Academic journal article Education

Research on Teachers' Attitudes and Understandings of Interrelationships among Energy, Environment, and Public Policy

Academic journal article Education

Research on Teachers' Attitudes and Understandings of Interrelationships among Energy, Environment, and Public Policy

Article excerpt

This interdisciplinary project involved science and social studies educators in an experientially-based program that emphasized the interrelationships among energy, environment, economics, and politics. The influence of the institute on teachers' attitudes and understandings relative to these areas was examined. Results showed significant shifts in teachers' attitudes and opinions toward energy resources and policy-making. The teachers' understandings of the interrelationships among energy, environment, and public policy were enhanced so they could formulate philosophical positions and make informed decisions regarding these issues.

Introduction

Finding solutions to our energy needs concerns all segments of the American society. Issues related to types of energy, costs, and environmental impacts will continue to be primary concerns well into the twenty-first century. Will the American public turn away from gasoline-powered automobiles in favor of those powered by natural gas or electric motors? Will we develop an efficient form of mass transportation? How will our houses be heated and cooled? What kinds of energy sources will run our business and industries? What will be the roles of businesses, industry, the federal government and the educational system in the decision making process?

The awareness of energy related issues and the major impact it has on our society has prompted educators to begin exploring the topic with students. Students need to investigate the energy decisions facing our country along with all the other countries of the world if our society is to survive. The need for energy education in the schools caused a group of science and social studies educators to develop and implement a national interdisciplinary program in energy education that includes the development of energy related teaching materials.

The project, titled Energy, Environment, and Policy Choices: Summer Institutes for Science and Social Studies Educators, was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The three year grant provided the funds to establish the Center for Energy Education (CEE). The CEE is a troika linking the United States Department of Energy, the University of Oklahoma, and the Close Up Foundation(1).

Beginning at the Energy Center on OU's campus, 57 program participants from across the country examined concepts and issues related to energy and environment, and how the interdependence of energy and environment significantly influences daily life. During the second week of the institute, participants went to Washington, D.C., to examine the processes government officials use to make critical decisions involving interrelationships between energy, environment, and public policy.

The experiences and activities of the summer institute integrated the highly technological data of the rapidly changing energy field with the environmental impacts of energy utilization and its economic and political impacts. Participants engaged in discussions and activities that illustrated the complex interrelationships among energy, environment and public policy. Such experiences were designed to help these teachers attain an understanding of these interrelationships and to formulate ideas and opinions needed to make informed, logical decisions, the knowledge prepared teachers to help their students learn about energy and environment issues and develop thinking processes necessary to make informed decisions that affect society.

Theoretical Foundations and Purposes

Previous research in energy education has explored attitudes and opinions about energy resources, environmental issues and socioeconomic concerns (Jackson, 1985). This research focused on individuals' opinions of energy as "technocentric" or "ecocentric" (O'Riordan, 1976). Technocentrism is the view that the biosphere has unlimited resources, and technology should continue to develop to tap such resources, solve related environmental problems, and to foster economic growth and sustain the quality of life (in material terms). The ecocentric view is the belief that the biosphere has limited resources and thus constraints should be placed on technology and possibilities for economic growth to avoid negative environmental and social consequences (Jackson, 1985). Other research has explored individuals' beliefs and opinions on 1) the dangers of nuclear and coal energy sources and 2) the ideas that government, industry and consumers are concerned about energy and working toward solving problems related to energy and the environment (Barrow & Morrisey, 1987; Holden & Barrow, 1984).

However, there have been no research studies designed to investigate the impact of a structured, experientially-based energy education program on teachers' understandings, attitudes and opinions of three interdisciplinary areas: energy, environment, and public policy. Therefore, this study attempts to examine shifts in teachers' attitudes and opinions regarding energy, environment, and related political issues following their participation in a summer institute. The purposes of this study were:

1. To ascertain teachers' environmental attitudes and opinions related to energy resource options (technocentric, ecocentric) and determine if any shifts in attitudes and opinions occurred following the energy education institute;

2. To examine possible shifts in teachers' attitudes toward energy in terms of a) influences of industry, government agencies, oil companies and consumers and b) potential health, safety and environmental problems associated with various energy sources; and

3. To examine teachers' understandings of the interrelationships among energy, environment and public policy and determine the nature of changes in understanding following the participation in the energy education institute.

