eeWorks: From Anecdotes to Evidence

    June 19, 2017
    by Judy Braus and Kristen Kunkle

    Environmental education (EE) has made a remarkable and substantive impact throughout North America. However, to date, the field has relied more on engaging anecdotes to tell its story rather than demonstrating rigorous evidence of the impact that EE has on individuals, institutions, and the environment. Both anecdotes and evidence are critical to advance the field. Yet without the evidence that EE works to address environmental and social challenges, the field will not be able to realize its potential and attract the needed support to scale up efforts across the continent.

    The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and Stanford University, in partnership with collaborators from multiple sectors in the EE field and beyond, are proud to announce the launch of the eeWORKS project. Through this initiative, NAAEE and our partners will conduct comprehensive literature reviews on key outcomes related to the benefits of EE, and communicate these benefits to specific audiences. In short, we’re working to demonstrate the impact and value of EE by substantiating powerful anecdotes from across the field with empirical evidence. Ultimately, the project seeks to promote innovation in EE, increase support for the field, and procure new resources to scale up our collective efforts.

    Why is this project so timely and important? Professionals working in mission-driven organizations—from conservation organizations to government agencies, universities, schools, and others—want to better understand the role of EE in promoting a more sustainable future for all. As a field, we need to better substantiate claims that EE can help achieve goals of environmental conservation, ecosystem protection, environmental justice, reducing energy use, sustainable natural resource management, and other related outcomes. By highlighting the evidence that currently exists, we can improve environmental education programs and attract more resources and support for the field from a variety of stakeholders. We can also identify the research gaps that exist to help us learn more about what works.

    To complete the first review, experts at Stanford University systematically searched the academic literature and analyzed 119 peer-reviewed studies published over a 20-year period that measured the impacts of environmental education for K-12 students. The reviews showed evidence that environmental education programs lead to a number of positive impacts. Studies demonstrate that EE contributes to education outcomes, such as critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and knowledge in science and mathematics, as well as developmental outcomes, such as increased self-esteem, character development, and teamwork. The review also highlighted that environmental education has been shown to increase motivation and interest in learning, as well as promote civic engagement. This first review found that 98% of studies on EE showed knowledge gain in students, 90% reported an increase in critical skills, 83% demonstrated enhanced environmental behaviors, and, overall, 86% of articles included in the analysis reported positive changes in measured outcomes.

    One study showed that middle school students in upstate New York who were involved in a hydroponic program significantly outscored other students in a final exam. The program, which consisted of indoor hydroponic gardening, allowed the students to increase their understanding of complex industrial, agricultural, and environmental systems as the students discussed the differences between industrial agriculture and the organic agricultural system they created. This hands-on program provided an environment where every student could engage and collaborate with each other, allowing those with learning disabilities such as ADHD to equally participate. The students reported that they adopted new pro-environmental behaviors, such as composting and buying local foods, as a result of their learning. “Since becoming an environmental educator in 1995 I now believe that EE’s ability to create changes in student pro-environmental behaviors and attitudes is what society will find to be necessary to create the next generation of environmental advocates and stewards,” stated Andrew Schneller, the author of this study.

    As we continue to expand this project, researchers will document evidence for the role of EE in achieving conservation goals, the impact of EE and nature connections in early childhood, EE’s potential to address climate change, and more. Reviews on these outcome areas and tools to communicate these findings are currently being produced by Stanford and NAAEE. All of these findings on environmental education and its effect on K-12 students can be accessed through pdfs on our eeWORKS page on the NAAEE website. You can also view an introductory video here. For more details on this review, please visit our website on the benefits of environmental education for K-12 students. For updates and results on each of these studies, visit our eeWORKS website and check back for updates! We’ll be continuously adding new content as reviews are completed and communications tools are drafted and designed.

    Judy Braus is executive director of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), which strives to create healthier communities that empower local communities, stakeholders, and individuals to help restore and protect the environment. She was previously senior vice president of education and centers at the National Audubon Society, overseeing an extensive nationwide network of nature centers and educators. Prior to that, she led education programs at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the U.S. Peace Corps, and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). 


























































































































































































    Kristen Kunkle joined the NAAEE team in September of 2015 as an Environmental Education Specialist, working on a range of projects in EE research and practice. She serves as a project manager for the eeWORKS initiative (Anecdotes to Evidence) in partnership with Stanford University, and assists in developing and managing eePRO and the NAAEE website, coordinating and facilitating NAAEE’s monthly webinar series and supporting programmatic initiatives. 


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