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.


Citation

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

Short video “Engaging Communities in Local Sustainability Issues through T-Learning and Citizen Science”

This 5 minute video was recorded at WEEC 2022 in Prague by Alex Kudryavtsev – a research associate at Cornell University for the “Environmental Education & Community Engagement” online course by Cornell and NAAEE. I introduce transdisciplinary, transgressive and transformative learning in the context of citizens monitoring air pollution s a form of citizen science. I use the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands as an example (althoughI do some justice to the city of Rotterdam as my example is somewhat dated:. it is a short video and much more is to be said about Rotterdam as the city government now pro-actively works with citizens in an air quality monitoring network. ‘Luchtbrug’ see: https://www.themayor.eu/en/a/view/rotterdam-citizens-concerned-with-air-quality-form-a-club-8089

Announcing: Higher Education Summit “Daring to Transform Learning for a Future Proof Economy” – Hasselt, Belgium, September 6-8

“It’s the economy, stupid!” was a slogan Bill Clinton used in his successful campaign against George W. Bush to point out that in the end it is the economy that matters most to voters. Now 30 years later this slogan has new meaning as we come to see the moral and planetary bankruptcy of old-style market and growth driven economic thinking that normalises unsustainability. Sadly, much higher (business) education still echoes and reproduces dysfunctional old-style economic thinking, even in universities that claim to have sustainability at the heart of their operations… even the SDG related to the economy – SDG 8 – seems to do so as it focuses on realizing ‘economic GROWTH and decent work’. It is hight time that alternative economic thinking takes root in our education – varying from distributive economic thinking to regenerative economic thinking to circular economic thinking to a letting go of economic thinking altogether to make room for alterative value propositions.What are the implications of such alternatives for how and what we teach? how students learn? how we connect with stakeholders around the university?

These and other questions will be addressed at the Higher Education Summit 2022 from 6-8 September 2022 in Hasselt, Belgium! Under the theme “Daring to transform learning for a future-proof economy” the summit will bring together those who wish to transform higher education for the benefit of a “safe and just space for humanity” (Raworth, 2017): people who study, teach, research, and contribute to governance at higher education institutions, and representatives of the business world, government, and civil society.  

The organisers invite you to join us to rethink the role of higher education institutions in shaping the economy. Whether we prefer to call it a doughnut economy, circular economy, or regenerative economy – we all aspire for a world in which humans can flourish in close harmony with a thriving planet. And we know that learning is key to driving this transformation (Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development, 2021).  

We are looking forward to celebrating your wonder! 
The Call for Contributions is open! Proposals are welcome until 15 March 2022. We will let you know by 29 April 2022 whether your proposal has been accepted. 
Your proposal should not exceed 1 A4 page, including references. You may include pictures or other visual representations. Proposals will be assessed by the scientific committee based on the following principles:

  • Potential for (societal and/or economic) transformation
  • Academic or other relevant quality for theory, practice or policy
  • Thematic relevance
  • Originality and level of innovativeness

Adequateness of mode of presentation, including the degree of co-creation with the audience

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE CONFERENCE WEBSITE AND REGISTRATION PAGE

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/

PROGRAMME

SIGN UP HERE (BEFORE THE 8TH OF FEBRUARY, 2022)

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.

Invitational Research Seminar – SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION RESEARCH  IN TIMES OF CLIMATE CRISIS – Gent, Belgium

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

Cultivating imaginative disruptions and light-heartedness in times of gravity

Some journals are truly hidden gems – Airea is a peer-reviewed journal on Arts & Interdisciplinary Research. Together with wonderful colleague Anke de Vrieze of Wageningen UR and Åse Bjurström of University of Gothenburg, former PhD and MSc-student of mine, Natalia Eernstman and current PhD Kelli Rose Pearson, we contributed a paper to a Special Issue on ‘Interdisciplinary relationships within spaces and bodies of collaboration‘. Our paper is titled:

Designing Collective Artist Residencies – Cultivating imaginative disruptions and light-heartedness in times of gravity

A nice feature of this special journal is that it is fully open access: all wonderful papers can be freely downloaded from the journal’s website here! Please find below the abstract of our paper:

Invitational Research Seminar – SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION RESEARCH  IN TIMES OF CLIMATE CRISIS

