Exploring the Impact of Integrated Fieldwork, Reflective and Metacognitive Experiences on Student Environmental Learning Outcomes

By Ballantyne, Roy; Anderson, David et al. | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Impact of Integrated Fieldwork, Reflective and Metacognitive Experiences on Student Environmental Learning Outcomes


Ballantyne, Roy, Anderson, David, Packer, Jan, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Introduction

Research indicates that the provision of learning experiences in the natural environment is an effective strategy for promoting student environmental learning, which includes the development of environmental knowledge, attitudes and the adoption of responsible action (Ballantyne & Packer, 2002; 2009; Ballantyne, Fien, & Packer 2001; Dettmann Easler & Pease 1999; Rickinson 2001; Rickinson, Lundholm & Hopwood 2009). School fieldwork visits to places such as environmental education centres provide important opportunities, outside the classroom, for students to manage and direct their own learning (Griffin & Symington, 1997; Hisasaka, Anderson, Nashon, & Yagi, 2005). A growing literature base on learning in non-school contexts clearly demonstrates the value of these settings in developing cross-contextual, holistic learning (Anderson & Nashon, 2007; Anderson, Lucas, Ginns, & Dierking, 2000; Ramey-Gassert, Walberg & Walberg, 1994; Rennie & McClafferty, 1996).

Similarly, advocates of place-based education (Gruenewald, 2003; Smith, 2007) urge educators to incorporate a focus on local environments in their teaching, in order to ensure its relevance and contribution to community life. This is particularly important in the case of environmental education. Smith (2007) argues the need for environmental and social stewardship to be based on the foundation of students' care for and affiliation with their own local environment. By focussing students' attention on local concerns, and empowering students to work towards improving the wellbeing of their own communities, place-based education aims to break down the barriers between school and community.

Although the important role of providing fieldwork experiences for students in the natural environment is now well-established within environmental education literature and teacher practice, there is still little research evidence to guide teachers in their choice of effective teaching strategies. Recently, Ballantyne, and Packer (2009) attempted to identify the strategies that are most effective in facilitating learning in the natural environment. They proposed that "the most engaging, effective, and enduring learning experiences in the context of learning in natural environments, occur through experience-based rather than teacher-directed strategies" (p. 259). Among the strategies found to be most effective were those that capitalise on the unique learning opportunities that are available in natural environments, such as hands-on exploration; using all five senses to experience and appreciate the natural environment; undertaking authentic tasks; and investigating real-life issues in local contexts. They concluded, however, that the best results in relation to enhancing student environmental learning "will be obtained when teachers are able to integrate learning in the natural environment with classroom learning strategies" (p. 260).

The need to follow-up or integrate experience-based environmental learning activities with the opportunity to make a reflective response has been noted in both formal and informal learning contexts. Ballantyne and Packer (2009) found that "reflective response" was the activity that produced the highest learning outcomes for school students participating in outdoor and environmental education programs, and was the only type of activity to have a real impact on student environmental attitude change. They reported similar findings with adults participating in wildlife tourism experiences (Ballantyne, Packer, & Falk, 2010; Ballantyne, Packer, & Sutherland, 2010). They suggest that the reflective response provides the missing link between experience and action (Ballantyne et al., 2010) and draw on Kolb's (1984) experiential learning cycle to argue the important place of reflection in facilitating learning from experience in the natural environment. Accordingly, this paper explores, evaluates and discusses the nature of student learning outcomes emerging from an environmental education activity that integrates experience-based fieldwork in a coastal mangrove environment in Southeast Queensland with reflective and metacognitive exercises. …

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