The Cognitive and Attitudinal Effects of a Conservation Educational Module on Elementary School Students
By Dimopoulos, Dimitrios Paraskevopoulos, Stefanos; Pantis, John D
ABSTRACT: The ability of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos (NMPZ) in Greece to protect an important sea turtle rookery will ultimately depend on the level of local support and involvement that it receives. Therefore, it is essential for environmental educators to generate among local inhabitants, starting at early ages, positive attitudes concerning the NMPZ. The authors designed a conservation educational module, with 15 activities, to affect knowledge and attitudes of elementary school students. The authors used a quasi-experimental design for summative evaluation with a pretest-posttest control and experimental group to measure the effects on 4 dependent variables: (a) knowledge, (b) understanding and concern, (c) locus of control, and (d) verbal commitment. The survey instrument comprised 32 items that the authors divided into 4 subscales that measured the dependent variables. In total, 332 elementary school students-162 girls and 170 boys, 11-13 years of age-from 21 classes and 15 schools participated. The results indicated a significant effect on knowledge (low pretest scores), but not on attitudes (high pretest scores). However, posttest correlations in the experimental group indicated that as knowledge level increased, students’ (a) locus of control and (b) understanding and concern for the sea turtle issue became more defensible. The study thus provides a model for environmental educators to design conservation education modules to foster positive attitudes in managing endangered species in protected areas. KEYWORDS: Caretta caretta, conservation, environmental education, evaluation, protected areas, sea turtles, Zakynthos
The National Marine Park of Zakynthos (NMPZ) was established in Greece in 1999 (Dimopoulos, 2001) with the prime objective of managing the major sea turtle (Caretta caretta) rookery in the Mediterranean Sea. As with all protected areas (Pyrovetsi & Daoutopoulos, 1997; Schuett & Ostergren, 2003), the viability and success of the NMPZ will ultimately depend on the level of local support and involvement that it receives. Public involvement has become increasingly important in implementing wildlife management measures (Bright & Tarrant, 2002; International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, 1994).
Therefore, it is essential that, through organized educational interventions, knowledge and attitudes of local inhabitants regarding wildlife conservation be influenced by the National Park Authority to generate positive behavior toward sea turtle conservation. Educational interventions can effectively improve environmental behavior (Zelezny, 1999). Environmental education (EE) is now widely acknowledged as an important tool in promoting nature conservation (Fien, 2001; Loughland, Reid, Walker, & Petocz, 2003), and extension programs for populations living in or near the protected areas are a common management activity (Ham, Sutherland, & Meganck, 1993).
The results vary, but it appears that exposure to EE in the classroom has at least a minimal effect on knowledge and attitudes. Researchers have reported significant gains of knowledge after 1- day and 5-day programs (Bogner, 1998) and positive changes in attitudes after 2-10 hr of classroom instructions (Leeming, Dwyer, Porter, & Cobern, 1993). Aivazidis, Lazaridou, and Hellden (2006) reported significant positive changes in knowledge and attitudes among 13-14-year-old students following 7.5 hr of classroom interventions.
Children acquire knowledge and develop attitudes toward the environment as early as kindergarten (Leeming, Dwyer, & Bracken, 1995). Children are also more open to innovations than are previous generations; children have a creative potential and can become involved in practical action to protect the environment (Trudel, 1995). Therefore, it would be advantageous that educational interventions start at an early stage before children establish complex conceptual frameworks concerning environmental and social issues (Francis, Boyes, Qualter, & Stanisstreet, 1993).
To assess the effectiveness of EE programs, it is vital for researchers and educators to resort to evaluation (Bennett, 1988- 1989; Marcinkowski, 1997). Evaluation provides feedback loops that are critical to the ongoing design of better programs (McLoughlin & Young, 2005).
The purpose of this study was to construct a conservation educational module for elementary school students and to evaluate whether the independent-variable application of an EE module caused a real change to four dependent variables that we selected for this study: (a) knowledge of basic sea turtle biology and existing conservation measures (entry-level variable), (b) understanding and concern for the Zakynthos sea turtle issue (ownership variable), (c) locus of control (empowerment variable), and (d) verbal commitment to sea turtle conservation (empowerment variable).
