"Evaluation of an environmental education measure in the context of education for sustainable development - Evaluation of an environmental education measure in the context of education for sustainable development - the assessment of a project day for primary school students at the “Ökostation Freiburg”
The book with the same titel will be availlable in January ( ISBN 3-8322-4455-7), in german language. All rights reserved to the Shaker Verlag, Aachen, Germany.
Dr. Svantje Schumann, Institute of Forest and Environmental Policy, University of Freiburg
(3) Background and objective of the study
The concept of sustainable development postulates a new global responsibility for the living conditions of present and future generations. It suggests also the possibility for a comprehensive steering of social development in the direction of sustainability. The assumption made in the discussion of strategies for sustainable development is that, for sustainability to be achieved, the far reaching modification of human attitudes and ways of life is of fundamental importance. Environmental education measures are a building block which should help to initiate such a change in mentality and handling. Environmental education outside of schools is growing in importance and is increasingly being used to supplement environmental education in schools.
In chapter 36 of Agenda 21 on education an action plan was drafted containing a new orientation of environmental education in favour of education for sustainable development. Education for sustainable development, Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung (BfNE), aims to strengthen environmental awareness and to promote environmentally appropriate handling. It departs from a manipulatively created increase of knowledge and from the assumption of a ‘knowledge è attitudes è behaviour’ chain of effects (de Haan 1998). Instead increasingly innovative knowledge is called for and a focus is placed on independently initiated developments and changes.
The current development shows that the political demands for environmental education are growing and are increasingly manifested in the education sector. This is subsequently followed by an increasing demand for the evaluation of environmental education measures and facilities. The leading objective of environmental education is to promote the appropriate utilisation of natural resources, or merely to highlight the need for this generally. An evaluation of environmental education measures must therefore determine their effectiveness or demonstrate their effects in the main.
However, upon studying the literature, including research reports, it becomes evident that there is a severe dearth of empirical knowledge with respect to the assessment of the effectiveness of environmental education measures concerning environmental behaviour.
Although general agreement in relation to the objective of education for sustainable development exists – even here there are conflicts between, among others, proponents of classical environmental education and supporters of the new education for sustainable development approach – only very few assessments determining whether certain existing concepts actually satisfy this objective exist. The drawing up of strategies and concepts for the attainment of this objective is only one step, however. Analyses investigating whether the effects of such concepts are really target oriented are urgently required, especially with a view to possibilities for improvement.
The objective of the study is therefore the documentation and evaluation of an extra curricular environmental education measure in the context of education for sustainable development.
(4) Methods and procedure
Assessments carried out to date have predominantly employed a subsumption logic approach, that is an environmental education event or facility was tested against predefined criteria (e.g. number of participants, duration of the event, proportion of female or male visitors). The problem with such a standardised approach is that the very features of an event that are special and unique, that are both novel and unusual, mostly fall through the net and are not taken into consideration. At the same time, however, it is this competition-based comparison between different environmental education facilities that illuminates directly the fact that it is the characteristics and contents and their value which allows one facility to exceed another.
Given the problems related to subsumption logic research approaches in the field of evaluation research and effectiveness assessments it was decided to adopt a reconstructive method for this study as an alternative to the subsumption logic approach described. Reconstruction means than objects are provided the space needed to present themselves so that they can later be analysed. The data to be assessed was evaluated content analytically, in a manner closely based on the method of objective hermeneutics. The term objective hermeneutics stems from Freyer (1923), further to which Oevermann, Allert, Konau and Krambeck (1979) developed a procedure for the reconstruction of latent sensory structures. The method has since been constantly refined and optimised in terms of content and also from the perspective of research economy goals.
In accordance with the current definition and the procedure applied momentarily, objective hermeneutics – as with every hermeneutical approach – assumes that the social reality is reasonable. At the core of the methodological procedure is the sequential analysis of text protocols. In the sequential analysis versions of a text are created initially and then successively dropped in an abductive process so that over time an explanatory hypothesis relating to the case structure results. This explanatory hypothesis can and must then be tested against other text excerpts (or other data where necessary) until either the original explanatory hypothesis is rejected and a new hypothesis subjected to the testing process, or the original explanatory hypothesis proves to be the one corresponding best to the data (or a new hypothesis if it proves untenable). The method of objective hermeneutics is designed to decipher typical or characteristic structures of phenomena to be researched or, according to Oevermann (1996) to “bring to light the objective laws operating behind the appearances”. The result of its application is the generation of hypotheses.
