Professional networks and practice change in environmental education
Professional development programs create communities of practice for environmental educators to exchange ideas and practice with each other through face-to-face and online activities. It is particularly important to understand how educators form networks through such communities, and how these networks impact their environmental education practice. Using multiple conceptual lenses -- including communities of practice, network formation, practice theory, professional development, and environmental education -- I examined the relationship between professional networks and practice change in environmental education. The professional development programs that are the focus of this study, including a state consortium that brought together environmental education and youth development professionals, an online learning community that explored urban environmental education, and a fellowship program focused on climate change education, are part of the North American environmental education professional development training program, EECapacity. First, I explore environmental educators’ communities of practice from a social network perspective by addressing the question: What were the characteristics of networks and the processes by which professional networks emerged in three environmental education professional development communities? I conducted surveys and social network analysis to examine educators’ networks before and after the professional development programs. The results showed that educators had more network ties among each other after the programs than before the programs across all three groups. Also participating in face-to-face meetings and online interactions increased the likelihood of educators’ forming professional networks. Next, I applied practice theory to explore the research question: How did environmental educators change their practice through participating in professional development communities? I conducted surveys and interviews to investigate educators’ practice change as measured by elements of practice including goals, audiences, settings, activities, resources and ideas. The results showed that environmental educators incorporated new resources and ideas into their practice across all three programs. However, changes in the other practice elements varied among programs, which I attribute to different program goals and professional development interventions. To explore the relationship between network properties, including in-degree, out-degree, closeness and betweenness centrality and tie strength, and practice change, I conducted correlation analysis. The results showed that in-degree centrality had a positive relationship with practice change in the state consortium and the online learning community, and other network measures only showed significant relationships with practice change in the state consortium. Finally, to better understand the process of change in networks and practice, I also conducted interviews in the state consortium and online learning community, and analyzed educators’ mid-term and final reports in the fellowship program, which showed how the fellowship program and networking opportunities impacted their practices. This dissertation explores dimensions of the communities of practice framework from social network and practice theory perspectives. It advances our understanding of the mechanisms of network formation, practice change, and the relationship between networks and practice change in environmental education. I also propose applications for professional development programs and recommendations for future research.
Environmental education; Communities of practice; Online learning; Practice theory; Professional development; Social network analysis
Krasny, Marianne Elizabeth
Brashears, Matthew Edward; Dillon, Justin; Allred, Shorna Broussard
Ph. D., Natural Resources
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis