writing sample for grad school application (PhD in Educational Psychology)
Sustainable Communities Field School Increases Environmental Awareness
Environmental sustainability is the process of utilizing the resources of nature in such a way, to prevent the exploitation of natural resources, conservation of non-renewable forms of energy and matter, and ensuring replenishment of utilized resources, which can support biotic communities in the near future. Educational programs and field visits to places of environmental conservation might inculcate awareness in students and general people. The present study tried to evaluate the usefulness of Field schools, in providing awareness on environmental sustainability.
The study was based on the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden’s Field School. The current study examined the impact of the Field School on people’s environmental awareness and behavior. Participants (N=109) from four local businesses were guided by instructors through a canopy walk and a food garden in the Botanical Garden.
These participants received verbal education and participated in various activities related to sustainability. The results were based on self-reported questionnaires. The study illustrated that following participation in the Field School, the participants’ exhibited increased knowledge about environmental issues, raised their concerns regarding nature. They also exhibited a variety of behavioral changes, compared to the Garden visitors who did not participate in the Field School. The results suggested that Field School provides useful education model regarding environmental sustainability and may help to mobilize public engagement in future environmental awareness programs.
Sustainability depends on both successful policy implementation and mobilization of public actions. Environmental sustainability is the process of utilizing the resources of nature in such a way, to prevent the exploitation of natural resources, conservation of non-renewable forms of energy and matter, and ensuring replenishment of utilized resources, which can support biotic communities in the near future. Proper education, knowledge and legislation, all across the globe would lead to a sustainable environment. Educational programs and field visits to places of environmental conservation might inculcate awareness in students and general people. The sustainable environment helps in the preservation of biodiversity, management of pollution and reduced use of herbicides. Moreover, sustainable environment decreases the need for overutilization of not –renewable forms of energy.
Review of Literature
Previous research found that a visit to the Botanical Garden was positively associated with environmental attitudes and knowledge (Williams, Jones, Gibbons, & Clubbe, 2015). This study indicated that botanical gardens strongly prioritize the issue of public education and awareness. Knowledge of biodiversity and its conservation is often the common aim of environmental education. The philosophy is because increased knowledge creates better awareness and positive environmental attitudes in individuals. The study evaluated that whether visits to botanical gardens increases the ecological knowledge and environmental attitudes in visitors. 1054 individuals were surveyed across five botanical gardens in the United Kingdom. The individuals were interviewed twice, as per the protocol of the study. The study incorporated a qualitative approach based on the subjective feelings of the viewer. They were interviewed before entry and after leaving the botanical garden regarding their perceptions of environmental awareness and sustainability. The study reflected that visit to botanical gardens strongly influenced positive attitudes in viewers. However, visits did not significantly changed the knowledge level of these viewers. Since more than 300 million visitors visit botanical gardens all over the world, implementing educational and environmental awareness through the visit to botanical gardens was regarded as one of the important strategies in ensuring the chances of environmental sustainability. Such visits may help in improving conservation of plants and other abiotic resources. The study endorsed the necessity for various educational and learning programs to increase awareness of environmental sustainability.
Settle and colleagues (2014) found that farmer field schools in Mali effectively changed the local farmers’ environmental behaviors (i.e. reducing the use of pesticide). The authors reported the findings of a combination of two studies form the cotton-growing region of Mali. In one sector, the farmers were engaged in a farmer field school (FFS) training program since 2003. The Sustainable Communities Field School is a collaborative and innovative educational program, which was designed to engage employees of various local business communities and organizations. This was done to educate them regarding the importance regarding the sustainability of the environment. The other group was not exposed to such awareness and training programs. In the training programs, a primary education objective was to encourage the use of alternative measures against hazardous insecticides through awareness on Integrated Pest management techniques. The study revealed that even with 20% of the households receiving such training, the use of insecticide use fall by 92.5% compared to the control farmers (who did not receive training). Interestingly, the yields of cotton in both the group of farmers varied over time, but there was no evidence to indicate that such changes were brought through pest management services. Hence, the study reflected that use of insecticides and use of IPM services, could not establish the efficacy of any one measure over the other, concerning yield of cotton. Hence, it can be concluded that, with yield remaining the same, IPM would be a better option in providing sustainability to the environment, compared to the use of hazardous insecticides.
The study was a qualitative study based on subjective evaluation of participants. The subjects were assessed through interview questions, which demonstrated the qualitative aspects regarding their perceptions of environmental sustainability as produced by Field schools. The study was based on the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden’s Field School. The Field School addresses a variety of local sustainability topics including forest and biodiversity conservation, sustainable food systems, waste reduction, and water conservation. The study plan was such that the participants in the Field School were interviewed before the educational tour started. They were again interviewed at the end of the tour, to assess where there has been a shift of their perceptions before the educational tour initiated. A set of the interview was conducted on the general visitors of the botanical garden, to understand whether field schools are effective in ensuring environmental education.