I am happy to announce the return of the infamous Invitational Research Seminars on Environmental & Sustainability Education. As one of the co-organisers I have the privileged to be part of an excellent group led this tim by Katrien van Poeck of Ghent University in Belgium. These are relatively small seminars. While they are no longer ‘by invitation only’ and open to anyone with a strong, insightful, creative, provocative, etc, proposal, spaces will be limited. Have a look a the key info, the theme and the wonderful sub-themes below or go directly to the Centre for Sustainable Development at Ghent University https://www.cdo.ugent.be/news/call-proposals
https://forms.office.com/pages/responsepage.aspx?id=3hyB1-_sbEmPkaF4YkG5nAXy6iDz_itPuL2K0IeXr0VUOFA5NUdJTzNPVkZHRTRLQVNGMVRRN0c5Ni4u

Environmental and sustainability education in the Benelux countries: research, policy and practices at the intersection of education and societal transformation

The journal Environmental Education Research recently published its third regional special issue covering trends and research in environmental and sustainability education in the BeNeLux countries. Together with Katrien van Poeck (UofGhent, Belgium) and Katrien van Poeck (UofLuxembourg, Luxembourg, I was a co-editor. Earlier regional special issues focussed on the Nordic countries (Scandinavia) and on Germany. Here you find a link to the introductory paper we wrote: BeNeLux Special Issue and here is a link to the Special Issue itself: Routledge Link to SI

Below some more information.

SIBeneLux

Table of Contents

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Online Masters Course on Education in the context of Sustainable Development at Gothenburg University – starting November 1st

New Course: Education for sustainable development – an introduction

There is only one Earth. With global challenges such as climate change, mass extinction of species, rising inequity and a growing world population, the prospects for a quality life for all, forever seem rather bleak. Central in this new course is the question: What is the role and responsibility of education in not only responding to sustainability problems but also in preventing them and in creating more sustainable futures? But also what might such education look like? The course will take advantage of some of the materials and lessons learnt from the recently finished Global Environmental Education Course Gothenburg University supported – along with other universities and the US EPA- which was lead by Cornell University in association with the NAAEE’s EECapacity Program.

sutainabilitypie

In this 15 credit Master’s course you will critically and actively explore central concepts and perspectives in the field of education for sustainable development. The course content will be related to the participants’ own backgrounds, specific interests and prior experiences. Master students with different study backgrounds (e.g. environmental sciences, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities) can enrol in this course as long as you have an interest in both sustainable development and education.

The course is offered by Gothenburg University online at half time during the second half of autumn 2016 (Start: November 1 – Finish: March 22, 2017). The main course language is English. There are four blocks: 1) Understanding Sustainable Development, 2) Understanding Education in relation to SD, 3) Understanding learning environments, processes and outcomes conducive to SD and 4) Education in relation to your own SD-challenge (personal project). Each block is divided up in course weeks, each with short introductory videos, background literature, discussion questions and online discussion. Periodically there will be assignments that will be used in providing feedback and assessing the quality of your contributions. The new Global Education Monitor Report on Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All will be one of the texts used in the course.

For the pilot course we are admitting a maximum of 50 students. You will need to formally register for the course through Gothenburg University via this link to the GU course web-page.

More information about course content contact me at: Arjen.wals@gu.se

More information about course logistics and registration can be found via the link to the course’s webpage (hyperlink).

Note: eligible students from European Union can participate without paying tuition to Gothenburg University. Students from outside the European Union will have to pay a tuition fee. It is assumed that participants have a bachelor degree or equivalent and have a proficient mastery of the English language (evidence of this may need to be provided).

Sustainability Citizenship in Cities: Theory and Practice – now available!

sustainability-citizenship-in-cities-theory-and-practice-by-ralph-horne-1317391071

Australian colleagues Ralphe Horne, John Fien, Beau Beza and Anitra Nelson edited a fascinating book on ‘sustainability citizenship’ to which I was priviledged to contribute a chapter together with Frans Lenglet. Urban sustainability citizenship situates citizens as social change agents with an ethical and self-interested stake in living sustainably with the rest of Earth. Such citizens not only engage in sustainable household practices but respect the importance of awareness raising, discussion and debates on sustainability policies for the common good and maintenance of Earth’s ecosystems.

The publisher’s website describes the book as follows:

Sustainability Citizenship in Cities seeks to explain how sustainability citizenship can manifest in urban built environments as both responsibilities and rights. Contributors elaborate on the concept of urban sustainability citizenship as a participatory work-in-progress with the aim of setting its practice firmly on the agenda. This collection will prompt practitioners and researchers to rethink contemporary mobilisations of urban citizens challenged by various environmental crises, such as climate change, in various socio-economic settings.