We adapted the variables from the Hungerford and Volk (1990) Behavior Flow Chart as predictors of responsible environmental behavior (Emmons, 1997): (a) entry-level variables-knowledge of ecology, environmental sensitivity, androgyny, attitudes toward pollution, technology, and economics; (b) ownership variables-in- depth knowledge about issues, personal investment in issues and the environment, knowledge of consequences of both positive and negative behavior, and a personal commitment to issue resolution; and (c) empowerment variables-knowledge of and skill in using environmental action strategies, locus of control, intention to act, and in-depth knowledge about issues.
Furthermore, Chawla and Flanders Cushing (2007) drew a parallel between Hungerford’s (Hungerford & Volk, 1990) predictor variables and the more recent value-belief-norm theory summarized by Stern (2000), thus providing additional validity to the model that we used in the construction of the conservation educational module that we applied for the purpose of this study.
The null hypotheses guiding this study were that in the control and experimental groups, the scores of the four dependent variables will remain the same between first administration and second administration of the questionnaire. In reality, this hypothesis means that the implementation of the conservation educational module in the experimental group will have no significant effect on the four dependent variables and that the control group scores will not change significantly between the two administrations of the questionnaire.
For the purpose of this study, we used a quasi-experimental design for summative evaluation with a pretest-posttest control group and an experimental group (Kruse & Card, 2004; Lindemann- Matthies, 2005). This design is recommended by researchers when they cannot randomly assign students to programs, but must work with whole classes. Some classes that are not getting the experimental program can form nonequivalent control (nonrandomized) groups (Aivazidis et al., 2006; Fitz-Gibbon & Morris, 1987).
The evaluation instrument consisted of a questionnaire that we designed for the purpose of the study (Dimopoulos & Pantis, 2003). Questionnaires are particularly well suited to measuring knowledge, understanding, and thinking skills (Bennett, 1984).
After close consultation with two elementary school teachers and two professors of education, we chose the questions to suit the intellectual and environmental background of the children (Williams & McCrorie, 1990). All items included an “I do not know/I am not sure” option (Cox, 1996). The questionnaire was anonymous to avoid social desirability in answering questions (Streiner & Norman, 1989). Certain questions were keyed in a negative direction to minimize response set (Iarossi, 2006; Oppenheim, 1993).
The questionnaire contained 32 items divided into four subscales. Each subscale measured one of the four dependent variables that we selected for the purpose of this study. The first subscale measured the dependent variable of knowledge on basic sea turtle biology and existing protection measures. It consisted of 13 closed multiple- choice questions with five response options, including one “I do not know/I am not sure” option. A sample of questions follows, with the correct reply in italics:
1. How many days do the eggs remain in the nest before the baby turtles come out? Response options: 10, 30, 60, 90
2. Where do sea turtles nest? Response options: on all beaches with fine sand, only on the beaches they were born on, on beaches that are on islands, on beaches with coarse sand
3. Out of a thousand baby turtles that reach the sea, how many survive to adulthood? Response options: 1-2, 50, 100, 500
4. Are sun umbrellas allowed on the nesting beaches of the National Park? Response options: everywhere, nowhere, only on certain parts, only on the wet sand
The second subscale measured the dependent variable of understanding and concern for the survival of sea turtles on Zakynthos. The subscale consisted of nine 5-point Likert-type questions ranging from 1 (not at all or very negative) to 5 (very much or very positive) and one closed multiple-choice question with five response options. These responses reflected meaningful insight into children’s attitudes (Van Es, Lorence, Morgan, & Church, 1996). A sample of the Likert-type questions follows: 1. Do you believe it is bad for us humans if sea turtles become extinct?
2. Do you think that sea turtles are really threatened with extinction?
3. Do you think that protecting sea turtles is good for the economy of Zakynthos?
The third subscale measured locus of control and consisted of three 5-point Likert-type questions ranging from 1 (not at all or very negative) to 5 (very much or very positive) and one closed multiplechoice question with six response options. A sample of the Likert-type questions follows:
1. Do you think you have a role in protecting sea turtles?
2. Do you think that you could better protect sea turtles if you worked together with others?
The fourth subscale measured the level of verbal commitment to sea turtle conservation and consisted of five 5-point Likert-type questions ranging from 1 (not at all or very negative) to 5 (very much or very positive). A sample of the questions follows:
1. Would you wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning to protect the sea turtle nests?
2. Would you write a letter to the Minister of Environment to ask for more protection of sea turtles?
We scored the 13 knowledge questions so that 1 reflected a correct answer and 0 reflected a wrong answer. We considered the “I do not know/I am not sure” option as a wrong answer. Scores were summed so that the total score reflected the number of correct answers for each student (e.g., a score of 13 indicated that all questions were answered correctly). The score per subscale was calculated as a percentage of the total score for each student.
