Evaluation of an urban environmental education program to assess attitudes and knowledge of high school students toward white-tailed deer
Tegt, Jessica Lynn
CommitteeGrado, C. Stephen
The main objective of this study was to establish a universally functional evaluation process for environmental education (EE) materials that can increase appropriate educational program application and resultant efficacy among users of all skill levels and disciplines, specifically those wildlife-related. Additionally, this research investigated capability of an EE program to alter preconceived high school student attitudes and knowledge toward urban white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) across varying demographics. I evaluated systematically a pre-produced urban wildlife classroom program, Living with White-tailed Deer (LWWTD), and measured student understanding of associated deer issues pre- and post-program. Using a detailed framework based upon the Guidelines for Excellence outlined by North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), I created an instrument to identify EE programs indicative of high merit. During the 2007-2009 school years, trained classroom educators (n = 72) from 13 states were recruited to participate with their students (n = 1,274) in the 3-5 day LWWTD program and asked to critically assess it using my evaluation instrument. Teachers also administered attitude and knowledge assessments to their students. Teacher opinion toward the program was found to be highly favorable ( = 3.4/4) and was confirmed by significant increases in student knowledge before and after the program (P < .001). Regional differences in teacher response were found, but did not affect student performance. Teachers indicated that the Guidelines for Excellence are a meaningful tool in developing evaluative measures. Weak program components such as applicability to differing cultures were isolated using the evaluation instrument while strong components such as instructional soundness were highlighted. Pre- and postprogram student responses were correlated to demographic variables and differed significantly among races, gender, and urban or rural residency. Student experiences revealed also differences in attitude and knowledge of varying constructs relating to urban deer issues. An increase in knowledge following the LWWTD program was found across all demographic and experience variables suggesting high effectiveness regarding learning. Student attitudes following the LWWTD program showed an increased acceptability of lethal deer management techniques regardless of demographics, experience, or pre-program beliefs. These results suggest that effective EE can transcend predetermined beliefs.