The Ökostation Freiburg was selected for the investigation. Since 1986 it has hosted a comprehensive extra curricular environmental education programme for Freiburg and the surrounding area. The Ökostation is financed by the Regionalverband Südlicher Oberrhein e.V. of the German Association for Environmental and Nature Protection (BUND). The Ökostation was built in Freiburg in 1986 as part of the state garden exhibition. The programme covers diverse environment and nature protection oriented topics and appeals to a varied participant group, in terms of age and level of education as well as career background. With the numerous events taking place (among other things, the Ökostation hosts more than 200 school classes and kindergarten groups annually) and the variety of the programmes offered (including green class rooms, project days, lectures, training, seminars, garden get-togethers, consulting), the Ökostation counts amongst the most renowned environmental education facilities in Baden-Württemberg. The Freiburg Ökostation is linked in various ways to many environmental education centres and initiatives regionally and beyond.
A project day held for the primary school children entitled ‘Curious about nature. Experiments in the subject-combination humans, nature and culture’ was investigated. This sees the Ökostation take on compulsory instruction material from the primary school curriculum and attempt to exploit the trend seeing more and more schools availing of environmental education facilities to impart this compulsory experimental course material.
The sequence of the environmental education measure is as follows:
• Introduction to the Ökostation
• Introduction to the event
• Arrangement of groups
• Experiments and stations:
1. Experiment: ‘Water permeability of different soil types’
2. Experiment: ‘Soil erosion’
3. Station: ‘Plant growth’
4. Experiment: ‘Waste water treatment’
5. Station: ‘Observation of water birds’
To assess the effectiveness of the event, the objective data relating to the event were presented and analysed first and then the text data. In addition, written ex-post surveys of the students were carried out. This occurred once with a survey directly after and in the form of a delayed survey.
Under the term objective data were understood data principally determined externally and involving relatively little need for interpretation. A differentiation was made between the objective data of the environmental education measure itself (e.g. title of the event, sequence) and the objective data pertaining to the participant (e.g. age, gender).
In objective hermeneutics the term text refers to all of the data through which the sensory-structured actions of humans can be researched in all their forms (Oevermann 1993).
To capture the event as a concrete individual case five recording media and techniques were employed: data collection with the aid of a digital camera, data collection with the aid of a digital video camera, data collection with the aid of recording devices, data collection with the aid of observation notes and ex-post analyses.
The results of the study derive from the analysis of the objectives and the overall concepts of the individual interest groups and in the generation of hypotheses through which positive effects from an environmental education perspective can be produced.
The examination of the objectives is particularly important for the evaluation as the effects can only be interpreted in the context of the targets set originally. In the case of concrete examples of environmental education measures different objectives and concepts are linked. It is possible to name three principle targets (concepts): the education plan for primary schools, the objectives and concepts of the participating primary school and the objectives and concepts of the Ökostation. It was ascertained that all three interest groups named have a focus on the education for sustainable development concept. The targets are in harmony with one another, and as such there are no conflicts.
The hypothesis-forming generalisation of the results in this study led to the naming of elements and principles with a demonstrable potential to produce positive effects in the context of successful environmental education. The inference of influential factors was made possible by focussing on repeatedly evoked phenomena observed in the analysis of this individual case, and the conditions which initiate them.
In the following the means of arriving at a reconstruction logic determination of the structure elements is presented on the basis of a selected text passage. The ‘plant growth’ station was selected for this purpose, specifically the part pertaining to the potting of a runner bean. The generation of results at the station derives from the following steps:
• Ascertainment of makeup and materials
• Analysis of the content of the experiment
• Analysis of the characteristics of the experiment
• Analysis of the course of the experiment
The makeup comprises a tray with pots, crayons, three soil types (sand, compost, garden soil) in three containers, a mixing bowl, beans, a filled watering can, stones, twigs and a secateurs.