This book is a valuable resource for students, academics and professionals working in various disciplines and across a range of interdisciplinary fields, such as: urban environment and planning, citizenship as practice, environmental sociology, contemporary politics and governance, environmental philosophy, media and communications, and human geography.

The chapter Frans Lenglet and I wrote is titled: “Sustainability citizens: collaborative and disruptive social learning” and emphasizes the role of learning and cultivating diversity and generative conflict in co-determining what it means to be sustainable within the everyday realities people find themselves. It is argued that in order to brake with stubborn unstustainabel routines – that are heavily promoted and strenghtened in a market, growth and consumption-oriented society, citizens will also need to develop disruptive capacity and engage in transgressive learning (see my earlier post about transgressive learning and the work within the ICSS project on T-learning led by Prof. Heila Lotz-Sisitka from Rhodes Univerity in South Africa). If you want to have a look at our chapter you can find it here: SustainabilityCitizenshipWalsLenglet2016 (for personal use). The full reference is:

Wals, A.E.J. & F. Lenglet (2016). Sustainability citizens: collaborative and disruptive social learning. In: R. Horne, J. Fien, B.B. Beza & A. Nelson (Eds.) Sustainability Citizenship in Cities: Theory and Practice. London: Earthscan, p. 52-66.

If you want to get a hold of the entire book visit: https://www.routledge.com/Sustainability-Citizenship-in-Cities-Theory-and-practice/Horne-Fien-Beza-Nelson/p/book/9781138933637

 

 

Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all – GEM-2016 soon to be launched

global-education-monitoring-report-300x225

Starting in 2016 a new series of UNESCO reports, the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Reports, will monitor the state of education in the new framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new series replaces the earlier Global Monitoring Report (GMR) series. I was brought on board the GEM 2016 Team last December to provide input on the thematic part of the report – especially to provide feedback on the relationship between education and achieving sustainability.

The report has been titled: ‘Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all’. It is a very comprehensive and well-researched report that seeks to be geographically balanced in its analysis and examples. There are two parts: a thematic part and a monitoring part. My role was mainly limited to providing feedback to the thematic part which covers 5 ‘Ps’s: Planet, Prosperity, People, Place and Partnerships. The thematic Part 1 of the Report focuses on examining the complex interrelationships and links between education and key development sectors. It determines which education strategies, policies and programmes are most effectively linked to the economic, social, environmental and political priorities of the new sustainable development agenda.  Part 2 establishes a much needed a monitoring framework for education post-2015, and examine key financing and governance challenges for the post-2015 era.

You can read the concept note that underpins the report here. 

The GEM 2016 report will appear in multiple languages.

Sign up to receive the report in your inbox as soon as it’s released.

 

Moving from Citizen Science to Civic Science in Tackling Wicked Conservation Issues

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(note the cover page above is not the one of the current issue).

Together with good friends and colleagues, Justin Dillon and Bob Stevenson I was given the opportunity to edit a Special Section for one of the key journals in the field of Biology and Nature Conservation – ‘Conservation Biology’ – on Citizen Science.

We were invited to do so shortly after our paper on using sustainability and citizen science as a bridge between science education and environmental education that was published in Science (see: ScienceWalsetall2014) well over a year ago. In the paper we use a heuristic that Bob Jickling and myself developed a while ago to position different strands of citizen science – from more science-driven ones to more policy-driven ones to more transition-driven ones. The later strands we refer to as CIVIC Science, rather than Citizen Science. The Special Section included 11 interesting papers from authors and places from around the world. What is clear is that the Civic Science, transition-driven strands are rare but represent a very important niche that is likely to grow in the years to come. Here’s the link:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12689/abstract

Some of the papers are open-access for all to down-load – but some you may need to pay for or get through your library. Our introductory paper presently is not listed as open-access but we trust that the publisher Wiley will make this open-access shortly. UPDATE: WILEY HAS DONE SO NOW! YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE PDF FOR FREE NOW FOR PERSONAL USE.

Feel free to share with interested colleagues – also those working in conservation.

Transformative Learning for Sustainability: Special Issue

Ariane König and Nancy Budwig have edited a cutting edge Special Issue for the Journal Current Opinions of Environmental Sustainability on Transformative Learning for Sustainability and more specifically on ‘New requisites to universities in the 21st century’.

