Exploring the influence of sociopolitical context on environmental education field trip effectiveness for adolescent youth in the United States

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Virginia Tech


Environmental education (EE) programs strive to develop an environmentally literate citizenry capable of addressing the world's environmental problems. However, environmental concerns have become increasingly politically polarizing. As middle school-age youth are developing their own identities, they are likely becoming aware of the dominant political attitudes and environmental messages within their own communities. This thesis investigates the influence of sociopolitical context on student learning outcomes following participation in EE field trips and whether particular approaches produce more positive learning outcomes for students from different contexts. We used a quantitative approach employing pre-existing databases and geographic information systems to create measures of sociopolitical context for each school in our sample based on political partisanship and socioeconomic status. I have organized my research in three chapters: Chapter 1 presents a more comprehensive introduction to the field of EE and extended literature review regarding the question this research intends to address. Chapter 2 presents a quantitative study exploring the influence of sociopolitical context on student outcomes following participation in an EE field trip. Chapter 3 presents a reflection of my graduate learning experience and what I hope to achieve in the future. Results suggest that EE field experiences lead to less positive outcomes for students from wealthier Democratic contexts. While we also found some differences in program characteristics associated with outcomes for each sociopolitical subgroup, effect sizes were small and thus warrant further investigation. We discuss potential explanations for these trends and call for further research on the influence of sociopolitical context and socioeconomic status with relation to EE.



Environmental education, field trips, student outcomes, sociopolitical context, political polarization, political socialization