Memories And Lasting Impacts Of Residential Outdoor Environmental Education Programs

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Youth environmental education (EE) is at least 40 years old and outdoor education is even older (Carter & Simmons, 2010). While few studies have documented the lasting impacts of these programs on youth participants as they have grown into adulthood, the broad goals of environmental education to inspire and enable life-long environmental stewardship necessitate such long-term research. Retrospective studies with environmentalists and environmental educators, as well as with the general public, suggest that childhood experiences in nature are linked to adult environmental attitudes and behaviors (Wells, & Lekies, 2012). These studies provide conceptual support for outdoor and environmental education, but do not document the lasting impacts of specific programs. This dissertation expands on prior research in interpretation (i.e., Knapp, 2007), investigating what past participants remember from a residential outdoor environmental education (ROEE) program, and draws on a new body of literature to explore how participants use these memories in subsequent years. The first article (chapter) is a literature review that summarizes and critiques (1) studies broadly focused on life experiences that have influenced adult environmental attitudes and behaviors and (2) long-term evaluations of interpretive, outdoor education, and environmental education programs. The second article reports data from 45 retrospective interviews with adults who participated in a fifth-grade ROEE program between 1958 and 1992. This paper focuses on what participants remember from the experience, looking specifically at the characteristics of remembered program components. Experiences that were active, offered opportunities for iii achievement, involved social interactions, and were both distinctive and applicable at home were found to be particularly memorable. The third article in this dissertation considers how people use their memories of ROEE, reporting the results of 54 retrospective interviews at two research sites with teens who had attended ROEE programs five years earlier. The psychological literature suggests that autobiographical episodic memories serve directive, social, and self functions (Bluck, 2003), and this dissertation research documents memories of ROEE being used to understand and appreciate wild nature, to direct outdoor recreation and environmental conservation behaviors, and to reminisce with friends. Considered together, the research presented in this dissertation offers insight into how current educators can design memorable programs and then encourage memory use. References Bluck, S. (2003). Autobiographical memory: Exploring its functions in everyday life. Memory, 11(2), 113-123. Carter, R. L., & Simmons, B. (2010). The history and philosophy of environmental education. In A. M. Bodzin, B. S. Klein, & S. Weaver (Eds.) The inclusion of environmental education in science teacher education (pp. 3-16). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. Knapp, D. (2007). Applied interpretation: Putting research into practice. Fort Collins, CO: InterpPress. Wells, N. M., & Lekies, K. S. (2012). Children and nature: Following the trail to environmental attitudes and behavior. In J. L. Dickinson & R. Bonney (Eds.), Citizen Science: Public participation in environmental research (pp. 201-213). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. iv

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environmental education; outdoor education; memory


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Krasny, Marianne Elizabeth

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Wells, Nancy M.
Constas, Mark Alexander

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Natural Resources

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Ph. D., Natural Resources

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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