Design and Procedures

Participant Selection

Participants selected for the summer institute were part of teams of science and social studies educators. A joint application was submitted by team members which included professional information, as well as open ended questions related to teaching practices, knowledge of energy related issues, and experience in interdisciplinary teaching. The selection process involved six CEE staff members (three science and three social studies) reviewing applications. Primary emphasis was placed on selecting educators who used active inquiry oriented teaching practices.

The program's participants who took part in the study consisted of 57 (19 males, 38 females) secondary school teachers and curriculum specialists chosen from across the United States. Of the 57 teachers selected, 48% were from the social sciences and 52% were from the natural sciences. Most of the educators had earned graduate degrees (57%), and this group of teachers had classroom teaching experience which ranged from one to thirty years. Approximately 66% of the participants were Caucasian (non-hispanic), 13% were Hispanic, 11% were Asian American or Pacific Islander, 7% were African American and 3% were Native American or Alaskan Native. The educators selected were from a wide geographic area, representing 21 states and American Samoa.

The Summer Institute

The first week of the summer institute was conducted at the University of Oklahoma where participants explored the relationships between energy and environmental science. Areas of study included renewables (solar, wind, geothermal), nuclear, coal, natural gas, and oil. Emphasis was placed on the availability, production, costs, transportation, utilization, efficiency, and environmental impacts of each major energy source. Presentations were made by scientists, researchers from the natural centers of energy research, as well as CEO's of major energy corporations. Participants also spent time working in research laboratories designed for examining problems related to energy exploration and development. Finally, field trips took participants to an oil refinery, a museum for interactive science and social studies teaching, and a demonstration involving alternative energy vehicles. These experiences provided valuable technical data about energy production and its effect on the economy and the environment.

During the second week of the institute, participants traveled to Washington D.C., where they examined the decision making procedure policy makers must deal with when addressing the critical interrelationships of politics, economics, energy, and the environment. The teachers attended seminars and speaker panels led by government personnel and/or environmental agency representatives; went on tours of government facilities; observed law-making in progress; met with members of Congress; and participated in an interactive televised C-SPAN production with Secretary of Energy, Hazel O'Leary. Through these experiences, participants were able to gain information directly from lobbyists and politicians currently involved in the quest for reaching a balance between today's rising energy demands and the environmental impact of meeting those demands.

Throughout the two-week institute, participants met in groups with the CEE staff and with mentor teachers to begin to construct energy-related curriculum materials. The unit lessons were to incorporate activity-based learning experiences using the materials and concepts presented during the seminars and laboratory experiences.

Instrumentation

Attitudes and opinions. Teachers' attitudes and opinions regarding energy resources were assessed by a modified version of a 31-item Likert instrument used in previous research (Jackson, 1985). The instrument, Environmental and Energy Preference Scale (EEPS), "examines relationships between aspects of perception of the energy issues and more fundamental attitudes and values, expressed in terms of world views" (Jackson, 1985, p. 23). To determine these relationships, the EEPS has questions about the individuals' beliefs of two opposing world views. One view is called a "limited world" or "ecocentric" view of resources and the environment (Dunlap & VanLiere, 1978; Jackson, 1985; O'Riordan, 1976; Russell, 1979). The ecocentric view is characterized by beliefs that the biosphere is limited and thus constraints should be placed on continued technology and economic growth. The opposing view represents what is called an "expansionist" or "technocentric" view (Dunlap & VanLiere, 1978; Jackson, 1985; O'Riordan, 1976; Russell, 1979). The technocentric view is characterized by beliefs that the biosphere has unlimited resources and emphasis should be placed on continued technological and economic growth. Sample questions from the EEPS are shown below:

Statement 8. Our present energy sources are sufficient for our needs only for the next ten or twenty years.

