Building local environmental knowledge in undergraduates with experiential wilderness skills and awareness training: The case of environmental sentinels

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Undergraduates in environmental studies and sciences today receive an increasingly global education but often suffer from a lack of knowledge about their local environment. As a result, they often have an unclear sense of their place in the ecosystems they will soon be called on to manage. We developed a course to address these related problems called Environmental Sentinels, which integrates experiential wilderness skills and awareness training with subject matter about local natural history, ecology, and environmental management. We used mixed methods to ascertain the potential in this approach for local environmental knowledge transmission and transformation in students' relationships with their local environment. Pre-and post-tests addressing local ecology, natural hazards, land use, and skills show that this course effectively delivers local environmental knowledge. Mean (n = 48) scores increased threefold over the course of the semester. These quantitative results complement more ample qualitative results in a case study conducted from 2008 through 2011 that illustrates the specific activities, assignments, and pedagogical techniques by which the course fosters local environmental knowledge and personal transformation. This study demonstrates great promise in wilderness awareness training for transformative learning in environmental studies and sciences. Nevertheless, this approach faces some key instructional and administrative challenges regarding academic rigor, expertise, resources, and risk that should be addressed in future applications. © 2013 AESS.

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Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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