenerative Ways, (3) Navigating Resistance(s), and (4) Transformative Impacts of RHE. These themes can be used by practitioners to design and engage with regenerative forms of higher education, and by scholars to guide further inquiry. View Full-Text

Keywords: regenerative higher educationinterpretative phenomenological analysislived experienceliving spiral frameworkregenerative learningnavigating resistances

Full citation: van den Berg, B.; Poldner, K.A.; Sjoer, E.; Wals, A.E.J. ‘Sweet Acid’ An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Students’ Navigating Regenerative Higher Education. Educ. Sci. 202212, 533. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12080533

Transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacitybuilding as levers for sustainability

Earlier this month the 8th Report from the Global University Network fir Innovation (GUNi) was published with a wealth of contributions critiquing current resilient modes and models of education and outlinig alternative one in light of the current systemic global dysfunction we find ourselves in. I was asked to contribute a chapter on transgressive learning. The link to the chapter is here

You can find the entire book at www.guni-call4action.org

The full citation for my chapter is: Wals, AEJ (2022) Transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacity building as levers for sustainability. In: Higher Education in the World 8 – Special issue New Visions for Higher Education, Barcelona: Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi). Open access: www.guni-call4action.org, p216-222.

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

Handmade painting by a student on “Empowerment –
a rising sensation that liberates you from ‘sinking’ into negativity” – using artistic forms of evaluation of learning, helped both subjectification and creating a sense of community in the course

This paper recently appeared in International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. It explores students’ sense of community and belonging in an online course on environmental and sustainable education during times of physical distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a case study approach, the results show that students perceived a sense of community that was collectively build during the four week program. Sense of community was linked to and facilitated by the learning environment and the educators’ and students’ role throughout the course. Prominent factors here are interaction and inclusion created with mutual effort by design, the educator and student.

This research arose after the course ELS-31806 Environmental Education and Learning for Sustainability[1] was converted as an ‘offline’ course into an online course due to COVID-19. The original content of the course enables students to systematically discuss important concerns in the development of an effective curriculum and/or operation for the environment and sustainable development using a range of instrumental and emancipatory approaches. But foremost ELS-31806 is a course that has always been, well appreciated and highly valued by participants for its highly experiential and hands-on approach.

However, due to COVID-19 this year’s course (2020) was changed into a less experiential on-line format mediated by Zoom for interaction and by Brightspace for course structure and organisation. This somewhat ad-hoc and sudden departure from the traditional successful format, lowered the instructors, and probably also, the students’ expectations about the course’ ability to create a vibrant learning community. Yet, contrary to pre-course expectations, ‘something’ (i.e. a sense) arose over the course of four weeks online education that both students and staff considered to be special or meaningful. These hunches got confirmed several weeks after by Wageningen UR’s student evaluation system PACE which revealed that the students highly valued the course.

We were intrigued by the question of how this online edition evoked similar, or nearly similar outcomes to its offline counterpart. After first checking whether our hunches were right about the course and what might explain the high evaluation marks, we centre in the paper’s  main question:

What are key characteristics of an online course that fosters subjectification (personal development and inner-sustainability in relation to others and the other) and creates a sense of community?

The paper was led by former MsC student Robbert Hesen and co-authored by myself and ELS Postdoc Rebekah Tauritz.


Hesen, R.Wals, A.E.J. and Tauritz, R.L. (2022), “Creating a sense of community and space for subjectification in an online course on sustainability education during times of physical distancing”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 23 No. 8, pp. 85-104. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-07-2021-0270

Triggered by these results we decided to investigate what might explain these results.

[1] A course within the Education and Learning Sciences (ELS) chair group at Wageningen University & Research (UR):  https://ssc.wur.nl/Handbook/Course/ELS-31806

The Imaginative Power of the Region. Learning for the SDGs together – February 8th (on-line)

On 8 February 2022 SPARK the Movement organizes an interactive online meeting with regional, national and European educators around the question:

How can we mobilize the imaginative power of the region, thus learning together how to take up global challenges and focus on the local impact we can make?

SPARK’s conviction is that sustainability needs to be a part of the ‘everyday fabric of life’. The scale of a region seems to be a most suitable level to examine and enact sustainability in day-to-day life and in everyday business. The meeting is organised by United Nation’s supported Regional Centre of Expertise ‘Fryslan’ in The Netherlands. I will give a short introduction to the Whole School Approach as a key driver of sustainability.

Anyone can join but you need to sign up here: https://sparkthemovement.nl/programma/



Whole School Approaches (WSA) to Sustainability – Principles, Practices and Prospects – Call for Contributions

It is my pleasure to share two calls for contributions in relation to the development of a Whole School Approach (WSA) to Sustainability. The first one relates to an international hybrid conference organized by the Dutch government that will take place in The Netherlands and partially online late March of 2022, the second one relates to an edited Volume on the topic in the Springer SDG4 Series on Quality Education.

  1. Call for exemplary practices of a Whole School Approach to Sustainable Development

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy have commissioned a report to provide practical examples of how a Whole Institution/ Whole School Approach (WSA) is being used in practice around the world to engage with SDG4 – Quality Education, especially in relation to sustainable development issues as covered by the other SDGs. The reports aim is to highlight different aspects of a WSA  – curriculum development, pedagogical innovation, school management and leadership, school-community relationships, professional development of staff, and the school as a ‘living laboratory’ for experimenting with healthy, equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable living – especially how these aspects can be integrated to mutually strengthen each other.

