Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 8:00 AM

OOS 42-1: This I believe: Pedagogical approaches for exploring environmental worldviews and controversies in ecology classrooms

Loren B. Byrne, Roger Williams University

Background/Question/Methods An individual’s worldview includes many environmental dimensions including perspectives on nature and humanity’s place in it, and beliefs about ecological science and environmental movements. Although worldviews strongly influence individuals’ day-to-day decisions, ethical perspectives and interpretations of societal issues that have broader ecological relevance, they often remain subconscious and are rarely discussed explicitly. However, divergent, latent worldviews often fuel many socio-environmental controversies (e.g., climate change, biodiversity conservation). Such debates provide rich, teachable moments for environmental educators. However, rather than present them as simple “us-versus-them” battles, these controversies provide rich opportunities to reveal and explore diverse environmental beliefs with students and have them articulate aspects of their own worldviews. This talk’s objective is to present pedagogical approaches for achieving these two learning outcomes. The first is a writing assignment in which National Public Radio’s “This I believe” project is used to guide students’ self reflection and writing about personal environmental beliefs. A second approach is to have students analyze and synthesize a set of scholarly and popular articles that have divergent conclusions. Third, the “blogosphere” and comment threads on websites can be utilized to reveal the variety of passionate viewpoints generated by an issue and catalyze productive classroom discussions.

Results/Conclusions Use of these approaches in several undergraduate ecology-related courses generated evidence that most students achieved the learning outcomes. In several classes, students successfully articulated influences on their environmental beliefs in their “This I believe” essays which provided fodder for valuable classroom discussions about how life experiences shape core beliefs and worldviews. In addition, student articulation of what is important to them helped connect them more personally to course content. In an environmental science course, students analyzed articles about climate change and were able to critically evaluate rhetorical approaches used by authors (as in a book chapter by Glenn Beck) and comment on how worldviews may shape interpretations of socio-environmental issues. In a conservation biology course, comment threads associated with news stories about wolf hunting revealed conflicting views about this controversial issue. In the classroom, biology students expressed shock and dismay that some people held strong pro-hunting, anti-environmentalist views. This and other examples helped students appreciate that diverse worldviews must be considered when attempting to resolve socio-environmental problems. Thus, helping students explore their own and others’ worldviews is an important pedagogical consideration in ecology classrooms so that students are better prepared to effectively communicate with people about controversial socio-environmental issues.