Reliability and Validity of Survey Instrument
We completed the survey instrument twice in a class of 24 fourth and fifth graders at an interval of 14 days to determine stability (test-retest reliability) (Streiner & Norman, 1989). The sample size was similar to that used by Sia, Hungerford, and Tomera (1986) to determine stability. The test-retest reliability value was .67 (n = 23, significant at the .01 alpha level). The value for test-retest reliability was acceptably high, because-according to Streiner and Norman (1989)-stability measure must be over .50. The test-retest reliability was also consistent with the r values accepted by other researchers (Culen & Volk, 2000; Musser & Diamond, 1999). A panel of teachers and experts reviewed and accepted the instrument for content validity (Litwin, 1995; Ozgul & Andersen, 2004).
The Cronbach’s alpha correlation coefficient for internal consistency was .72 (n = 257) for the whole instrument. Cronbach’s alpha correlation coefficients for each of the four dependent variables were .40 for knowledge, .51 for understanding and concern, .49 for locus of control, and .71 for verbal commitment. Low Cronbach values (.40) for knowledge variable suggest that random guessing occurred (Leeming et al., 1995). This inference is further supported by a study conducted among fifth and sixth graders in Greece that showed limited knowledge about plants and animals in general (Paraskevopoulos, Padeliadou, & Zafiropoulos, 1998). Similarly, Korfiatis, Stamou, and Paraskevopoulos (2004) pointed out that there are no courses that specialize in EE and ecology in the curriculum of Greek primary schools. Similarly, a Cronbach’s alpha value of .46 was accepted for a subscale of seven items in a questionnaire measuring environmental literacy among 8-9-year-old students (Chu et al., 2007).
Furthermore, Smith-Sebasto and Semrau (2004) considered a questionnaire with Cronbach’s alpha coefficient .70 as having a highly internal consistency. Hence, the survey instrument consisting of 32 items had a relatively good internal consistency because of the age group for which it was intended and the fact that it was deemed by the authors more important to include certain items at the expense of internal consistency (Litwin, 1995; McDowell & Newell, 1996; Musser & Diamond, 1999).
The sample frame was all the schools on the island of Zakynthos, Greece. We defined the sample unit at the class level.
Participants were 332 students (162 girls, 170 boys from 21 whole classes and 15 schools). Ages ranged from 11 to 13 years. In this age group, children shift to more realistic thinking and develop an awareness of conservation needs for animals (Myers, Saunders, & Garrett, 2004).
Experimental and Control Groups
We assigned 16 whole classes from eight schools (178 students in sum) to the experimental group, which received the treatment (application of conservation education module). We chose 14 whole classes from seven different schools (154 students in sum) for the control group, and for this purpose we did not give the 14 classes any treatment. Similarly, other researchers (Aivazidis et al., 2006; Ramsey, 1993) have used a control group from schools other than those used for the experimental group.
The Conservation Educational Module
The construction approach. We based the module on the case study format, also referred to as extended case study, for the investigation of issues (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). The case study format was selected for the design of the module because it provides the instructor with a substantial amount of flexibility and control. The instructor can choose the issue, determine methods to be used, and make decisions concerning the depth to which the issue will be analyzed. It is an instructional method that can be used for learners in fifth and sixth grades too (Hungerford & Volk, 1998).
We based the planning of the instructional module on Hungerford, Volk, Dixon, Marcinkowski, and Sia’s (1988) General Teaching Model (GTM). The model is presented in Figure 1. The GTM schematic diagram illustrates components of the instructional process that those researchers recommended for preparing for instruction. Parts A, B2, and C represent the critical components of instruction (i.e., the instructional [learner] objectives, the content and methods to be used, and posttesting). Pretesting (B1) must also be considered as a critical component when needed in the instructional process. All components are interrelated.