The desired procedure of the experiment is as follows:
1. mix the substrate from the three available soil types
2. cover the hole in the bottom of the pots with an appropriately sized stone
3. partly fill the pot with substrate
4. place beans on top of the substrate
5. cover the beans with substrate and press down gently
6. place a stick in the substrate to act as an anchor
7. moisten the substrate
8. place the pot in a suitable location
With respect to the characteristics, as a process the procedure can be steered autonomously. It is both ‘comprehensible’ and visible to the senses. The links tend to be familiar. The ‘experiment’ can be reproduced, for example, at home, even without guidance, using other beans, seeds or saplings.
Above all, during the procedure the school children are required to anticipate the type of conditions the germinating and later the growing beans need, for example, soil requirements, nutrient demands, water conditions, hold for twining shoots, etc. The children can recognise that plants are living organisms requiring nutrients, sunlight and water to survive.
Plant growth can be seen as an entire process. The procedure means a direct assumption of responsibility on the part of the children for their plants. This personal duty to care for the plants can evoke according emotions and a valuation of the worth of the plant in the children. This nurturing role principally promotes the development of a sense of responsibility.
The course of events is presented on the basis of a selected exemplary text sequence. The text sequence is from the opening phase of the station, as the school children are sitting in the Ökostation’s garden shed. The supervisor is giving the children the task of using the crayons to drawn on the clay pots into which the beans will later be planted so that they can recognise their own pots again later on. The following text sequence ensues:
Girl: “Should we take off the price tags?” Supervisor: “You can draw over them.” Girl: “No, I’ll take it off.” Boy: “Oh, look how nicely she’s doing it.” Other boy: “Really nice.” Other boy: “I’ll do it as well as I can.” Girl: “I’ll make it match, so that it suits the colour of the clay.” Boy: “I can’t get the price tag off.” Other boy: “Me neither, but I’ll keep trying.” Girl: “Maybe it’ll be easier with water”. Boy: “But we don’t have any water.” Other boy: “This stupid price yoke.” Boy: “With stupid stripes.” A minute of silent drawing. Boy: “This is taking me a long time.” “May I use different colours?” Teacher: “That’s yours.” Boy: “Can I use that colour?” Teacher: “Yes, they’re your pots.” “Cool project.” “Cool.” “I think so, too.” “The main thing is that it’s fun.” “Yes, just because you can draw now you think it’s cool.” “But we’re not just drawing.” “Now it’s your turn to write.” “But I’ve already written.” Teacher: “You can draw for now.” “And why are we colouring these again?” “So that we can recognise them.” “Can I plant something in it at home then?” Supervisor: “We’re going to plant something here, soon.” “Cool.” “Yes.” […] “And why are we colouring them in again?” Teacher: “So that we recognise them.”
At this point it becomes quite clear that the children behold the station as a holistic aesthetic experience. They perceive the colouring of the pots structurally as an aesthetic element (Girl: ”I’ll make it match, so that it suits the colour of the clay”; and the irritating price tags are only disruptive from an aesthetic perspective, but not, for example, in relation to the growth of the beans).
It also becomes clear, however, that for the school children such a holistic aesthetic experience is an exception rather than the rule. This means it is evident that during their school lives the children have made the experience that aesthetic experiences tend to be deemed as being more superfluous than strongly cognitively structured subjects. Aesthetic experiences require a degree of leisure (Boy: “This is taking me a long time”). In the present day, leisure appears to be something almost requiring justification, just as is increasingly the case with aesthetic experiences. This is why some children imitate the role of adults: “The main thing is that it’s fun.” “Yes, just because you can draw now you think it’s cool.” “But we’re not just drawing.” These sentences mirror statements made by adults. They feel it necessary to emphasise that they are ‘not just drawing’ and that not only ‘fun’ is important. The assumption is that if this were the case the activity would not be justifiable. The aesthetic experience is obviously something that is continuously declining in terms of legitimacy, which is why it seems it requires explanation. The children have plainly internalised this point of view.
