First Advisor

Marion Dresner

Date of Publication

Spring 6-5-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Earth, Environment, & Society


Earth, Environment, & Society




Service learning -- Study and teaching (Middle school) -- Oregon -- Portland, Service learning -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- Oregon -- Portland, Environmental education -- Study and teaching (Middle school) -- Oregon -- Portland, Environmental education -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- Oregon -- Portland, Restoration ecology -- Study and teaching (Middle school) -- Oregon -- Portland, Restoration ecology -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (xvi, 321 pages)


Environmental service-learning is an intentional educational experience(s) wherein learners engage in meaningful activities designed to serve the environment. Environmental service-learning activities vary according to their learning and service goals and include ecomanagement, persuasion, legal action, economic action and political action. The purpose of this mixed methods research was to explore the ecological and educational impacts of grades 6-12 environmental education, with special attention to environmental service-learning throughout Portland, Oregon.

Ecological impacts considered restoration and conservation outcomes of several environmental service-learning programs including plant communities, soils, litter removal and trail maintenance. Educational outcomes considered aspects of environmental literacy including locus of control, environmental sensitivity, indicated environmentally responsible behaviors, investigating environmental issues and knowledge of physical systems. The relative influence of some significant life experiences on youths' response to environmental education, including environmental service-learning, was also considered. Telephone surveys were used to gather data from 22 Portland metropolitan area environmental education programs. Data included 2014 annual biophysical impacts (e.g., area of invasive species removed, pounds of litter removed) and information on programming (e.g., length of program, % time outside). Eleven programs administered a 33-question environmental literacy assessment to participants of their programs (n=393). The assessment included the New Environmental Paradigm, the Inclusion of Nature in Self, questions from Environmental Identity Scale and self-constructed questions. One 8th grade program was identified for a detailed case study. In this 8th grade programs, slight variations in educational activities occurred among three treatment groups which varied the amount of time youth spent engaged in ecomanagement. Youth from the three treatment groups and a control group were administered the environmental literacy assessment at the beginning and end of the program. Qualitative data for the youth in the treatment groups were gathered to further consider how environmental literacy was impacted by participation in the program.

Stronger associational correlations to environmental literacy occurred for the percentage of time an environmental education program spent outdoors rather than the percentage of time an environmental education program engaged in environmental service-learning (e.g., "With other people, I can work to make a positive impact on the environment." rho: .276 vs. "I have the skills necessary to make a positive impact on the environment" rho: .176). Random forests indicated that environmental education program features and some significant life experiences could predict collapsed environmental literacy variables (locus of control, environmental sensitivity and environmentally responsible behaviors). 22.4% of the variance in a collapsed environmental sensitivity variable was explained by nine predictor variables; those variables with the strongest influence were youth response to "Before this program, how frequently did you spend time in the outdoors," age and the presence of a positive adult role model who cares for the environment. Youth participating in environmental education programs showed higher environmental literacy than control groups (e.g., "I feel an important part of my life would be missing if I couldn't get out and enjoy nature from time to time" U: 3642.500, p: 0.025). Youth with significant formative life experiences (e.g., those indicating previous environmental education or a positive adult role model that cares for the environment) responded better (higher environmental literacy) to environmental education than those youth without ("I pay special attention to things outdoors" chi 10.633, p: 0.031).

This research provides insight on the efficacy of environmental service-learning. Environmental service-learning positively affected environmental literacy, but outdoor environmental education was more effective in terms of environmental literacy. Results corroborate the body of literature regarding significant life experiences. Further, results suggest that significant life experiences are a critical development milestone necessary for youth to respond to environmental education on a developmental trajectory to empowered environmentally literate citizens.


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