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Using online narratives to explore participant experiences in a residential environmental education program

Summary

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Blog entries indicated that connection to place, personal growth, and identity were critical aspects of children’s participation in a residential environmental education program.

Personal narratives in the form of online journaling (“blogging”) were used to explore students’ response to a residential environmental education experience. The narratives were completed before and during the field-based program. Follow-up focus group discussions with the students were also used. This methodology allowed researchers to examine the impact of the program from the perspective of the children.

Fifty-nine fourth- and fifth-grade students from two San Francisco Bay Area public schools participated in this study. The residential program — which was four or five days in length — took place at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as part of a NatureBridge trip and included such activities as hiking, hands-on science labs, team building, art, and visits to historical sites within the park. While the focus of the program was on environmental field science, it was also designed to promote personal growth, interpersonal skills, sense of place, and responsible environmental behavior.

Participants wrote 56 total pre-trip blog entries (prompts for pre-trip blogs asked students what they would want blog-readers from another school to know about them and where they lived), and 148 blog entries during their field-base experience as part of a reflective exercise about their outdoor experience.  A small sub-group of students from one of the schools wrote 24 post-trip blogs.  Place was the theme most frequently described in blogs written during the program and included reference to such biophysical elements as animals, plants, and the beach. Personal growth was another common theme and included reference to overcoming challenges (both physical and emotional) and knowledge acquisition. Another common theme was identity which included descriptions of self, nature experiences, roles, and conceptions of the environment.

An analysis of the data indicated that children’s experiences in nature resulted in a range of positive outcomes, including connection to place, personal growth demonstrated by sense of freedom and independence, and environmental identities linked to sense of connection to nature and environmental responsibility. The two participating schools differed considerably in their demographics. Differences in how participants from the two schools described their past, present and future experiences in nature reflect the socio-cultural and economic contexts of their schools and community environments.

Findings also indicated that blogging – while currently underutilized in environmental education – offers an effective tool for research and program evaluation.

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Citation

Ardoin, N.M., DiGiano, M, O'Connor, K., Holthuis, N., (2016). Using online narratives to explore participant experiences in a residential environmental education program. Children's Geographies, 14(3), 263-281.

Categorization

  • Type of Study: NOT YET IDENTIFIED
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