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Switzerland - Research and Innovation in Environmental Education in Europe (RIE3)

2004, by André GIORDAN, Denise ADLER

With the support of the European Community Commission, the Science Didactics and Epistemology Laboratory (LDES) at the University of Geneva has conducted research in view of “developing academic research on Environmental Education and cooperation in innovations in Europe”. What is the state of research in Environmental Education in Europe? What innovations are presently being developed? What are their perspectives? These were the general research questions, with particular attention to priority educational projects, reorientation of curricula, schedules and educational subjects, educational-staff organization (multi- or cross-disciplinary practices), educational strategies, teaching aids (audiovisual material, software, multi-media), learning mechanisms (data management, systems approach, modelization, simulation) and links between school, and outside facilities and institutions (centers, museums, eco-museums, parks, the media, etc.).
The result of the research was a sum of essential information, which has been pooled in a database called “Education pour l’Environnement – Recherches et innovations” *Environmental Education – Research and Innovations* (RIE3), a research and training tool, which is available as a Macintosh diskette under the 4th Dimension program, or eventually under Word text. This first version, set up in French under Macintosh 4th Dimension, is organized in such a way as to be able to select research teams and research results through a variety of entries:
• Research teams by name, address, occupation, activity, specialization, target, and type of intervention;
• Research results by author, year, key words, didactic interest, level, type of document.
RIE3 is also the name of a newsletter. Letter RIE3 is an informal network of research and innovation teams currently comprising more than 750 entries. It lists the essential activities of the research and training teams (curricula, conceptions, educational strategies, objectives, teaching aids) and includes information taken from documents produced by about a hundred teams located throughout all the European countries.

This work comes in a context of a renewed concern about topics in which society is involved with scientific and technological issues. Research teams are increasingly interested in having their results circulated and widely discussed, rather than keeping the discussion limited to a narrow circle of specialists. The Science Didactics and Epistemology Laboratory, a pioneer in research on the understanding of scientific concepts, is naturally a party to this process.

State of Research in Brief
This research established a list of more than a hundred teams involved in Environmental Education programs and research, and many networks and multi-focused projects, 11 of which have an international scope. There are already a number of multilateral innovation programs; they offer the advantage of pooling resources, improving visibility, stimulating relevant research and contributing to quality and consistency. The networks and the multilateral projects represent an opportunity for regions where the introduction of Environmental Education is difficult, to take part in the development of activities, even in unfavorable contexts; they also generate an infrastructure for scientific communication, which is indispensable for going beyond the stage of pioneering initiatives.

Research in Environmental Education is beginning to develop on an environmental-science, educational-methods and social-issues interface, but it is rarely present in environment-related publications, which mostly focus on natural science and technology, and sometimes on legal and economic aspects. It is also marginal in Education Science and barely extant in conservation programs.

Nonetheless, research in Environmental Education offers a potential of unprecedented responses to contemporary problems that can find no solution within the limits of conventional theories; moreover, the reluctance inspired by approaches that may be over-politicized or poorly supported theoretically makes it essential to confirm the scientific dimension of environmental programs.
Training in Relation with Research
The training of staff (teachers, facilitators, decision-makers, trainers, etc.) is a crucial point in the plan of introduction of Environmental Education. It requires the organization of specific seminars, which should be integrated into curricula from the very beginning of training, and the production of resources on the basis of research in progress or of a research-and-training process. At the same time, continued training in this domain, which could be supported by a variety of institutions (public and private enterprises, associations, NGOs, etc.), still remains to be promoted and should reach a wider target. At the same time, there is a need for retraining on points that have been identified as priorities, as much in elementary education as in vocational or specialized paths.
In Environmental Education, there is clearly not a body of pre-established knowledge that could simply be made available to education. Knowledge is built progressively by the students themselves, facilitated by the teachers; it is therefore more important for the latter to possess approaches, tools and resources than straight knowledge.
Therefore research, reference and evaluation instruments, a modelization approach, systemic analysis, quality, validity or relevance criteria, a familiarity with values, the consideration of attitudes, and the capacity to manage complex procedures are all particularly important to the teacher (or team of teachers).
Perspectives for Education
There is an urgent need to redesign formal education to meet the present challenges. New resources have to be given new value: The local approach has to acquire a greater role, and other cultural establishments (museums, clubs, reference libraries with multi-media collections and facilities, etc.) need to be integrated. Schools should offer more general access to research tools, along with reflection and organization tools, all of which need to be profoundly reoriented in such a way as to favor, in particular, methods that facilitate the management of plurality. How can this concern be made to be shared by as many people as possible? How can environment-friendly attitudes and procedures be developed? How can a cross-sectional and systems approach be introduced? How can complex concepts be taught and their sphere of application be defined? How can an ethical clarification be presented without indoctrination? As a first step, work that has been accomplished can be capitalized, theorized, consolidated through assessment and R&D, and used as a basis to revamp obsolete ideas and practices. The RIE3 database and newsletter are designed to promote exchanges on this subject.

SOURCES: Report on the state of Research and Innovation in Environmental Education in Europe. First Phase. 46 pages, 30 SF
E3 – Environmental Education – Research and Innovation Database, Macintosh diskette, 180 SF
RIE3 Letter
Research and Innovations in Environmental Education in Europe Letter, Biennial, Approx. 12 pages, French and English, FREE (free of charge)
KEY WORDS: Network; Environmental Education; Research; Teaching methods; Publication.
AUTHOR: Denise ADLER et André GIORDAN, Université de Genève, Laboratoire de Didactique et Epistémologie des Sciences, LDES-FAPSE, 9, route de Drize, CH-1227 Carouge, Switzerland, Tel.: 41 / 22 / 705 98 32, Fax: 41 / 22 / 300 14 82