The module aimed at affecting the four selected dependent variables (knowledge, understanding/ concern, locus of control, and verbal commitment). There were 7 activities that addressed the knowledge variable, 12 activities that addressed the understanding and concern variable, 11 activities that addressed the locus of control variable, and 11 activities that addressed the verbal commitment variable. The correspondence of each activity to the four selected dependent variables is presented in Table 1.
We designed the 15 activities in accordance with the four instructional subgoals of EE (Hungerford & Volk, 1990): (a) Goal Level I-the Ecological Foundations Level, which aims to provide learners with that knowledge that can help them make ecologically sound environmental decisions; (b) Goal Level II-the Conceptual Awareness Level, which aims to develop a conceptual awareness of how human behavior can influence the environment; (c) Goal Level III- the Investigation and Evaluation Level, which provides for the development of knowledge and skills needed for issue investigation, evaluation, and values clarification; and (d) Goal Level IV-Action Skills Level Training and Application, which aims to develop those skills important to citizenship action. Of the 15 activities, 7 address EE Goal Level I; 11 address EE Goal Levels II and III; and 8 address EE Goal Level IV (see Table 1).
All activities were active-learning oriented, and such orientation is essential in EE (Cohen, 1994) and is more efficient than traditional learning methods (Kjellin, Naslund, & Stenfors, 2003). Studies reveal that learning experience is enhanced with the active participation and cooperation of the students (Devine- Wright, Devine-Wright, & Fleming, 2004).
The specific teaching or learning strategies that we used in this study were the following: instructions, reading, text writing, lectures, questions, discussion, slide presentations, artwork or drawing, observation and comparison, field survey, critical thinking, belief or value analysis, and simulation and gaming (Askell-Williams & Lawson, 2005; Bailey, 2002; Cheng & Stimpson, 2004; Engleson & Yockers, 1994; Ernst & Monre, 2004; Hewitt, 1997; Lijmbach, Margadant-Van Arcken, Van Koppen, & Wals, 2002; Malone, 2004).
Description of activities. The conservation educational module included 15 activities, which students in the experimental group completed either during class or outside school, and either individually or in groups. A short description of the activities applied to the experimental group follows. Activity 1 involved a slide presentation on basic ecological principles (i.e., environment, food web, biodiversity, endangered species, extinction). By using old postcards and family stories, students in Activity 2 researched how nesting beaches were 20-30 years ago and compared them with how they are today. Activity 3 involved a slide presentation on basic sea turtle biology and ecology, natural and human-induced threats, the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in sea turtle conservation, and the purpose of the NMPZ and local participation. In Activity 4, students ranked photographs of a pristine and a developed nesting beach and drew conclusions about which beach the turtles preferred. In Activity 5, students drew onto paper pictures of how the nesting beaches look today and how they visualized them to be in 20 years. For Activity 6, students wrote letters from the point of view of a turtle that had returned after many years to her natal beach and found it unsuitable for nesting. They described her disappointment and what she needed to be able to nest. Activity 7 involved a slide presentation on basic conservation measures and the purpose of the NMPZ. In Activity 8, students identified and analyzed the beliefs and values of players or stakeholders involved in the sea turtle issue (e.g., landowners, speedboat owners, local authorities, conservationists). In Activity 9, students wrote a letter to a local newspaper and to the Minister of Environment requesting effective measures for sea turtles and alternative solutions for landowners who had been affected by protection measures. Activity 10 involved a slide presentation on the concept of zoning within the NMPZ. In Activity 11, students picked out items (e.g., seashells, fishing nets, fishing hooks) from a box and explained how they related to the sea turtle issue. Activity 12 was a game in which students in a circle impersonated items that were related to sea turtles (i.e., sand, seashell, fisherman, lights, speedboat). The students on the circumference of the circle were connected by a ribbon to a student in the center of the circle identified as the sea turtle. The students on the circumference then explained their relationships to the turtle. In Activity 13, a questionnaire with five items was prepared by the students and completed by their families to record their opinions on the sea turtle issue. In Activity 14, students assumed the roles of stakeholders or players (i.e., landowners, conservationists) involved in the sea turtle issue and supported their interests in a debate held in the classroom. In Activity 15, students discussed and drafted the objectives of an NGO that they planned to establish with the aim of protecting sea turtles. Data collection and implementation of educational module. We obtained a permit from the Institute of Pedagogy and the Department of Education of the Ministry of Education to visit the schools. Normally, teachers were not present during the completion of questionnaires and the implementation of the activities (Richardson, Politikou, Terzidou, Maka, & Kokkevi, 2006).