Strongly     Mildly     Mildly    Strongly
Disagree    Disagree    Agree      Agree
   A           B          C          D

Statement 22. The best way to solve pollution problems is the development of more efficient technology.

Strongly     Mildly     Mildly    Strongly
Disagree    Disagree    Agree      Agree
   A           B          C          D

A response of (D) "Strongly Agree" on item 8, indicated an ecocentric view and was assigned a value of 1. A response of (D) "Strongly Agree" on item 22 indicated a technocentric view and was assigned a value of 4. Lower scores on the EEPS indicated a more ecocentric view, and higher scores reflected a more technocentric view. Reliability for this instrument has been reported as .81 (Jackson, 1985).

A second attitude questionnaire consisted of four sub-scales of Holden and Barrows' (1984) questionnaire, Test of Energy Concepts and Values (TECV). Although originally designed for high school students, the questions on the TECV were adapted for use with teachers. The TECV is divided into four sub-scales with each measuring a specific goal of the energy institute. The first and second sub scales each contain three items, and scores may range from three to twelve. The third and fourth sub-scales each contain nine items and scores may range from nine to thirty-six.

The first sub-scale measured teachers' beliefs in the effectiveness of personal action toward solving energy problems. The second sub-scale measured teachers' beliefs that government, industry and consumers are genuinely working toward solving energy problems. The third subscale measured teachers' opinions about the seriousness of health and safety problems associated with energy (e.g., coal mining, nuclear powered generators, solar power). Finally, the fourth sub-scale measured teachers' opinions about the seriousness of potential environmental and pollution problems associated with the same energy resources as in the third subscale. The reliability values for these sub-scales ranged from .67 to .79.

Understandings and interrelationships. Teachers' understandings of the interrelationships between energy, environment and public policy were measured by an open-ended assessment technique known as Mental Model test (Cavallo & Schafer, 1994; Mosenthal & Kirsch, 1991). Teachers were asked to write everything they knew about the interrelationships between energy, environment and public policy. The model for evaluating the essays was developed through a process in which the participants' explanations were read first by two separate reviewers.

During this process, each reviewer grouped the explanations according to similar schematic (content and process) information contained in the essays. It was found that the patterns that emerged from grouping the essay data clearly matched the cognitive taxonomy described by Krathwohl, Bloom and Masia (1964). Therefore, the essays were scored according to this taxonomy of cognitive skills: 1) low level cognitive understanding characterized by the naming of facts (Knowledge) or translating simple ideas (Comprehension); 2) applying ideas related to the three areas (Application) or describing each area separately (Analysis) or; 31) high level cognitive understanding characterized by synthesizing conceptual information about the three areas (Synthesis) and making informed judgements based on evidence (Evaluation). See Figure 1. Figure 2 presents representative patterns that emerged from grouping participants' explanations of interrelationships between energy, environment and public policy, along with sample explanations. These patterns follow the Krathwohl et al. (1964) scheme and were scored from one to three as defined in Figure 1. Higher scores reflected more evidence-based, philosophically sound opinions about energy, environment and public policy. The inter-rater reliability in scoring the essays was .83. Discrepancies in scores were negotiated between the reviewers, and the final agreement in scores was 100%.

Figure 1

Scoring scheme for participants' mental model explanations of relationships among energy, environment and policy choices (based on Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia, 1964).

Hierarchy of Cognitive Skills

Score = 1

Knowledge: The explanation shows that the participant ...

1. remembers ideas, phenomena or facts in somewhat the same form in which he or she learned them.

2. recalls or has memorized terms or parts of information in the exact form in which they were learned.

Comprehension: The explanation shows that the participant ...

1. communicates ideas or "things" in a new or different form.

2. sees relationships among "things" and/or qualifies ideas in relation to their own experiences.

3. projects or predicts the effects of "things" or events.

