ERIC Identifier: ED414112
Publication Date: 1997-10-00
Author: Yerkes, Rita - Haras, Kathy
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Outdoor Education and Environmental Responsibility. ERIC
Outdoor education offers programs that provide opportunities for students to
become environmentally conscious citizens. However, awareness of environmental
issues is not enough to preserve our world of limited natural resources.
Students must also be prepared to recognize their environmental responsibilities
and act upon them. This involves behaving in ways that sustain and nurture the
natural environment and consider the needs of others. Such a sense of
environmental responsibility is a potential outcome of outdoor education under
certain conditions (Matthews & Riley, 1995). This Digest reviews what
various studies have shown about developing environmental responsibility.
KNOWLEDGE AND ATTITUDE CHANGE
In the past, outdoor
educators conducted studies to assess the effect of environmental outdoor
education programs on knowledge and attitudinal change. The
knowledge-attitude-behavior change model described by Matthews and Riley (1995)
holds that an increase in knowledge will lead to a change in attitude which will
in turn influence behavior. Consequently, environmental knowledge and attitudes
have been frequently evaluated when attempting to determine the effect of
outdoor education programs on the development of environmental responsibility
(Matthews & Riley, 1995).
For example, Bryant and Hungerford (1977) conducted a study in which they
presented an instructional unit on environmental problems to kindergarten
students. They then asked the students to describe their own and others'
responsibilities as a way of measuring the students' verbal commitment to
action. The researchers found that students appeared more environmentally
conscientious at the conclusion of the environmental education unit. They
concluded that kindergarten children could understand environmental issues and
In another study, Jaus (1984) assessed the short- and long-term impacts of
environmental instruction on the attitudes of third graders. Instruction for the
unit involved group discussions about environmental problems. When post-tested,
the experimental group scored 30 percent higher than on their pre-test of
positive environmental attitudes; the control group had only a 2 percent
Additionally, Driver and Johnson (1984) studied the long-term benefits of the
Youth Conservation Corps program, which combines outdoor work opportunities and
environmental education for youth ages 15 to 18. The youths indicated that they
had become more environmentally aware as a result of the program.
Finally, Shepard and Speelman (1986) measured the impact of participating in
an outdoor education program at resident 4-H camps in Ohio on children ages 9 to
14. The experimental group participated in outdoor education programs
emphasizing sensory awareness and basic ecological concepts, while the children
in the control group did not. Although the experimental treatment did not
develop significantly more positive environmental attitudes, researchers found
that program length had an effect on positive environmental attitude
development. Previous camp experience, camper age, and area of residence seemed
to affect environmental attitudes as well. The researchers concluded that
resident camp programs of 5 days in length have a positive effect on attitudinal
development. They also recommended that campers from urban areas receive an
initial period of acclimation to the natural environment before environmental
concepts are introduced due to their relatively limited exposure to the natural
environment on a regular basis.
Despite the positive results indicated by
the previously mentioned studies, the link between outdoor education and
development of positive environmental attitudes and responsibility was found to
be rather weak and in need of further research (Matthews & Riley, 1995;
Shepard & Speelman, 1986). This has led outdoor educators to look to related
fields for techniques that have successfully created positive behavioral change
Matthews and Riley (1995) conclude that the following have not worked in
bringing about ethical, behavioral change in students: "lectures, excessive
moralizing, external(ly) derived codes of ethics/conduct, adults setting the
ethics agenda, and teachers/leaders as authoritarian figures" (p. 17). As a
result, outdoor educators have directed more attention to environmental action
activities that develop responsible environmental behavior.
For example, Ford and Blanchard (1993) state that outdoor activities can
create an initial sensitivity toward the environment, the first and essential
step on the path toward increased understanding of environmental processes,
increased understanding of our place in, and dependence upon, the ecosystem,
and...to action on behalf of the environment. (p. 54)
Matthews and Riley (1995) seem to support Ford and Blanchard's assertion that
environmental responsibility is best developed outdoors. Involvement in outdoor
activities stimulates interest in the outdoors, which in turn motivates students
to learn about the natural environment.
Other studies seem to support this position. Ramsey and Hungerford (1989)
studied the effects of an outdoor education curriculum package that used
environmental issue investigation and action training on 7th-grade students. The
treatments used with the experimental group were allowing autonomous student
behavior, focusing on problem solving, developing and using environmental action
skills, and focusing on specific environmental issues. After 18 weeks the
experimental group reported significant changes in their environmental behavior
and knowledge of possible solutions to environmental problems. The control
group, which received the usual science instruction, did not report such
Howe and Disinger (1988) also concluded that outdoor experiences made a
significant impact on student attitudes and found that outdoor settings were
effective in teaching awareness of environmental issues. In addition, they
reported that the most effective instructional strategies for developing
environmental responsibility were case studies, field trips, community inventory
projects, and community action projects. Other effective methods include small
group discussions, dilemma discussions, role playing, the use of role models and
mentoring, participation in community clubs, and peer teaching (Matthews &
Matthews and Riley (1995) found that the programs most likely to change
behavior involve concrete, environmentally positive, action-oriented
experiences; a relevant context; and long-term involvement, support, follow-up,
and reinforcement by role models. Hungerford and Volk (cited in Matthews &
Riley, 1995) add that effective programs allow students to gather in-depth
knowledge; require students to use critical thinking skills; and involve
application of what students have learned.