Students within the experimental and control groups completed the same questionnaire for both the pretest and posttest measurements. Dimopoulos delivered the questionnaire to all classes. All participants completed the pretest questionnaire on average 18 days before we applied treatment to the experimental group. Our timing was similar to that of other researchers (Dettmann-Easler & Pease, 1999). On average, it took students 27.2 min to complete the pretest questionnaire.
Dimopoulos implemented 13 of the 15 activities during seven visits to every class (13 teaching hr in sum) of the experimental group. Following instructions that he gave in class, students conducted the two remaining activities (Activity 2 and Activity 13) at home. However, they discussed results at school with Dimopoulos. Homework is known to stimulate interactions, interest, and knowledge transfer between parents and students (Vaughan, Gack, Solorazano, & Ray, 1999).
The students of both groups completed the posttest questionnaire an average of 63 days after we applied treatment to the experimental group. On average, it took students 24.2 min to complete the posttest questionnaire. Although many researchers have selected smaller periods of time that range from 3 days to 1 month for completion of posttest questionnaires (Ballantyne, Connell, & Fien, 1998; Powell & Wells, 2002; Randler, Ilg, & Kern, 2005), in the present study we preferred a longer period to assess the effects of the module, as other researchers have done (Dettmann-Easler & Pease, 1999; Hsu, 2004). Looy and Wood (2006) delivered a posttest questionnaire 8-12 weeks later to account for the possibility that simply completing a questionnaire on attitudes may trigger thought and discussion over time, thus affecting a participant’s attitudes.
The unit of statistical analysis was the class because we applied the treatment to whole classes. Individual children in a class do not constitute independent experimental units because they are all taught by the same teacher and interact in various ways with each other (Leeming et al., 1993; Lindemann-Matthies, 2002, 2005). Similarly, other researchers have used class means as a unit of analysis (Culen & Volk, 2000; Powell & Wells, 2002; Smith-Sebasto, 2001).
Because the sample sizes were smaller than 20, and because three of the four dependent variables were skewed to the upper end, we used nonparametric statistics because they require fewer assumptions about population distribution (Agresti & Finlay, 1997; Foster, 2001). We used the Wilcoxon Signed Ranks test for within-subject comparisons and the Mann-Whitney U test for between-subjects comparisons. Other researchers have used nonparametric statistical tests to analyze sample sizes smaller than 20 (Gerakis, 1998; Randler et al., 2005).
We used Pearson correlation coefficient r to determine test- retest reliability of evaluation instrument. To express the extent to which the dependent variables varied together, the Spearman rank (rho) correlation, as a nonparametric statistical analysis, was used. It must be noted that correlation does not imply causation (Foster, 2001). The SPSS statistical package was used for data analysis (Howard, 2002; Randler et al., 2005), and a priori alpha of .05 was established for statistical significance (Bright & Tarrant, 2002; Hsu, 2004).
Pretest Descriptive Statistics for Experimental and Control Groups
Because the Mann-Whitney test indicated that statistically significant differences did not exist on a pretest basis (Mann- Whitney U = 84.00, p = .244, for knowledge; Mann-Whitney U = 91.50, p = .394, for understanding and concern; Mann-Whitney U = 109.00, p = .901, for locus of control; and Mann-Whitney U = 90.50, p = .371, for verbal commitment), we considered the experimental and control groups to be equal.
Pretest and Posttest Measurements for Experimental and Control Groups
The mean scores and standard deviations for each of the four dependent variables, before and after the treatment, for both the experimental and control groups are shown in Table 2. Pretest scores for both control and treatment groups were low on knowledge (M = 33.28, SD = 7.06 for the experimental group, and M = 29.55, SD = 7.99 for the control group) but were relatively high on the other three dependent variables (ranging from M = 77.08, SD = 7.91 to M = 85.29, SD = 6.13). All posttest mean scores for both groups were higher on all variables except the variable of verbal commitment.
