Coral reefs as sites for experiential environmental education: learning with Australian students – a foundational study

Stepath, Carl Myron (2006) Coral reefs as sites for experiential environmental education: learning with Australian students – a foundational study. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Marine education is a subset of environmental education. It aims to educate a citizenry capable of making astute decisions about the impact of human activities on marine and reef environments, as well as encouraging ecologically sensitive practices. Coral reefs are critical for biodiversity, food habitats and as tourist destinations, but they are in serious decline around the world. This research explores high school students’ educational reef experiences with respect to specific learning outcomes. Students were selected from five Queensland State and non-state schools, and 57% were enrolled in senior secondary marine studies programs. These students were surveyed and interviewed while groups were trained in coral reef ecology and monitoring in both the classroom and at various sites in the Great Barrier Reef. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed. The quantitative quasi-experimental design included various treatments, a contrast group as well as before and after treatment surveys. Qualitative investigation augmented these analyses with structured student interviews and accounts.

In this study, I analyse changes in Queensland Years 11 and 12 high school students’ environmental knowledge (awareness), attitudes and ecological actions toward coral reefs when experiential education is added to classroom curriculum. The Three A’s of Coastal and Marine Studies, according to the Marine Education Society of Australasia, are awareness, attitudes and action. This presupposes a learning situation where a gain in knowledge (awareness) will lead to a change in attitude, and thereby improve positive personal actions toward marine environments. This research analyses whether the link between the knowledge-attitude-action variables are linear in relation to the effect of direct reef experience.

The student participants were divided into four groups, with each group receiving different educational interventions. These included a classroom presentation on coral reef ecology and monitoring, and then participation in reef monitoring at a Great Barrier Reef site. Some students received both interventions, while others received only one treatment and a contrast group received neither. Pre- and post-test survey questionnaires and interviews collected student responses, and then the results were compared.

This research contributes a Model of Ecological Intention to Act relating to marine education theory and practice. A unique model was developed and tested as part of the research process. Results show reef experiential education to have a positive effect on students’ environmental knowledge (awareness), attitudes towards reef environments and stated intention to act. The reef experience alone caused the greatest change in environmental attitudes and ecological intention to act. This alludes to the fact that knowledge itself could be slowing down the improvement of attitudes and intention to act. However in my study, not only were students’ initial environmental scores found to be low, the relationship was not linear across the variables since a change in knowledge (awareness) was not significantly correlated to changes in attitudes or intention to act. Comparisons of classroom interventions and experiences of immersion at a coral reef were revealed in both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Data can be read as both statistically and educationally significant. An interdisciplinary methodology for addressing pedagogical questions in marine education was developed that provides baseline information for future research.

Past research reveals more about environmental knowledge and attitudes than about students’ educational experience and preferences. An attempt to advance the understanding of learning in marine experiential education was made by addressing the idea of moving away from linear learning models, and developing an analytic methodology. This study identifies future issues and challenges, and supplies a focus on adolescent student learning, learners, and their experiences.

This work took an elemental step in addressing the question of proximal relations between humans and coral reefs, and analysis brought together literature and techniques from varying disciplines to generate statistical findings, while student accounts confirmed the learning value of structured activities underwater as part of reef trips. It is time for us to begin the long journey of bringing natural environments closer in/to curricular practice as we rethink issues of sustainability and education in the 21st century.

Item ID: 1253
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: environmental education, Cairns, Innisfail, Great Barrier Reef, monitoring, surveys, marine education, marine studies, learning outcomes, coral reef ecology, field trips, environmental awareness, high school students, attitudes
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 34%
13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130106 Secondary Education @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130309 Learning Sciences @ 33%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930103 Learner Development @ 34%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930102 Learner and Learning Processes @ 33%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930201 Pedagogy @ 33%
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