The indispensable precondition for aesthetic experiences, the ability to make decisions for one’s self, is something to which the school children are clearly unaccustomed. Some of them need to reassure themselves on a number of occasions (“May I use different colours?”, “Can I use that colour?”). At the same time it becomes apparent that this type of experience has a notably stabilising effect (“I’ll do it as well as I can”).
While colouring certain of the school children realise that they should be taking minutes (“Now it’s your turn to write”, “But I’ve already written”). The contrast between colouring and minute taking reflects clearly the contrast between aesthetic and cognitive education processes. Only when the teacher says to the children that they ‘can draw for now’ are they reassured and their consciences stilled, that they can view and engage in colouring as a legitimate activity.
The subsequent generation of potential positive effect elements in the context of education for sustainable development provided the following structural elements:
• Immediacy of the experience
Positive effects were generated by the facilitation of an ‘experience’. The study showed that suspense inducing moments flow into curiosity, excitement and astonishment, with the emotional states mentioned indicators of experience processes and constituent parts of these experiences. Experiencing, especially direct experiences, have profound and impressive effects and, therefore, produce lasting impressions.
The ‘experiencing’ hypothesis coincides with the hypotheses of Oevermann (1996, 1998). According to Oevermann education processes in the form of experiences present critical situations, the overcoming of which leads to the stabilising of the individual concerned. Such a stabilisation can be valued as a useful precondition for the sustainable handling of nature.
• Independence in the development process
Positive effects can result from the provision of opportunities to gain insight into natural phenomena independently. The provision of as authentic a natural experience as possible, that is an immediacy of the experience free of pedagogic guidance, is a constituent of independent learning processes, in other words the self steering of the handling is integral to the discovery process. A useful precondition for successful development exists when children are put in or find themselves in a situation where the difference between merely suspecting associations and the intellectual unveiling of the associations is possible.
Positive effects can be evoked by the facilitation of a degree of time and leisure. This hypothesis concurs with the findings of Reheis (1997). From his investigations Reheis came to the conclusion that people are especially keen to act in an environmentally friendly manner when they have “in their past education processes had enough time for the processing of impressions, the formation of motives and the growth of perseverance”. Reheis (1997) considers the time factor to be the decisive component of ecological education processes. This hypothesis concurs with Oevermanns (1996, 1998) ‘crisis of leisure’ hypothesis, which he deemed fundamental to development processes.
These findings lead, in the context of practical environmental education, among other things, to the conclusion that ‘less is often more’. The special significance of the factor leisure should always be accorded consideration. The observance of this notion also impacts upon the type of content selected. Dealings with the ‘unconventional’ development processes are as a result also determined differently. By employing open approaches it can happen that a ‘different’ answer or a ‘different’ approach to that or those originally planned arises. In accordance with the leisure principle it would be correct in such cases to accept this in place of the favoured solution of ‘unwanted’ trains of thought. An enrichment in the context of the generation of new and possibly innovative ideas is more likely than would be the case through the employment of conventional approaches. In this case one cannot speak of the failure of a development process as all solutions are perceived as equal and legitimate.
• Primary, individual (nature) experiences/primary, individual knowledge
Repeatedly during this study moments arose in which primary, individual knowledge and primary, individual experiences flowed from the school children into the discussions. The school children’s participation was especially great when a connection to the fundamental aspects of their lives could be established, that is things that fall within the sphere of their ‘individuality’. Considerations on the extent to which an observed experiment process, possibly in an altered form, could be re-observed in every day life is to a certain extent relevant to the school children and partly irrelevant. During the course of this study one comes to the conclusion that the decoding processes are in part simplified by the individual experiences and the individual knowledge of the children and at other times complicated (as they deliberate in a direction contrary to that which is ‘desired’). An ‘adequate’ nature protection orientated mode of handling does not appear to be guaranteed by such knowledge but provides a means to evoke a motivation to act with care, that is the linking with elementary things associated with the identity-forming daily life of each individual impacts positively on the motivation for nature protection orientated modes of handling.
