Thinking is the Key

The Australian Association for Environmental Education conference is overflowing with great conversations about how to improve what we do as educators.  There is so much ground to cover, I think I’ll be writing about it for many months yet.

For now, I’d like to talk about the plenary session given by Professor Sam Ham from the University of Idaho this afternoon.  Looking around the packed auditorium I could see the audience were hanging on his every word.  He is such a fantastic communicator, which makes what he says even more powerful, since good education has good communication at its core.

Sam led by illustrating that as environmental scientists, managers and educators we are essentially different to the majority of other people on this planet.  People who are passionate about environmental issues are in the minority – we are not the norm in society.  Consequently, if we try to motivate others toward behavioural change by using things that would inspire us, we will be unlikely to reach the majority of people, and really only be preaching to the converted.

He went on to say, however, that most people are capable of doing the right thing (by our particular standards), but they will only do it for their own reasons.  The trick is finding out what those reasons are.  That’s where good survey techniques are important, but that’s an issue for a future post.

Perhaps the most important thing (to me anyway) that Sam said was that it won’t be what we say to them that will make them act, but it will be their own thinking that does.  Hence, we must get them to think, and find out the answer, for themselves.  The notion of constructivist learning is not new, but never-the-less it is often overlooked, especially in community education.  We have to get better at encouraging our audiences to think their own thoughts and find for themselves the motivation to act.  That means finding what is relevant to them.

That brings me to an earlier workshop by Grahame Collier from T Issues Consultancy.  He was discussing how to reach challenging people and groups.  The people that are disengaged by traditional community education campaigns.

One thing Grahame did was to showcase a few successful examples.  Some were quirky, such as the Shit on my Shoe campaign to encourage UK dog owners to pick up their dog poo, or Dog Breakfasts to protect threatened Hooded Plovers on South Australian beaches by inviting dog owners to a breakfast bbq and in the process talk to them individually about keeping their dogs on leads around Plovers.  Others were more sedate, but used a peer from that sector of society to champion the message, or used the personal approach of having face-to-face conversations about what it is that matters to them.

One great example that Sam used was encouraging walkers to stay on the path in sensitive forest areas of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.  It wasn’t environmental or safety reasons which ultimately motivated them to stay on the path (in fact, even people who strayed off the path already held these beliefs).  In the end what mattered to most visitors to these areas was seeing the best view and getting the best photos.  So by reinforcing the notion that the path went to the spots with the best views, the rangers were able to change visitor behaviour considerably.  Only good research about your target audience can find what is most relevant to them.

Ultimately, people will not change their behaviour unless they want to.  Our job is to make the message relevant to them, and encourage them to find the answer for themselves.

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Nature Play

Day one of the Australian Association for Environmental Education conference found us on the eco-education tour.  We visited CERES and the Port Phillip Eco Centre, but more on those in a later post.

I want to begin with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Melbourne and its Children’s Garden.

The Children's GardenThis is a fantastic nature space for children of all ages to explore and have fun, and in the process learn to appreciate nature.  It is more informal education, rather than a formal one, but the children love it, by all accounts.

It is a safe place, completely walled in with one child proof gate, but it also has several distinct spaces within the garden, including a bamboo forest, pond, tea tree grove, rock garden, open grassed area, vegie garden, shelter, tree fern garden – the list goes ever on.

I really like the concept that children are encouraged to just play, using their own imagination and explore what nature has to offer.  It is an extremely important aspect of  every child’s life and will encourage the next generation to have a connection to nature that so many of us are missing in the modern world.

If you can get here to check it out for yourself, do so.  It’s well worth the visit.

Well done to the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, and hopefully more such spaces can be developed in community gardens, schools and backyards all around the whole globe.

Garden Features

Garden Path

Boab Trees

The Pond

Entrance to the Bamboo Forest

The Magic Pudding

Designed for Kids

The 10,000 Year Old Tree Stump

Australian Association for Environmental Education Conference

I recently joined the Australian Association for Environmental Education so I can learn from other educators who’ve been down the same path.

I’m delighted to be attending the biennial conference next week in Melbourne – Creating our Next Courageous Steps.  It will be a four day bevy of environmental education ideas, covering all fields from pre-school to vocational and tertiary education.  Community education isn’t left out either.  In fact, if its to do with environmental education, it’ll be discussed at the conference.

AAEE Conference Banner
I’m particularly looking forward to tomorrow’s eco-education tour to CERES, the Port Phillip Eco Centre and the Royal Botanical Gardens’ Landscapes for Learning initiative.

There’s also some great workshops on how to encourage community and students to connect to nature, a look at marine education, wetlands, forest classrooms, engaging businesses, indigenous education and using photography and film-making to engage students.  These last two are a particular passion of mine.  There’s loads more of course, but instead of me banging on about it, just check out their program online.

I’ll post some detailed articles examining some of the things discussed, so watch this space.