30 SES 15 B, Atypical Approaches to ESE
Education systems and environmental-educators are being challenged–as they often are during times of crisis (Kidman & Chang, 2020)–by the lockdowns and uncertainty that have stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. The upheaval that was caused to education systems by the sharp transition to distance learning has necessitated a rapid response. Indeed, after the health system the educational system is the sector that has been most affected by the pandemic (Daniel, 2020), because of the need to teach remotely instead of through face-to-face interactions, which is one of the most important roles of social, emotional, and academic learning. The shortcomings of distance learning – which include a lack of engagement in content learning, a lack of physical interaction with friends, and a lack of immersion in the local environments (Azorín, 2020) – were even more prominent in the context of Education for Sustainability (EfS), in which the local outdoor environment plays a fundamental role. Research has found that students under lockdown conditions expressed their desire for the real learning that occurs during outdoor education (Quay et al., 2020). It is therefore important to explore EfS in this situation.
EfS is “concerned with developing an understanding of, and care for, the environment–social, cultural, built, natural–that occurs in the environment and through it” (Bonnett, 2013, p. 252). A complementary definition of EfS refers to a holistic approach of four nested levels of ecologies: personal, social, environmental, and cosmic. In this approach, EfS should begin with individual health and wellbeing, move on to relationships with the community, and ultimately address human-nature relationships (Wimberley, 2009). In other words, it should consider humans and the interactions of individuals as part of nature nested in larger social and environmental systems. As such, EfS is viewed from an ecological perspective, in which interactions among individuals, other humans, and the biophysical environment surrounding, them are nested in a larger program that pertains to natural resource management practices (Tidball & Krasny, 2011).
The Covid-19 pandemic exemplifies a quick pulse with great impact on the social-ecological system, including EfS. The social-ecological system’s response to the crisis surrounding, the pandemic, is related to resilience, which depends on the adaptation and transformation with which the system responds to disruption (Folke et al., 2010). Resilience measures a system’s ability to contain disruption so that the change results in reorganization. Resilience is measured by a system’s ability to maintain its role with regard to structure, identity, and the provision of feedback, and to remain a sustainable system (Plummer, 2013).
As part of the social-ecological system, education systems depend on the adaptability and scope of the change with which the system responds to crisis. EfS, as it relates to the social-ecological system, can create societal and environmental change and promote sustainable concepts. EfS incorporates the outdoors through its dependence on the context of place, environment, and society and its emphasis on experiential learning in local environments (Krogh & Jolly, 2012). These aspects are a meaningful part of creating social-ecological systems and developing critical thought that enables action for the benefit of the environment and society (Sterling, 2010).
It is therefore important to consider the manner in which environmental-educators work, how they experienced the change (i.e. the need to teach differently during the crisis), and the ways they chose to be closer to nature during in accordance with local, national, and global factors. The significance of this presentation lies in its exploration of how social-ecological systems function in the educational life of local and national contexts. The change in dynamics and processes, which is part of the social-ecological systems approach, is also examined in the global context.
We consider social-ecological systems on three levels: local, national, and global. We focus on teachers who engaged in EfS in the K-12 public system and in various subject areas (e.g. science, art). These teachers engage in EfS on a regular basis, despite the fact that it is not core subject matter. The study, which was conducted in April-July 2020, examined how environmental-educators coped with the distance learning pulse. The convenience sample, which depended on the participants’ availability to the researcher (Creswell, 2012), consisted of environmental-educators who were willing to participate in the study; it is not representative of the Israeli education system but offers insight into individuals with experience in EfS. Semi-Structured Interviews: we applied inductive analysis to semi-structured interviews (Seidman, 2012) that were conducted via phone and the Zoom application and that were recorded and transcribed. We conducted 16 interviews participants who engage in EfS as an integral part of their teaching in times of normalcy, as well as in times of crisis – as in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated distance learning. Data analysis consisted of three stages (Miles & Huberman, 1994): (1) naïve reading of the interview; (2) organization of the data through first cycle coding and second cycle coding (Saldaña, 2009); and (3) the creation of categories through the aggregation of main topics. The interviews were analyzed individually by each of the two researchers, who are experts in the field of EfS, and a comparison was conducted to establish agreement and triangulation (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). Analysis of documents and teaching methods: the teaching methods that were used by the participants were analyzed based on the interviews, teaching methods, and documents that were sent by email, WhatsApp, and other digital means before and after the interviews. The teaching methods were counted by type. In total, 16 teaching method types were identified, with some appearing more than once (films, lectures, etc.); these types encompassed a total of 38 teaching methods. An analysis that characterized the teaching methods according to the learners’ level of activeness and to the level of direct or indirect interaction with nature led to the division of teaching methods into three groups: 1) active learning and direct experience with nature; 2) active learning and indirect experience with nature; 3) passive learning and indirect experience with nature. For each group, the prevalence among all the teaching methods (n=38) was calculated.
Findings indicative of environmental-educators’ creative capacity to identify and overcome challenges, such as the inability to go outdoors as a group, and an absence of physical and social connection among the students and between the students and the teacher. Teaching methods such as sending children outside to photograph flowers, writing with materials collected outdoors, and listening to birdcalls, picking herbs to make tea, and the online collection of students’ products, helped contend with the challenges and facilitated interpersonal teacher-student connection. These challenges created opportunities for taking advantage of the outdoors for observation, investigation, spiritual enrichment, and wonder. On the local level, the environmental-educators used diverse teaching methods to integrate the environment into the learning. On the national level, the Education Ministry's relatively slow reaction afforded autonomy to environmental-educators, who viewed this development positively and responded with creativity. On a larger scale, we identified learning on the global level in the form of personal learning about the global environment. Through distance learning that incorporated the environment, environmental-educators demonstrated creative thinking and substantial flexibility, the latter of which is a required skill for the development of creativity (Jauhariyah, Hariyono, Abidin, & Prahani, 2019). In conclusion, the findings indicate that teachers with experience in EfS involving outdoor teaching possessed the tools to conduct online teaching in a creative manner characterized by an open mind and reaction to learners, despite the limited feedback and the need to use technological means in which not everyone was trained. In light of this fact, we recommend providing all teachers with tools for EfS involving outdoor teaching and online implementation. The education system must recognize that EfS involving outdoor instruction is a required skill, like other skills that have been classified as important for learners in the twenty-first century, such as critical thinking, high-order thinking, and investigative learning.
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