In Just Beyond the Classroom, Knapp (1996) proposes that effective outdoor
education programs focus on the community, involve service learning, be
interdisciplinary, use problem-based learning methods, allow for cooperation,
and include time for reflection. Attarian (1996) seems to support these
recommendations when he states,
...developing values is a lifelong process. As educators we can provide our
students with the experiences and tools to help them become more knowledgeable
about the environment and their place in it. Participation in outdoor pursuits
classes and programs can give all of us the opportunity for challenge, adventure
and excitement. Perhaps most of all, the outdoor experience offers us a chance
to explore and shape our values, attitudes, and behaviors towards the
environment and ourselves. (p. 44)
In developing environmental responsibility
through outdoor education, perhaps a more collaborative approach with other
professional fields is needed. Caken and Tellness (in Fox & Lautt, 1996)
point out that outdoor education, outdoor recreation, environmental education,
and experiential education share common ground--the values of respect, social
responsibility, self-actualization, justice, and freedom for all living beings
and the earth. Perhaps we have been taking too simplistic an approach to the
development of environmental responsibility by looking only for short-term
environmental behavioral changes in our students.
It is time to take a step beyond effecting and measuring short-term
behavioral changes. According to Fox and Lautt (1996),
...outdoor educators need to 1) embrace the complexity and chaos of ethical
frameworks and moral practice in outdoor education, 2) nourish a dynamic
self-awareness, 3) make visible diverse ethical frameworks, 4) develop
collaborative multi-disciplinary, and cross-cultural teams, and 5) invite mutual
critique from people not normally part of the dialogue. (p. 28)
In addition, conducting more longitudinal outcomes-based research would
provide much needed documentation of the success of outdoor education in
developing environmental responsibility.
As our students turn on computers, surf the net, and watch endless hours of
entertainment beamed via satellite dishes, our planet faces ever increasing
challenges. Environmental crises such as the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion,
water pollution and over-population signal devastating effects on a humanity
that continues to have a poor environmental ethic and preservation track record
(Lieberstein, 1991). For those who have had the opportunity to participate,
outdoor education has made a positive difference. As outdoor educators, our
greatest challenge is to continue to create even better and more powerful
interactive activities that affect participants in the places where they live.
Perhaps then they will be motivated to make the behavioral choices that will
sustain our earth.
Attarian, A. (1996). Integrating values
clarification into outdoor adventure programs and activities. Journal of
Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 67(8), 41-44.
Bryant, C. K., & Hungerford, H. R. (1977). An analysis of strategies for
teaching environmental concepts and values clarification in kindergarten. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 137 117)
Driver, B. L., & Johnson, L. A. (1983-84, Winter). A pilot study of the
perceived long-term benefits of the Youth Conservation Corps. Journal of
Environmental Education, 15(2), 3-11.
Ford, P., & Blanchard, J. (1993). Leadership and administration of
outdoor pursuits. 2nd Edition. State College, PA: Venture Publishing.
Fox, K., & Lautt, M. (1996). Ethical frameworks, moral practices and
outdoor education. In Coalition for Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium
Proceedings, L. H. McAvoy, L. A. Stringer, M. D. Bialeschki, & A. B. Young,
(eds.), (pp. 18-33). Bradford Woods, IN: Coalition for Education in the
Howe, R., & Disinger, J. (1988). Teaching environmental education using
the out-of-school settings and mass media. ERIC/SMEAC Environmental Education
Digest, No. 1. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 320 759)
Jaus, H. H. (1984). The development and retention of environmental attitudes
in elementary school children. Journal of Environmental Education, 15(3), 33-36.
Knapp, C. E. (1996). Just beyond the classroom: Community adventures for
interdisciplinary learning. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 388 485)
Leeming, F., Dwyer, W., Porter, B., & Cobern, M. (1993). Outcome research
in environmental education: A critical review. Journal of Environmental
Education, 24(4), 8-21.
Lieberstein, T. (1991, March). Environmental responsibility: Taking a leading
role. Camping Magazine, 65(1), 30-33.
Matthews, B. E., & Riley, C. K. (1995). Teaching and evaluating outdoor
ethics education programs. Vienna, VA: National Wildlife Federation. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 401 097)
Ramsey, J. M., & Hungerford, H. (1989). The effects of issue
investigation and action training on environmental behavior in seventh grade
students. Journal of Environmental Education, 20(4), 29-34.
Shepard, C., & Speelman, L. R. (1985-86, Winter). Affecting environmental
attitudes through outdoor education. Journal of Environmental Education, 17(2),