• Drawing of comparisons/structuring
The drawing of comparisons in the context of a classification or structuring is a means frequently used by the school children. Here it is also the case that such attempts at comparing and structuring partly simplify and partly complicate the deciphering process. From the didactic perspective it would be worth arranging the experiments or programme points of an environmental measure, which resemble the format of the event presented in this study, according to the rule of maximum contrast. As the various stations differ noticeably from one another confusion is avoided, because certain experiments appear similar but target entirely different contents. Additionally, the exploring and experiencing of certain strongly contrasting ‘extremes’ provides a very efficient means of comprehensively defining and projecting a specific area of experience.
Overall the drawing of comparisons is something that provides a valuable support to school children in order to classify that which they have experienced (e.g. the size or speed of birds). It is recommended, therefore, that in practice this need is integrated into the planning and implementation of such measures.
It was revealed time and again in this study how memorable, but also how increasingly rare the aesthetic form of experience is. It repeatedly became clear that an initiated experience, and particularly an initiated aesthetic experience, represented an exception for the students, rather than the rule. It is evident that the school children have already experienced for themselves that aesthetic experiences are generally perceived as ‘superfluous’, and certainly more ‘in need of justification’ than strongly cognitively structured subjects. The artistic-aesthetic experience had a direct positive effect on the school children, which could be readily observed.
Strongly ‘aesthetically’ and ‘artistically’ orientated experiences were a great motivation factor for the children. This fact correlated with the moment of experiencing and the personal experience (cf. Oevermann 1998). Aesthetic experience necessitates a degree of time and leisure. For practical environmental education this means primarily that it is worthwhile to encourage aesthetic moments and provide for the necessary leisure component.
Ethical moments and questions played a central role in this study time and again. Above all, the oft observed exchange between wariness and curiosity belong to this, but also the moments of sympathy, consideration and assertiveness. The interplay between wariness and curiosity was found in this study to be an especially typical structure of the process of environmental education. In this structure lies a strong association with environmentally correct dealings, that is a cautious approach is equivalent to responsible environmental actions, but an explorative, conservative, controlled curiosity can also lead to environmentally appropriate behaviour.
The interplay poses a particular challenge for practical environmental education. During the study it was shown that not all school children evidenced a desirable balance between the elements curiosity and wariness. The sphere of the independence must, therefore, be set an external boundary at the point where it loses equilibrium. At the same time it can be attempted to provide impulses in favour of mindful behaviour or to extol the mindful behaviour exhibited by the school children, and also to channel curious behaviour in favour of environmentally correct attitudes.
Finally, the proposed hypotheses on the fundamental structural elements form a type of foundation for a new recognition theory, including tenets for recognition theory didactics, meaning that the didactics must also ally with the phenomena of such an elementary recognition theory. In the prevailing school didactics of today the predominant approach involves, among other things, the standardised description of an object or phenomenon according to a specific formula and using technical terms. In accordance with the results of this study it becomes evident that such an approach cannot represent a lasting and sustainable education process. An education process is only initiated when the experience is a structural experience, that is when the opportunity to expose links and associations lying beneath that which is visible employing an unravelling process exists. In this case the result is the explanation of observed phenomena and objects, which is the objective of such a recognition theory.
The discussion of the methods revealed that the method of objective hermeneutics applied in this study, characterised by its qualitative, abductive reasoning, was very beneficial to the evaluation. When evaluating extra-curricular environmental education measures the content-related procedures must be analysed. Pure ‘facts’ and ‘numbers’ are not sufficient to portray the quality of an event. Alone the fact that, for example, the number of projects taking place at a particular environmental education centre or the number of children that participated in a specific measure are not enough to determine the value of an event.
The fine analytical-reconstructive perspective is required to facilitate the definition of the potentially ‘new’ (new content or structures) offered by an environmental education facility and to assess whether these innovations have been successful or not. In the case of environmental education measures quality is to be expected when the innovations successfully achieve sustainable future dealings with natural resources.
The discussion of the objectives showed that, in the case of the teaching plan, the targeting of competence has received increasing attention in recent years. In the teaching plan studied here there is a clear focus on environmental handling and the associated competences (e.g. problem solving competence).