On the knowledge score, the experimental group showed a 90.87% increase (pretest M = 33.28, SD = 7.06 and posttest M = 63.52, SD = 8.78), whereas the control group showed only a 9.68% increase (pretest M = 29.55, SD = 7.99 and posttest M = 32.41, SD = 8.61). On the variable of understanding and concern, the experimental classes showed a 1.06% increase, whereas the control group showed a 3.23% increase. On the variable of locus of control, the experimental group showed an increase of .98%, whereas the control group showed an increase of 1.15%. In contrast, the verbal commitment scores showed a decrease of 1.22% in the experimental group and one of 1.49% in the control group.
The Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test indicated that only the knowledge variable differed significantly between the pretest and posttest measurements both within the control group (Z = .2.009, p = .045) and the experimental group (Z = .3.516, p = .0005; Table 2). However, a Mann-Whitney test between posttest scores of both groups showed that the class mean scores for knowledge (Mann- Whitney U = .000, p = .0005) were significantly higher in the experimental group than in the control group (Table 3). Consequently, only the null hypotheses that knowledge scores would not change in the control and experimental groups were rejected. Hence, from the preceding data, the authors can infer that, overall, the educational intervention had a significant effect on the knowledge score and no statistically significant effect on the three other variables of the experimental group.
Correlations Between Dependent Variables Before and After Treatment
Correlations between scores on the four dependent variables during the first administration of the questionnaire were not statistically significant in both the control and experimental groups. Correlations remained statistically nonsignificant for the control group also after second administration of the questionnaire. However, for the experimental group, significant and positive correlations emerged between the variable of knowledge and that of understanding and concern (r = .638, p = .008, significant at the .01 level, two-tailed), and between the variable of understanding and concern and that of locus of control (r = .540 and p = .031, significant at the .05 level, two-tailed).
In other words, in the experimental group, after treatment, as the score of knowledge increased, so did the score of understanding and concern. Similarly, as the score of understanding and concern increased, so did the score of locus of control.
The results indicate that the conservation education module had a significant effect on the knowledge of fifth and sixth graders in Zakynthos concerning basic sea turtle biology and existing protection measures within the NMPZ. Knowledge scores of the experimental group rose by 90.8%. This finding is consistent with those of other researchers who have evidenced significant gains of knowledge following 1-5-day programs among 12-13-year-old students (Bogner, 1998); a 1.5-hr program on endangered species for elementary school students (Ballantyne et al., 1998); and a 4- day visit to a bird sanctuary for 6-15-year-old students (Blanchard, 1995). In counterpoint, other researchers have not observed significant gains in knowledge after educational programs (cf. Edwards et al. as cited in Leeming et al., 1993). Unexpectedly, students of the control group scored significantly higher (increase by 9.68%, p = .045) on knowledge during posttest administration of questionnaire. However, this is congruent with the results from Randler et al. (2005). Students are known to perform better on posttest simply because they are more familiar with the test the second time (Bogner, 1998; Gerakis, 1998). It is also possible that some teachers discussed the answers to the questions in class after the first administration.
The treatment did not yield a significant change in the scores of the attitude variables in the experimental group. Similarly, we observed nonsignificant changes in the control group. This finding may be attributable to the fact that pretest attitude scores were already high (Gerakis, 1998; Leeming et al., 1993). The overall result of this study is congruent with the findings of other studies with high pretest attitude scores (Ballantyne et al., 1998; Smith- Sebasto & Semrau, 2004). Significant changes in attitude scores after educational programs are observable only in cases in which the level of positive attitude in the pretest is generally low (Blanchard, 1995; Hsu & Roth, 1999; Wilson & Tomera, 1980).
The decrease in the posttest scores of the variable of verbal commitment is attributable to the facts that knowledge is likely to lead to moderate positions rather than extreme positions (Ramsey & Rickson, 1976) and that awareness of personal impacts may be empowering but can be overwhelming too (Meyer & Munson, 2005). It is possible that a high cognitive level may lead to a better understanding of the social implications surrounding the conservation of sea turtles in the NMPZ; therefore, it may make students more realistic in how they formulate and express their positions.
Correlations between the four variables before and after treatment indicate a pretest pattern in how the experimental group’s students replied. It seems that while students, after treatment, acquired more knowledge, they became more defensible in their understanding and concern for the sea turtle issue and in their belief that their personal actions can influence sea turtle conservation. This explanation by no means denotes causality. It simply implies a simultaneous change in three dependent variables. In the present study, the reinforcement of students’ understanding and concern and their locus of control were consistent with those of other studies (e.g., Newhouse, 1990) in which participants’ completion of an environmental study course did not lead to significant changes in attitudes; it did, however, lead to a defensible attitude.
