Title page for ETD etd-04202012-195901

Type of Document Dissertation
Author March, Kathryn Ann
Author's Email Address kmarch3020@gmail.com
URN etd-04202012-195901
Title The Impact of an Informal Science Learning Environment on the Environmentally Responsible Behavior of Adults: A Case Study
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Educational Theory, Policy, & Practice
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Wandersee, James H. Committee Chair
Blanchard, Pamela Borne Committee Member
Cheek, Earl H. Jr. Committee Member
MacGregor, S. Kim Committee Member
Laws, Edward A. Dean's Representative
  • museum
  • climate change
  • non-formal
  • environmental education
  • environmental literacy
  • qualitative
Date of Defense 2012-04-19
Availability unrestricted
Since environmental educationís emergence in America, the field has been primarily focused on increasing environmental awareness, attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behavior. Yet the nationís overall level of environmental literacy, especially with regard to the performance of environmentally responsible behaviors, continues to be low (Coyle, 2005). Unlike school-based education programs, which only reach a segment of the population, informal sites have the potential to influence learners of many ages and diverse backgrounds (NRC, 2009). Informal science learning environments (ISLEs) have been shown to provide personally meaningful learning experiences and have the potential to impact environmentally responsible decisions and actions (Falk, 2005). Yet models of behavior change which have been traditionally used in environmental education have not been entirely successful in informal environments.

This exploratory case study attempted to discover which aspects of a museum exhibit might affect intended and actual environmentally responsible behaviors (ERBs). Qualitative techniques were used to collect and analyze data from 31 highly engaged adult visitors to the Altered State: Climate Change in California exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. Certain messages and design elements in this exhibit were found to have a greater impact on participantsí intentions and behaviors. Hands-on activities appeared to have a larger effect, as did direct messages about specific, simple actions. Positive reinforcement of existing ERBs also seemed to have a direct influence on future actions. All participants voiced concerns about societal and cultural barriers to pro-environmental actions, but those who performed fewer ERBs were more likely to discuss belief-based barriers to change. These results have implications for future ISLE exhibits related to taking action for the environment.

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