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Assessment & Evaluation for Outdoor/Enviro-Education

Originally appears in the Fall 2011 issue

For many educators, “outdoor education” is a nebulous term—it is not a discipline or curriculum unto itself, but rather an adjunct to reinforce and strengthen learning in other disciplines such as science, mathematics or geography. Outdoor and environmental education evolved from outdoor education in response to growing concern for environmental well-being in the 1960s, and it addresses all three domains of learning; knowledge, skills and attitudes.

As with any discipline, the purpose of assessment and evaluation is to measure success in learning and to further plan instruction. In assessing growth in the areas of knowledge and skills in outdoor and environmental education, many traditional tools could be used. As an example, identifying the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem is a learning outcome which addresses the knowledge domain. Ideally, an outdoor experience such as a visit to a pond or a forest environment would be the vehicle for observing, identifying and interacting with these components. But the assessment of student learning could easily be done with a paper and pencil activity either in the field or back in the classroom. Techniques such as short answer, fill in the blanks, constructing flow charts or drawing diagrams could be utilized. Such techniques however, constitute summative evaluations and often do not offer the opportunity to re-teach, if necessary, in the field.

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Bert Murphy is a lecturer in outdoor and environmental educaton in the Faculty of Teacher Education at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and a former consultant in environmental education for the District School Board of Niagara in southern Ontario.