The point that we make in this study is that when attitude scores are already high, the application of an educational program that may lead to a significant increase in knowledge level may strengthen and further reinforce the students’ attitudes. In other words, students may better support and explain their existing positive attitudes regarding an environmental issue as their level of knowledge improves.
The conservation educational module, designed according to the extended case study approach and in accordance with the General Teaching Model, proved to be successful in increasing knowledge among elementary students on Zakynthos and in reinforcing their locus of control and their understanding and concern regarding the sea turtle issue. Because these are considered to be behavior predictor variables (Hungerford & Volk, 1990), they may in turn contribute to positive behavior toward the sea turtles and the NMPZ.
Therefore, the NMPZ Management Agency can use the module on a long-term basis to create future citizenry that will be knowledgeable and motivated to support the purposes of the National Park. Long-term and systematic implementation of EE modules is a prerequisite for effective learning results (Bogner, 1998) and in fostering pro-environmental attitudes (Lindemann-Matthies, 2005). Further, Chawla and Flanders Cushing (2007) claimed that educational programs for elementary school students should focus on local environmental issues and have an extended duration. Children, as present and future citizens, have concerns for the current and future environments: They are affected by environmental decision making and have a right to be involved in it (Barratt Hacking, Barratt, & Scott, 2007).
Of course, EE alone does not suffice to ensure the achievement of the purposes of the NMPZ. However, when combined with comprehensive governmental policies, EE may prove to be a significant contributing factor. The results can be better achieved if the Management Agency creates a partnership with local society, teachers (Bainer, Cantrell, & Barron, 2000), and NGOs (Cardwell & Mata, 2002; Fien, Scott, & Tilbury, 2002). In the long run, EE can influence local attitudes and behaviors and create a new social structure with either simple or more complex models of governance, local participation, and local involvement for managing protected areas sustainably.
Environmental researchers and educators should consider the following constraints: (a) The present study focused on only four of the Hungerford and Volk (1990) predictor variables, and this limitation may affect generalizability of results, and (b) the evaluation was based solely on the quantitative approach.
Notwithstanding the positive results of this study, additional research is necessary to address the above constraints. Such research may include the following: (a) investigating the remaining predictor variables of the Hungerford and Volk (1990) behavior model to get the full picture of the students’ emotional and cognitive world; (b) further testing the questionnaire to improve its capacity to record the knowledge and attitudes of students, because questionnaires improve through constant trials and changes (Stokking, van Aert, Meijberg, & Kaskens, 1999); (c) combining qualitative and quantitative evaluation approaches for complementary outcomes (Bamberger, Rugh, Church, & Fort, 2004); and (d) constantly evaluating the module, because educational programs should always evolve and improve (Fien, 2001; McDuff, 2002).
The present study provides for environmental educators the methodology for designing and evaluating an effective conservation educational module for students. The module can be used as a model for designing and evaluating EE programs for endangered species in protected areas. This use is of utmost importance because protected areas have just recently been established in Greece, and local community support is much needed for their success. EE programs starting at an elementary school level may not only be a long-term investment in creating pro-environmental citizens but may also have immediate results, because children are known to directly affect behaviors of their parents (Ballantyne, Fien, & Packer, 2001). Therefore, when implemented by the NMPZ systematically and over a long period in all elementary schools of Zakynthos, the conservation educational module may eventually contribute to supporting better environmental governance by broadening stakeholder acceptance and involvement at a local level.
The authors thank the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece for inspiring and supporting this study; the Institute of Pedagogy and the Department of Education of the Ministry of Education for issuing the permit to conduct the study in the elementary schools of Zakynthos; Mrs. Chatzisavas, Department of Elementary Education of Zakynthos; and Mr. D. Visvardis, Environmental Education, Department of Elementary Education of Zakynthos, for their wholehearted support. The authors also thank the teachers of the schools that cooperated for the purpose of this study.
This article was written as part of the doctoral dissertation of Dimitrios Dimopoulos at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.
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Dimitrios Dimopoulos is a biologist and an active member of a nongovernmental organization involved in sea turtle conservation in Greece. Stefanos Paraskevopoulos is an associate professor of environmental education in the Department of Special Education at the University of Thessaly, Greece. John D. Pantis is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.
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