Score = 2

Application: The explanation shows that the participant ...

1. uses what he or she knows from a variety of areas to find solutions to problems.

2. relates or applies ideas to new or unusual situations.

Analysis: The explanation shows that the participant ...

1. breaks "things" down into component parts.

2. uncovers the unique aspect of "things."

Score = 3

Synthesis: The explanation shows that the participant ...

1. thinks creatively and divergently.

2. makes or creates new or original "things."

3. takes "things" and patterns them in new ways.

Evaluation: The explanation shows that the participant ...

1. makes judgements about "things" based on either external or internal conditions or criteria.

2. rates ideas, conditions and/or objects.

3. accepts or rejects "things" based on standards.

Figure 2

Patterns that emerged from participants' explanations of interrelationships among energy, environment and policy choices and examples.

Pattern 1

Pattern: Participants named each element (energy, environment and policy) and/or restated the question. Participants discussed that the interrelationships among these elements are complex and difficult.

Example: "The relationship between energy, environment and policy choices is so cohesive, it is impossible to intelligently consider them individually without reference to each other. The choices we make for energy consumption directly affects the environmental security. The choices we make are directed by policies and laws. It truly is a revolving circle."

Pattern 2

Pattern: Participants described each element (energy, environment and policy) separately. Participants revealed that economics plays a role in the interrelationships among energy, environment and policy, and stated that trade-offs must be made to resolve problems. Economics and trade-offs are what make the relationships complex and difficult.

Example: "Issues related to energy and the environment are much more complex than I ever envisioned. Science plays an important role in how we view these issues and with research and development. It is evident that economics is also very important. Speakers throughout the institute mentioned economic concerns on a [sic] almost daily basis. I have learned a great deal about energy sources, their origin, use and implications in relationships to our energy future. The complexity of these issues makes reasoned decision-making even more important. Economic education must provide teachers and students with the tools to make these difficult policy choices or elect officials who will make them understanding both sides of the issue. Whether it is more money for cancer research or cleaning a polluted lake individuals must be aware there are opportunity costs and trade-offs (compromise) are possible."

Pattern 3

Pattern: Participants described each element (energy, environment and policy) as interrelated and defined specific ways in which the elements are related. Participants also revealed that economics plays a role in the interrelationships among energy, environment and policy, and stated that trade-offs must be made to resolve problems. Economics and trade-offs are what make the relationships complex and difficult. The participants then formed an opinion or judgement about the issues and often prescribed specific plans for resolving problems and for creating a balance among the three elements in society.

Example: "The relationship is a very complicated relationship with each area having its own constituency. Cheap energy especially in the U.S. is directly related to our quality of living. Because of our demand for this cheap energy we as a nation and a world have come to rely on the most readily available and inexpensive to produce form of energy, fossil fuels. By using fossil fuel in ever more increasing quantities since the 1900's we have placed a dramatic strain on the earth's biosphere and created an economic system that is dominated by the fossil fuel industry. The strain that fossil fuels place on the earth and the limited fossil fuel resources left are coming in direct conflict with our need to maintain a high standard of living. It is this conflict that makes it necessary to implement governmental policies that effect both the energy and the environment. With every change in of [sic] these areas there are ripple effects that run through each area. Because of this there are strong emotions that are tied to every issue, These emotions effect each constituents [sic] view of their area whether it is in energy, the environment or policy choices and directly effects how they view and react to the others."

The teachers were given the attitude questionnaires (EEPS and TECV) and the mental model test immediately upon arrival at the institute (pre-institute testing). The same attitude questionnaires and mental model test were given during a final evaluation session on the last day of the institute. (post-institute testing).

Results

Attitudes and Opinions

EEPS scores shifted significantly (p [is less than] .05) from pre-to post-institute, from a generally ecocentric view to a more technocentric view of energy and environment (Table 1). Thus, the teachers increased their beliefs that technology could help resolve many energy and environment problems and maintain economic growth.