A total of 109participants were included in the study. 75 participants, out of 109 participants filled out the pre-event surveys. Out of the 75 participants, 70 participants provided information on their gender (Refer Table 4-6 in Appendix for demographic information). Four local business groups in Vancouver, Canada participated in the Sustainable Communities Field School (i.e. Field School). The four business groups included the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Whole Foods, Vancouver Aquarium and the UBC Botanical Garden. The Field School participants filled out a survey questionnaire a week before coming to the Field School, which served as Field School pre-event group (n=74). 74 participants filled out the pre-event surveys before their tour. After the tour, they filled another survey questionnaire, which served as the Field School post-event group (n=96). 96 participants out of the 109 participants provided valid responses to the post-event surveys (screened by reverse score items on the questionnaire), which was used for data analysis.
67 participants (26 males, 41 females) who visited the UBC Botanical Garden (both the Canopy Walkway and Food Garden) during July, 2015 to September, 2015 were recruited as participants in the control group. During their departure at the gatehouse of the UBC Botanical Garden, they were also interviewed regarding the perceptions as interviewed in the Field School group (Refer Table 4-6 in Appendix for demographics).
The psychological measures for the survey, which was provided to the Field School participants and Botanical Garden visitors, were adapted from multiple environmental scales. These included Belief in Global Warming (Health and Gifford, 2006), Self-Efficacy (Health and Gifford, 2006), Specific Intention to Act (Bord O’Connor & Fisher, 2000), Eco-Centrism (Thompson & Barton, 1994), and Shortened Revised New Ecological Paradigm (Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig & Jones, 2000). Those measures were carried out in the form of a nine-point Likert scale. This scale measured the participants’ general attitude towards the environment, attitude toward climate change, perceived self-efficacy in exhibiting pro-environmental behaviors, as well as their intention for future environmental actions.
In addition, a measure was designed to assess the participants’ intention to take specific pro-environmental actions (i.e. “Willingness to engage in pro-environmental actions”). This measure included environmental actions based on their interests for preserving and protecting the components of forest, water, food and waste. Each category contained five specific environmental actions and an option of “none of the actions above” was provided. Participants were asked to choose any one action that they would be most willing to take in each category. This measure was carried out in two different questionnaires and activities, for the Field School participants and Botanical Garden visitors respectively.
In one action, the Field School participants were invited to participate in an interactive activity by inserting a poker chip to one of the six boxes, made of recycled cardboards that represented the six actions in each category. Each participant was given one chip to vote for one action in each category. In the other questionnaire, this measure was adapted to paper-based evaluation on the survey provided to the Botanical Garden visitors. The botanical garden visitors were also asked to choose one action in each category, with clear instructions given on the questionnaire.
Measure for willingness to take specific pro-environmental actions: “which action will you be most willing to take?”
Forest Water Food Waste
Option 1 Buy paper from sustainable source Install a low flush toilet Reduce meat consumption Bring your own coffee mug
Option 2 Sign a petition to save a forest Reduce shower time
Purchase organic food
Sort your waste
Option 3 Get into nature once a week
Do less laundry
Purchase fair trade food
Use cloth shopping bag
Option 4 Donate to forest conservation Turn off taps more often Grow your own food
Buy in bulk
Option 5 Volunteer for a local environmental NGO Use natural cleaning products
Reduce food waste
Recycle electronic waste
Option 6 None of the actions above None of the actions above None of the actions above None of the actions above
Note. Participants were asked to choose one action that they would be most willing to take in each category.
Materials and Procedure
The four groups of the Field School participants arrived at the UBC Botanical Garden on separate dates between June 2015 and August 2015. A pre-event survey form was distributed through emails a week before the tours, asking the Field School participants to fill out their demographic information as well as the psychological measures, which was placed on the 9 point Likert Scale. The responses of Field School participants’ to the pre-event questionnaire served as the perceptions of the pre-event control group. Upon the Field School participants’ arrival, a waiver for the Canopy Walkway and a consent form for the disclosure of media information were signed by the participants.
The participants were grouped into two teams, so that they could visit the Canopy Walkway and Food Garden separately at the same time. During the food garden tour and Canopy walk, the tour guides provided the participants with education on climate change, food system as well as environmental conservation. The first part of the interactive voting activity that covered the categories of “forest” and “water” were carried out on one of the canopy platforms. The second part of the interactive voting activity that covered the categories of “food” and “waste” was conducted at the end of the tour. After this voting activity, the Field School participants were asked to fill out the post-event survey that contained the same psychological measures as the pre-event surveys.
The Botanical Garden visitors were approached by a research assistant, to fill out a survey for a study being conducted at the UBC Botanical Garden, depending on their willingness. Those who agreed to participate in the study filled out a survey, which evaluated the areas of the Garden that they had visited. The same questions (which were asked to the participants of the field school) were asked to the visitors also. Demographic information, aforementioned psychological measures, the paper-based voting activity, were collected from such questionnaires too. The visitors who visited both the food garden and canopy walkways were included in the control group.
