Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 4:20 PM

COS 40-9: Functional ecoliteracy: A transdisciplinary construct based on improving quality of life

Bryan H. Nichols, University of South Florida


As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, people are becoming superficially insulated from nature and losing ecological knowledge at an unprecedented rate. Unfortunately, efforts to increase science literacy are faltering, and environmental and ecological literacy have been used and defined in so many ways that educators, policy makers and researchers often have trouble deciding how to achieve or even measure them. This talk will introduce the construct of functional ecoliteracy, which is based on a very pragmatic question: what does an individual or society need to know to maintain or improve quality of life?

Functional ecoliteracy is therefore an apolitical, transdisciplinary construct rooted in a universal human desire. The researcher, a marine ecologist, science journalist and science educator, undertook an extensive literature search and review across numerous disciplines, including environmental and ecological literacies, ecojustice, sustainability, ecological consciousness, environmental ethics and philosophy, and current psychology and education research. The essential theories, domains & components of numerous viewpoints were extracted and assembled into graphical form (an analysis mind map), then assessed against the underlying vision (quality of life) with the help of a modified Nadler matrix.

The resulting construct analysis suggested four primary domains: content knowledge, sense of place, respect for other and cognitive skills. As the construct was designed to be culturally relevant, flexible and adaptive, each domain can be broken down into sets of primary and secondary components, subject to ongoing evolution and validation. A behavioral domain was deliberately omitted, as functional ecoliteracy is meant to be an educational construct rather than a form of social marketing. However, two of the domains do not typically show up in traditional science literacy formulations. The ethical domain requires moral development, placing the construct in the context of new research on socioscientific issues and ecojustice. Sense of place includes the connection to nature that significant life experience research indicates is important to the formation of environmental attitudes, and has implications for the education of children as well as communities in our increasingly mobile society.

Ongoing validation of components is important, and input will be sought from experts and practitioners across disciplines and nations, using surveys, conferences, and collaborative online tools. The results will be helpful to researchers, educators and policy makers, providing an ongoing measure of what skills and knowledge that individuals, communities and nations need to have in order to maintain their quality of life in a rapidly changing world.