Behind the objectives of the school lies the assumption that the effectiveness of schooling, at least in the traditional sense, in other words frontal instruction, is limited. It is implicitly assumed that the primary experience cannot be substituted in a secondary didactic manner, certainly not entirely. The assumption draws especially on the on the limited effectiveness of fields which concern attitudes and attitude changes as well as behaviour/handling and altering behaviour/handling.
The Ökostation aims primarily to create environmental awareness and explicitly the evocation of environmentally correct and nature protection behaviour. The predefinition of objectives, both the general and the specific objectives, corresponds to the greatest possible extent to the guiding example provided by the education for sustainable development approach. A particular emphasis lies on the intention to motivate environmentally appropriate handling.
Above all, the factors ‘experience’ and ‘experiencing’ are held as the most suitable means of translating this intention. This makes evident a degree of understanding operating behind the objectives, namely the perception that primarily the ‘independent’ and ‘authentic’ experience, that experiencing for one’s self, are most likely to generate the desired effect. It is assumed that as a matter of principal only the primary appropriation of experience of nature leads to a responsible handling of natural resources. Accordingly, ‘knowledge transfer’ (in contrast to ‘experience’) is attributed a significantly lower weighting. This assumption corresponds with the hypotheses of Oevermann, who argued for education processes instead of knowledge training, and in doing so for crisis experience instead of routine procedures (cf. Oevermann 1996, 1998).
With respect to the effects of environmental education measures, positive outcomes arose particularly from the opportunity for direct experiencing, the opportunity for independent recognition processes, the facilitation of moments of leisure, the opportunity to connect individual (nature) experiences or individual knowledge, the opportunity to draw comparisons and to structure, and the facilitation of aesthetic moments and moments of ethical awareness.
As expected, it proved to be especially difficult to demonstrate effects in the area of sustainable environmental handling. This difficulty is well known (cf. e.g. Langeheine and Lehmann 1986, Braun 1983, Lehmann 1999, Bögeholz 1999).
The discussion of the effects in the context of the concept of formative competence put forward by de Haan and Harenberg (2001), as one of the best known educational models of the education for sustainable development approach, should present in conclusion whether or to what extent the results of this study correspond with the demands of the concept.
The concept is understood as an approach not just concerned with placing the transfer of natural science knowledge, the specified reorientation of environmental attitudes and the modification of environmental behaviour to the fore, but attempts to promote the development of competence aimed at the recognition of environmental problems and the development of proposals for solutions. To attain formative competence means to possess capacities, skills and knowledge facilitating changes in the areas of economic, ecological and social handling, without these changes always being merely a reaction to problems previously created. “Sustainable development does not refer to a stabilisation or reversal of the status quo but signalises a complex social formation task in which global and local dimensions of the shaping of the future merge” (de Haan and Harenberg 1999, p. 60). Design competence, therefore, focuses attention onto the future, the variation of that which is possible and active modelling. This constitutes aesthetic elements as well as the question of the shape that economics, consumption and mobility might and should take, or the manner in which leisure time and everyday life is spent, the shape of communal policy and international relations, etc.
Overall, formative competence for sustainable development can be characterised by a number of social, cognitive and emotional competences. The differentiation of sub-competences is an analytical action used to emphasise the target and the importance of individual elements. In the realisation, and attainment, of competences such a disentanglement of individual elements is barely imaginable. According to de Haan and Harenberg (1999) sub-competences include:
• Forward thinking, knowledge and skills in the field of future scenarios and projections
• Capacity for interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving and innovation
• Networking and planning competence
• Capacity for community spirit and solidarity
• Capacity for transfer of ideas and cooperation
• Capacity for motivation
• Competence for critical reflection upon individual and cultural models
Overall it is apparent that the sub-competences proposed by de Haan and Harenberg (2001), generally conceived very broadly and at a high level, namely that of the ideal state, cannot be directly transferred to environmental education measures. Nevertheless, individual elements can certainly be discovered during the course of a measure, in the small details. Above all, the opportunity for independent discovery, with the emphasis on independent, and the feelings induced by the accompanying sense of excitement, contribute towards the fundamental contents of the sub-competences and render the environmental education measures at the Freiburg Ökostation a success in the context of the education for sustainable development approach.