ERG SES H 12, Studies on Education
Research on environmental and sustainability education (hereafter, ESE) typically shows that while general awareness has improved about environmental issues over recent decades, associated behaviours and lifestyles have not (Wals, Brody, Dillon, & Stevenson, 2014). This is not surprising, as gaps between awareness and action, and knowledge and behaviours, are well documented in the field (Heimlich & Ardoin, 2008). However, recommendations flowing from such findings tend to include focusing attention on commitments and motivations over a sense of empowerment and responsibility in the context of educational practices (Trivedi, Patel, & Savalia, 2015). This is despite the fact that past research has tended to find that there is a strong relationship between locus of control (LOC), sense of empowerment and environmentally responsible behaviour (Gullan, Power, & Leff, 2013), but that this feature isn’t a key concern of educational endeavours (Ernst, Blood, & Beery, 2016; Fielding & Head, 2011).
In light of the importance of LOC in understanding people’s behaviour and changes in people’s behaviour through ESE (e.g. Hines, Hungerford, & Tomera, 1987), further research on how an educational program for sustainable development can influence students’ LOC is timely. Equally, a review of the literature shows that very little attention has been consistently devoted to examining the correlations and possible links between educational factors and LOC in this field, to great depth (for a notable exception, see Smith-Sebasto, 1992).
From our literature review, it was found that most empirical research tends to study LOC in terms of independent variables for other related concepts such as environmental action and environmental attitudes (e.g. Liarakou, Kostelou, & Gavrilakis, 2011). Few studies study LOC as dependent variables, or show why students’ LOC can be changed by taking part in ESE programs (Hsu, 2004). Most studies are descriptive, documenting their environmental educational programs in detail, but do not explain which factors really contributed to the change of LOC, i.e. focus on program evaluation.
Looking further afield, environmental LOC scales have been developed (largely from environmental psychology) and applied to ESE contexts. Research consistently suggests that specific LOC scales yield more reliable and valid results in ESE than generic scales (e.g. Smith-Sebasto & Fortner, 1994) because generic scales (e.g. those first developed by Rotter, 1966) can only measure general expectancy of internal or external LOC. Indeed, for Environmental LOC scales, researchers will often include different domains of action such as, legal action, political action, economic action etc. Yet this complicates matters:, they do not consistently measure a stable LOC construct, while the reliability and validity of environmental LOC scales remain the subject of debate (Cleveland, Kalamas, & Laroche, 2012).
Therefore, in this paper, we describe and report on the initial stages of a study that aims to both develop and deepen understandings of the impacts of ESE programs on students’ LOC, the ways of assessing this, and whether and how ESE can influence and change students’ LOC.
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