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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Education & ecology : a systemic study of ecological literacy projects Desmarais, Rosemarie


At a time when the planet faces significant pressure, better understanding the Earth’s systems and how our local actions are connected to large-scale processes is a collective task, to which education can contribute. Fostering people’s comprehension of ecological systems is an important avenue for education. In this context, much has been said about the need for ecological learning to happen in schools, but it is still not well embedded in educational systems and the literature in education pays too little attention to the role of ecological literacy. As a field of inquiry, ecological literacy and the projects it can lead to contain powerful ideas that can help change the whys and the hows of educational institutions. In this research, I critically explore, analyze, and share possibilities and opportunities for ecological literacy projects. The guiding questions are: (1) What are the key elements of ecological literacy projects in North America? (2) How do actors involved in ecological literacy projects define the notion?; and (3) How is this reflected in the projects? To answer, I examine 15 ecological literacy projects located across North America and look at the perspectives of one key stakeholder per project. My research is informed by a social constructivist epistemology, a systems theory theoretical framework, and an interpretive qualitative methodology. The findings show that ecological literacy projects result from unique social-ecological contexts and have areas of focus that oscillate between (1) experiential learning activities, (2) building capacity for educators, (3) creating systemic changes in schools, and (4) designing instructional material. Moreover, actors involved in ecological literacy projects define ecological literacy as a set of foundational values concerning the natural world, the nourishment of a sense of place, agency, alternative approaches to teaching and learning, and whole-system change. This definition of ecological literacy is reflected in the projects’ application of systemic concepts, focus on fostering connections, and place-based approach to learning.

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