An investigation of environmental education instructors: motivations, autonomy, experience, and their influences on student outcomes

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Virginia Tech

Environmental education (EE) programming has been found to lead to positive behavioral and attitudinal outcomes in student participants. Among a variety of factors, the characteristics of EE program instructors have been found to play a role in driving these outcomes. This thesis investigates the specific motivators of EE instructors and the links between instructor autonomy, prior experience, and program outcomes. I used a multi-methods approach to investigate these themes and have organized the results between two chapters that are manuscripts intended as separate journal publications. Chapter 2 presents a qualitative study that identifies the salient motivators of EE instructors, as well as organizational practices that affect EE instructor feelings of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and the meaningfulness these instructors feel within their jobs. Chapter 3 presents a quantitative study analyzing the impact of autonomy and prior experience on program outcomes by linking instructor and student participant survey responses from a sample of 166 EE programs performed throughout 57 different organizations across the US. Results led to the following recommendations for EE organizations: (1) promote job enrichment elements for their instructional staff, including the implementing of participatory evaluation processes; (2) encourage instructors to take "ownership" of programming, such that they continue to practice and develop competence over time; (3) increase instructor autonomy as they gain further experience.

Environmental education, instructors, motivation, autonomy, prior experience, student outcomes, self-determination theory, motivation-hygiene theory