Table 1 Environmental and Energy Preference Scale (EEPS) and the four subscales of the Test of Energy Concepts and Values (TECV)

Variable                                       Mean     SD

EEPS                                   pre     64.9     8.0
                                       post    67.0     8.5
TECV Subscale 1                        pre     10.1     2.6
(effectiveness of personal action)     post    10.3     2.2
TECV Subscale 2                        pre      6.5     1.7
(government, industry and consumers,   post     7.8     1.5
working toward solutions)
TECV Subscale 3                        pre     21.9     2.6
(health and safety problems)           post    22.9     3.3
TECV Subscale 4                        pre     21.1     2.9
(pollution problems)                   post    21.2     3.5

Variable                                 F       df       p

EEPS                                   3.98     1,54     .05

TECV Subscale 1                        0.27     1,54     .60
(effectiveness of personal action)
TECV Subscale 2                        43.58    1,54   .0001
(government, industry and consumers,
working toward solutions)
TECV Subscale 3                        5.42     1,54     .02
(health and safety problems)
TECV Subscale 4                        0.17     1,54     .68
(pollution problems)

Two of the four sub-scales (sub-scales 2 and 3) of the TECV used in this study also indicated significant shifts in teachers' attitudes and opinions. Following the institute, teachers felt significantly more confident that government agencies, industry and consumers were genuinely trying to solve the country's energy problems (sub scale 2). They also came to understand that energy resources such as coal, nuclear, solar and wind were less of a threat to society's health and safety than they had believed at the beginning of the institute. There were no significant shifts (at p [is less than] .05) in the teachers' beliefs in the effectiveness of personal action toward solving energy problems (sub-scale 1), nor in their opinions about the seriousness of potential environmental and pollution problems associated with energy resources (sub-scale 4)

Understandings or Interrelationships

A general linear models repeated measures analysis was conducted on scores from the mental model essays. Analyses of pre- and post-institute explanations of the interrelationships among energy, environment and public policy revealed a significant shift in their understandings of these topics and the inherent complexities, F(1,54)=22.65, p [is less than] .0001. The means for the mental model tests were 1.5 (SD=0.7) at the beginning of the institute and 2.2 (SD 0.8) at the closing of the institute.

Qualitively, the pre-institute mental model explanations were generally characterized by recall of facts about energy, environment or public policy and showed little understanding of the marriage that exists among these three elements in our society. For example, in the pre-tests, many teachers identified where coal or oil were located, or simply stated that these are primary sources of energy for our society. Few teachers articulated the interrelationships among all three areas, and none clearly stated a philosophical position based on knowledge, nor did they attempt to formulate opinions. Following the institute, the teachers used more precise conceptual information about energy resources, environmental concerns and policy issues. Additionally, they could use this information to support their philosophy, formulate opinions of the interrelationships, and prescribe possible ways to resolve energy, environment and public policy problems.

Discussion and Implications

The data indicated that the interdisciplinary program influenced teachers' attitudes and opinions about energy and related issues. The teachers' experience in highly technological energy laboratories with personnel involved in advanced research related to energy resources may have facilitated the shift to a more technocentric view of energy. Although the results of the study may not be generalized to all science and social studies teachers, it does provide us with some important information as to teachers' attitudes related to energy. Teachers' attitudes toward energy will eventually have an impact on the students they teach. Thus, we need to understand what those attitudes are and how they are translated into concepts being presented in the classroom. The shift in attitudes of the teachers in our study from an ecocentric to technocentric view of energy indicates a need for continued research into energy and environmental education.

Throughout the program, care was taken to present a balance between various perspectives regarding energy, environment, and governmental policy. In all seminar sessions, contrasting views were represented in business, environmental, and public policy. The participants came to understand that agents of these three views work interdependently toward a sound energy policy.

