A long-term goal of environmental education programs is often to encourage participants to live more sustainably. Research shows that people often cite their extracurricular or free-time experiences as more influential than their time within the classroom. Experiences in these free spaces may be more impactful because of their ability to evoke stronger attachment and emotion. These experiences may also play a deeper role in forming memories, which can affect present-day actions. Understanding participants' memories of the program may help understand how the program could have shaped choices long-term. This article evaluated the impacts of an EE program on students and their memories and future decisions.
Exploring memories can help researchers understand what aspects of the program might have been most significant. Memories and associated emotion may impact participants' recall of their experience. One study found that memories may have three functions related to the program: 1) the directive function, in which the program inspires participants to change behaviors; 2) the social function, in which the program builds social bonds; and 3) self-function, in which the program had a positive impact. Other research points to key factors that may make a program memorable, including personal significance. Some studies indicate that more emotional moments in a program are more memorable, and that participants better remember the high or low points of an experience.
To learn about effective program components, the researchers examined the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program, specifically as it was implemented in the Czech Republic. GLOBE was launched in 1994 as a way to connect high school students with scientists around the world and teach students how to collect data and perform research. For this study, the authors contacted Tereza, the non-profit that coordinates GLOBE, to identify participants. This step did not yield enough participants, so the researchers identified additional GLOBE members by asking participants to identify additional individuals who met their criteria. Specifically, respondents in this study must have participated in the GLOBE program for at least two years and must have completed a degree from where they did GLOBE at least five years before the study. A total of 19 former students participated in the study, 7 of whom were women and 12 men with an average age of 26 years. The researchers collected data through interviews with the participants that lasted around 12-20 minutes. The authors analyzed the interviews for common themes to see what the participants found important about their time in the GLOBE program and how it had affected them since.
Overall, this research found that participants had positive experiences in GLOBE (the self function). Developing friendships (the social function) helped students feel a sense of belonging among peers with similar interests and social norms. “Growing into a group” was a key theme that emerged from analysis, and the authors believe that an important outcome of GLOBE is a broader community of young people with shared interests and experiences. The relationship between participation in GLOBE and college and career choices (the directive function) was less clear; though some participants indicated that having been in GLOBE impacted these choices, other experiences may have also shaped this decision. Active engagement in daily routines and “extraordinary activities,” in connection with peer relationships, emerged as ways that participants made meaning from being in GLOBE. In addition, the results indicated that GLOBE was of personal significance to participants, in part due to the subject matter but also because they felt that being in the program was a unique experience that served “a higher purpose.”
Participants discussed entering and leaving GLOBE, social bonds formed throughout the program, routine and extraordinary activities, and a sense of importance as significant for them and their memories of GLOBE. In terms of entering, many participants joined the voluntary program because they enjoyed science or nature and were excited to work with new technologies. The participants cited the social bonds as an important part of the program. Some of these relationships grew out of the more day-to-day routine, which gave the students a feeling of belonging. Though it fostered relationships, participants saw the routine as a necessary price to pay in exchange for the extraordinary experiences. These extraordinary experiences were remembered both positively and negatively. For instance, many of the participants' memories revolved around the GLOBE Games competition, though some expressed frustration and disappointment around changes that had been implemented in this aspect of GLOBE. The analysis indicated that working with scientists gave the students a feeling of purpose in the program. Finally, upon leaving GLOBE, many students felt a connection to the program and continued to be involved as volunteers.
The small participation number and the specific context mean that this study cannot be generalized to other populations. Given how the authors recruited participants, the results may only account for people who enjoyed the program. Additionally, since the study only looked retrospectively, it is hard to say with certainty that the students' future decisions are attributable to the GLOBE program.
Practitioners seeking to have a long-term impact on their participants' choices may consider the key elements of this study when developing program outcomes. Impactful emotional events and the social aspect of the program helped to create a meaningful experience for participants. In addition, the feeling that GLOBE was a unique experience and that by attending, students were serving a higher purpose, helped to contribute to the lasting impact on participants.
The Bottom Line
<p>This study examined the impact of the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program in the Czech Republic on alumni to determine the long term impact on participants. The authors interviewed 19 former participants and found that participants derived meaning and significance from GLOBE through social connections, daily routine and emotionally impactful “extraordinary activities.” Although the connection may not attributable to the GLOBE program, many of the participants cited the GLOBE program as being the reason they decided to pursue certain careers. Programs seeking to have a long-term impact on participants may seek to foster social bonds among, active engagement in routine and “extraordinary activities,” and offering unique experiences.</p>