Statistical Analysis and Hypothesis Testing
The hypothesis tested contended for the rejection of the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis contended that there is no difference in mean responses from various groups interviewed in the study. Any difference must have happened due to chance factors associated with random sampling. The null hypothesis was considered to be accepted if the p-value for the ANOVA tests was found to be >0.05. On the other hand, rejection of null hypothesis or acceptance of alternate hypothesis indicated that there is statistically significant difference, in mean responses from various groups interviewed in the study. Any difference has not happened due to chance factors associated with random sampling. Therefore, the null hypothesis could be rejected based on the p-value for the ANOVA tests if found to be <0.05. Hence, acceptance of alternate hypothesis would indicate that Field Schools significantly affected the educational awareness in study participants.
The mean score and standard deviation of the participants’ responses to each question were calculated and presented for analysis. The three groups (Field School pre-event group, Field school post-event group, and Botanical Garden visitors) were considered as independent groups. One-way ANOVA or Welch ANOVA, was used to find if there was any significant difference between the mean scores of the responses of the three groups’ responses. The responses were included depending on the assumption of homogeneity of variances. The Levene’s test for homogeneity as applicable for one-way Anova or Welch Anova was carried out, to reduce the chances of experimental bias in responses.
For the questions that violated the homogeneity of variances, a Welch ANOVA was performed instead. Once a between-group difference was found by either one-way or Welch ANOVA, a follow-up Tukeyor Games-Howell post hoc test was used, respectively, to locate the group difference.
Evaluation of the Psychological Measures
Using One-way ANOVA, a statistically significant difference [F(2, 230)=4.74, p=0.01] was noted between the Field School pre-event control group (n=74, mean=6.01, standard deviation=1.41), Field School post-event group (n=95, mean=6.28, standard deviation=1.48), and the Botanical Garden visitors (n=64, mean=5.56, standard deviation=1.46).
The difference was noted in the question of “how knowledgeable do you feel about environmental issues?”A follow-up Tukey posthoc test found, that the Field School post-event experimental group showed a higher level of agreement to this question than the Botanical Garden visitors (p=0.007, refer Table 2). This difference has interpreted a result of the environmental education provided by the Field School.
Question: “how knowledgeable do you feel about environmental issues?”
Group name n Mean (SD) Confidence interval One-way ANOVA results Post Hoc p-value
Field School pre 74 6.01 (1.41) [5.69, 6.34] F(2, 230)=4.74, p=.01 p=.007(field school post vs. garden visitors)
Field School post 95 6.28 (1.48) [5.98, 6.59] Botanical Garden visitors 64 5.56 (1.46) [5.20, 5.93] Note: this is an original question created by the authors, aiming to measure the participants’ perceived level of knowledge about environmental issues.
Concerning the response “I need time in nature to be happy”, a significant difference was noted, by Welch ANOVA between Field School pre-event group, Field School post-event group and Botanical Garden visitors [F(2, 132.4)=3.35, p=0.038]. According to the follow-up Games-Howell posthoc test, it was found, that the Field School post-event experimental group reported a higher level of agreement with the statement that “I need time in nature to be happy” compared to the Botanical Garden visitors (p=0.034, refer Table 3). This difference was also attributed to the environmental education provided by the Field School.
Question: “ I need time in nature to be happy. ”
Group name n Mean (SD) Confidence interval Welch ANOVA results Post Hoc p-value
Field School pre 70 8.03 (1.48) [7.67, 8.38] F(2, 132.4)=3.35, P=0.038 0.034 (field school Post vs. Garden visitors)
Field School post 95 8.08 (1.29) [7.82, 8.35] Botanical Garden visitors 64 7.44 (1.74) [7.00, 7.87] A marginally significant difference between the three groups was found in the question “concerns about climate change guide my voting behavior” [F(2, 224)=2.74, p=0.066] by one-way ANOVA. By Tukey posthoc test, it was found that the Field School post-event experimental group (n=94, mean=7.40, standard deviation=1.82) showed a higher level of agreement with this statement than the Field School pre-event control group (n=72, mean=6.75, standard deviation=1.76) at p=0.056 (refer Table 3). This marginally significant difference was attributed to the environmental education and natural environment to which the participants were exposed.
Question: “Concerns about climate change guide my voting.”
Group name n Mean (SD) Confidence interval One-way ANOVA results Post Hoc p-value
Field School pre 72 6.75 (1.76) [6.34,7.16] F(2, 224)=2.74, P=0.066 0.056 (Field School pre vs. Field School post)
Field School post 94 7.40 (1.82) [7.03, 7.78] Botanical Garden visitors 61 7.06 (1.79) [6.87,7.34] Discussion & Conclusion
The goal of the current study was to investigate how the Field School curriculum influenced environmental awareness and behaviors. From the psychological measures used in this study, it was revealed that, as a result of the education provided by the Field School, Field School participants reported the higher level of perceived environmental knowledge, as well as greater desire to be nature to feel happy, compare to the Botanical Garden visitors. Additionally, Field School participants expressed their willingness to take the issues of climate change, in their voting behavior, after they participated in the Field School.
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