The teachers' experiences with policy makers and industry leaders may explain the shift in their opinions that government, industry, and consumers are genuinely trying to solve energy problems. This shift also indicates that the experiences teachers had during the institute were positive. The belief that coal, oil, nuclear power and other energy resources (e.g., renewables) are less threatening to safety and health than was initially believed, indicate that the teachers gained new insights and knowledge pertaining to these resources. They developed an understanding of what becomes of the wastes generated from energy production, and that many of these wastes are transformed into other, usable products. The teachers were apparently more assured that energy resources are managed in a way that does not threaten their personal well-being.

Teachers' beliefs in the effectiveness of personal action toward solving energy problems did not diminish as a result of this institute. Examination of the means for this sub-scale in Table 1 shows that on both questionnaires, teachers expressed quite strong beliefs that they can personally have an impact on solving energy problems. Consequently, the teachers involved in the institute generally had the opinion that personal actions can make a difference in solving our energy problems, and these views were upheld in the activities in which they engaged throughout the program.

The teachers' initial attitudes and opinions about the seriousness of potential environmental and pollution problems associated with various resources did not significantly change. What did change was their view that technology has the ability to solve our energy-related environmental problems. Thus, to whatever degree participants viewed energy resources as a genuine threat to the environment, the experiences of the institute did not change their perceptions.

The post-institute essays showed that participants gained important understandings of energy sources, environmental issues, public policy, and their interrelationships. They were able to make informed decisions about complex energy issues (Figure 2). Thus, they had gained experience which improved their critical thinking and helped them formulate understandings leading to establishing philosophical positions on these issues. It is expected that the intellectual growth evident in the teachers' essays will help them foster intellectual growth of their students, particularly in ways that will affect energy, environment and policy choices that are critical to the future of our society.

There exists a consensus that knowledge and attitudes about energy must be a part of every public school student's education (Barrow & Morrisey, 1987). However, much of what has been taught in schools was designed to modify students' attitudes toward energy, particularly toward energy conservation (Covert & Staeb, 1976). The goal achieved in this project was the development of teachers' critical thinking and understanding of energy, environment, and public policy so they would be better prepared to help their students make decisions for themselves about many energy issues such as energy conservation.

For science and social studies teachers, energy education could become a vehicle for students to identify with and act upon scientific and societal concerns. It is important that students understand these interrelationships if they are to face and solve the global problems that await them in the future. They will need to understand the tradeoffs, and realize that choices/decisions need to be made to maintain our standard of living and the democratic structure of our society. The project, Energy, Environment, and Policy Choices: Summer Institutes for Science and Social Studies Educators has made progress toward achieving these aims by educating teachers who will ultimately impact the learning of thousands of young citizens each year.

References

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Cavallo, A.M.L., & Schafer, L.E. (1994). Relationships between students' meaningful learning orientation and their understanding of genetics topics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(4), 393-418.

Dunlap, R.E., & VanLiere, K.D. (1978). The `New environmental paradigm': A proposed measuring instrument and preliminary results. Journal of Environmental Education, 9(4), 10-19.

Holden, C. & Barrow, L. (1984). Validation of the test of energy in science concepts and values for high school students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 21(2), 187-196.

Jackson, E.L. (1985). Environmental attitudes and preferences for energy resource options. Journal of Environmental Education, 17(1), 23-30.

Krathwohl, D.R., Bloom, B.S., & Masia, B.B. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook II. New York: David McKay.

Mosenthal, P.B., & Kirsch, I.S. (1991). Mimetic documents: Process schematics. Journal of Reading, 34(5), 390-397.

O'Riordan, T. (1976). Environmentalism. London: Pion.

Russell, M. (1979). Conflicting perceptions of energy's future role. Energy in America's Future: The Choices Before Us, S.H. Schurr, J. Darmstadter, H. Perry, W. Ramsay, and M. Russell (Eds.), Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins.

ANN M.L. CAVALLO
Science Education
University of California
Davis, CA 95616

BRIAN L. GERBER
Science Education
Valdosta State University

EDMUND A. MAREK
Science Education
University of Oklahoma

JOHN J. CHIODO
Social Studies Education
University of Oklahoma
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