We are particularly interested in so-called critical case-studies that do not only highlight best-practice strategies and success stories, but also share the struggles, set-backs and challenges underneath and ways to overcome them. The report will be published as part of the WSA International Conference happening in The Netherlands on the 30th-31st March.

If you know of such a school (primary, secondary, or vocational) from your country that can be used as an exemplary example of a WSA in action, or want further details, please contact Rosalie Mathie via email. rosalie.mathie@nmbu.no before February 15th so she can still contact people connected to the exemplary case.

2 Call for Abstracts Springer SDG4 Series
Whole School Approaches to Sustainability – Principles, Practices  and Prospects

Ingrid Eikeland, Brigitte Bjønness, Astrid Sinnes and Arjen Wals (Eds)

Schools across the globe are seeking to respond to emerging topics like; climate change, biodiversity loss, healthy food and food security, and global citizenship. They are increasingly encouraged to do so by educational policies that recognize the importance of these topics and by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While there is recognition that such topics should not be added on to an already full curriculum, but rather require more systemic and integrated approaches, doing so in practice has proven to be difficult. This edited Volume seeks to engage educators, school leaders, educational policy-makers and scholars of sustainability in education in key principles, critical perspectives, generative processes and tools that can help realize a Whole School Approach to Sustainability. The book will contain three sections:  1) Principles & Perspectives, 2) Critically Reflexive Contextual Case Studies (Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education) and 3) Synthesis: Challenges and Prospects.

The editors are inviting abstracts (no more than 500 words) of potential chapters. Contributions can be research-based (spanning different genres of research) but can also be more conceptual in the form of critically reflexive essays. Abstracts should indicate a best fit with one of the sections and need to be accompanied with short bios of the author(s) and, if possible, references to prior publications that relate to the topic.

Please send your initial ideas for a contribution or any queries you may have to: ingrid.eikeland@nmbu.no before March 1st. All abstracts will be reviewed by the editors and a selection will be made for further development into a full manuscript to be published by the end of 2022.


I have posted about this seminar before. Originally the seminar was going to take place in March but it has been rescheduled to June 13-16. The deadline for submission has shifted as well to February 15th. This is a unique seminar with some great people in the field of environmental and sustainability participating. Have a look here for the key info. https://www.cdo.ugent.be/news/call-proposals-15th-invitational-seminar-ese-research

Education for sustainable development in the ‘Capitalocene’ – EPAT Special Issue

Last week our editorial introducing the Special Issue for Educational Philosophy and Theory (EPAT) on Education for Sustainable Development in the ‘Capitalocene’ finally appeared. Together with Gothenburg University colleagues, Helena Pedersen, Sally Windsor, Beniamin Knutsson, Dawn Sanders and Olof Franck, we found 8 excellent contributions from some great scholars, after a careful selection and review process. I encourage you to explore the entire SI. Here are the opening lines of our editorial to wet your appetite.

When the thought of this Special Issue began to take shape 3 years ago, we had no clear idea of how it would develop. We wanted to address what we saw as the inability, or even impossibility, of our education system in general, and ESD in particular, to respond to the current climate and environmental crises. We began the call for contributions to the SI with the question ‘Has Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) reached an impasse?’ and referred to Moran and Kendall’s (2009) argument that our various research approaches produce nothing but illusions of education and that education does not exist beyond its simulation. Moran and Kendall continue to argue, drawing on the work of Baudrillard, that current movements in education constitute an ‘improvement agenda’ where more interventions are produced and critiques are repeated ‘over and over’ to foster improvements, ‘pursued as if they were possible’ (Moran & Kendall, 2009, p. 329, italics added). In the call text we used Moran and Kendall’s position on education as a springboard for thinking around ESD and capitalism. In the messy terrain of the debates concerning the ‘Anthropocene’ (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000) and the ‘Capitalocene’ (Malm & Hornborg, 2014), how does education emerge? Since its conception, the ESD field has been criticised for its hidden and problematic normativity (Jickling, 1992). Regardless of how valid such a critique is, the core idea of ESD is, arguably, a grandiose ‘improvement agenda’ – not only of education, but of the planetary condition as such. There is an assumption that if we can find the appropriate way of ‘doing’ ESD, a sustainable world is within reach.

Yet while working on the Special Issue, one overwhelming real (i.e. not simulated) global event and disaster after the other has occurred: The Fridays for Future strikes; the catastrophic wildfires, hurricanes and flooding across the globe; the heatwaves in the Arctic circle and Pacific Northwest, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic – to name a few. Extinction numbers are now at critical levels (IPBES, 2019), climate change impacts are here and increasing in magnitude and frequency (IPCC, 2021), and human-made materials, such as plastic and concrete now outweigh the living biomass of the planet (Elhacham et al., 2020).

How, then, is it at all possible to educate in the midst of this harsh reality, if education itself, and educational critique, cannot be conceived beyond its own illusive patterns of simulation and repetition? As educators, working within these multiple tipping points, where do we stand? Are schools and universities and even ESD, becoming an extension of the globalizing economy and unwillingly accelerating unsustainability (Huckle & Wals, 2015) by equipping people merely to be more effective vandals of the earth? (Orr, 1994). Does the temporality of assumptions held about education (Facer, 2021) impede our ability to respond to the current crisis with urgency? Can educational institutions ever cultivate multi-species approaches to knowledge and justice in a time of mass environmental pillage (e.g. Pedersen, 2021)? And what does this all mean for an individual teacher attempting to nurture hope, and stave off despair (e.g. Ojala et al., 2021), in the face of widespread inequality and lack of access to meaningful biopolitical actions (e.g. Knutsson, 2021)?”

Here is the link to the entire editorial https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00131857.2021.1987880