Climate change, food scarcity, and other urgent issues have moved environmental education and science education – traditionally two distinct, even competing fields – toward convergence at a critical time, as the world’s sustainability challenges continue to grow and “citizen science” is on the rise.
The trend is explored in an article in the May 9 edition of Science magazine, written by Arjen E. J. Wals, Michael Brody, Justin Dillon, and Robert B. Stevenson – who also served as editors of the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) International Handbook of Research on Environmental Education. The growing synergy between science education (SE), environmental education (EE), and citizen science (CS) was an important focus of the handbook, published in 2013.
In their Science article – “Convergence Between Science and Environment Education” – the authors support this link, which “in combination with increased interest in citizen science supported by information and communications technology (ICT), may make education more responsive to current global challenges.”
Science education and environmental education grew separately over the 20th century. Science education sought to accelerate U.S. innovation and global competitiveness, while environmental education developed from a need to understand the sociopolitical, value-driven circumstances of environmental issues. Recent environmental research has shown that many people’s climate change perspectives are largely based on their political and religious values, and science researchers are stressing the importance of integrating scientific knowledge with more local, place-based forms of understanding. In order for sustainability issues to be resolved with long-term effectiveness, people must reconnect with and invest in their environments, and researchers in both fields must find a more concurrent approach.
There is some evidence that the information technology that is often blamed for the disconnect between people and their surroundings, is actually helping reconnect the two. Citizen science empowers members of the general public, such as hikers, school groups, and conservationists, to collect and share data about their natural world. Citizen science makes use of social media and communications technology to link research in science, education, and the environment, and deepen experiences with nature.
In the their article, the authors note, “Creating synergy between EE and SE through ICT-supported CS provides opportunities for new forms of education that can lead to the engagement of seemingly unrelated actors and organizations in making new knowledge and in taking the actions necessary to address socioecologial challenges.”
The full article is available for purchase through Science magazine.