Considering Efficacy of an Outdoor Environmental Education Program: Facilitating Elementary Students’ Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviours

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Harding, Brittany
Attitude , Worldview , Behaviour , Knowledge , Outdoor Education , Environmental Responsibity , Environmental Education , Motivation , Pro-environmental , Social Norms , New Ecological Paradigm
Various sources have sought to consider the educational interventions that foster changes in perception of and attitudes toward nature, with the ultimate intent of understanding how education can be used to encourage environmentally responsible behaviours. With these in mind, the current study identified an outdoor environmental education program incorporating these empirically supported interventions, and assessed its ability to influence environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours. Specifically, this study considered the following research questions: 1) To what degree can participation in this outdoor education program foster environmental knowledge and encourage pro-environmental attitudes and self-reported pro-environmental behaviours? 2) How is this effect different among students of different genders, and those who have different prior experiences in nature? Two motivational frameworks guided inquiry in the current study: the Value-Belief-Norm Model of Environmentalism (VBN) and the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). The study employed a quantitative survey methodology, combining contemporary data measuring knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours with archived data collected by program staff, reflecting frequency of environmentally responsible behaviour. Further, a single qualitative item was included for which students provided “the first three words that [came] to mind when [they] think of the word nature.” Terms provided before and after the program were compared for differences in theme to detect subtle or underlying changes. Quantitative results indicated no significant change in student knowledge or attitudes through the outdoor environmental education program. However, a significant change in self-reported behaviour was identified from both the contemporary and archived data. This agreement in positive findings across the two data sets, collected using different measures and different participants, lends evidence of the program’s ability to encourage self-reported pro-environmental behaviour. Further, qualitative results showed some change in students’ perceptions of nature through the program, providing direction for future research. These findings suggest that this particular outdoor education program was successful in encouraging students’ self-reported environmentally responsible behaviour. This change was achieved without significant change in knowledge or environmental attitudes, suggesting that external factors not measured in this study might have played a role in affecting behaviour.
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