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This Special Issue focuses on how universities engage in sustainability issues by staging transformative learning opportunities. The special issue features ten case papers from five continents illustrating the changing relationship of learning, research and practice in such programmes. The issue includes a paper on the Luxembourg Certificate in Sustainability and Social Innovation and an introductory overview by Dr König.to which I will contribute in May with a talk on “Sustainability transitions in society: changing science/citizen relations with citizen science for social learning“. The University of Luxembourg has made the entire special issue open access which means that anyone can download all the papers for free, including the one I co-authored with Heila Lotz-Sisitka, David Kronlid and Dylan McGary on Transgressive Learning which you can also download the paper here: transgressiveSocialLearning Transgressive Social Learning

Highlights from the paper are:

  • Pedagogies are required that are not constrained by current use of limited concepts, or by disciplinary decadence.
  • Concepts such as resilience are problematic if they hold unsustainable systems and patterns in place.
  • Disruptive capacity building and transgressive pedagogies are needed for a more sustainable world.
  • Transformative, transgressive forms of learning requires co-learning in multi-voiced and multi-actor formations.
  • Higher education should provide possibilities for engaged, lived experience of transformative praxis for students.

“Beyond unreasonable doubt – learning for socio-ecological sustainability…”

InauguralInvitationcomplete

As my ‘special professorship’ has been converted into a ‘personal professorship,’ (I know this is confusing to academics from around the world but I don’t want to use up valuable blog-space to explain it) I was invited to give a second inaugural address titled: Beyond unreasonable doubt –  education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene in the Aula of the Wageningen University on December 17th 

The special day happened to be the warmest December 17th on record… quite fitting for the talk and the cover of the accompanying booklet (with people sitting on an terrace a cold Fall evening in Gothenburg under so-called ‘space heaters’).

A short introduction to the new Chair has been placed on youtube:

Transformative Learning for Socio-ecological Sustainability in less than 3 minutes

Here’s the back flap text of the booklet is now available:

‘For the first time in history one single species has succeeded in living in a way on planet Earth that disrupts major natural systems and forces in such a way that our survival is at stake. A transition is needed to break with resilient unsustainable systems and practices. Such a transition requires active civic engagement in sustainability. New forms of education and learning, including ‘disruptive capacity building’ and ‘transgressive’ pedagogies are urgently needed to foster such engagement.’

 

If you want to receive the booklet containing the accompanying text to the lecture then send an email to office.ecs@wur.nl with unreasonable doubt in the ‘subject’ and put your name and address in the body of the message and we will post you one.
 If you wish you can still attend, sort of,  the event by going to:
Here you can see the entire ceremony which starts at minute 9 with an introduction by our Vice-Chancellor (Rector Magnificus) Arthur Mol and with me starting the speech (battling the flu but hanging in there – I think/hope) at minute 15. Sometimes the animations I used do not fly-in on WURTV for some reason but fortunately they did in the auditorium). But it’s of good quality and you can advance the timer if you wish to.

 

Focus of the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability

In short the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability explores three important questions: 1) What sustain’abilities’ and responsibilities we need to develop in learners? 2) What learning spaces or ecologies of learning are most suitable in developing those abilities? and 3) How can the cultivation of these abilities, responsibilities and spaces be designed and supported? In other words, the main focus of the chair lies on understanding, designing and supporting learning processes that can help citizens understand complex socio-ecological issues through meaningful engagement and interactions with and within the social, physical and virtual realities of which people are part and the development of the capacities they need to contribute to their resolution.

The addition of ‘socio-ecological’ to sustainability is intentional, as much work done on sustainability nowadays tends to focus on economic sustainability, often without people and planet in mind. In a way sustainability has lost its transformative edge ‘sustainability’ during the last decade as the much of the private sector embraced it as a marketing opportunity. Adrian Parr (2009) even suggests that sustainability has been hijacked and neutered. While economics inevitably is part of the sustainability puzzle, the need to (re)turn to the ecological boundaries in which we have to learn to live together, as well as to the well-being and meaning of life issues for all, has prompted me to make the social-ecological more prominent in the description of this Chair. Therefore, I am particularly interested in understanding and supporting forms of learning that can lead to the engagement of seemingly unrelated actors and organizations in making new knowledge and in taking the actions necessary to address socio-ecological challenges.
Note 1: The booklet containing the inaugural address will be posted to you for free (as long as supplies last) when you email office.ecs@wur.nl with “Unreasonable doubt” in the subject area and your name and postal address in the body of the text).
Note 2: The inaugural address can be followed live via WURTV where it will also be archived: https://wurtv.wur.nl/P2G/cataloguepage.aspx