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Innovative Approaches to Learning in Environmental Science

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Over the last two decades, the context in which educational programs in environmental science are offered to students, at all levels, has changed tremendously. The advent of internet has made readily available to educators and students a wealth of information that until then had been far more difficult to ...

Over the last two decades, the context in which educational programs in environmental science are offered to students, at all levels, has changed tremendously. The advent of internet has made readily available to educators and students a wealth of information that until then had been far more difficult to obtain. At the same time, pervasive environmental change has made it far more likely that graduates of environmental science programs will change jobs, or at least reorient their activities, several times during the 40 or so years that their careers will probably last. This periodic re-careering, along with the fact that the knowledge students are imparted during their training will likely become outdated, if not entirely obsolete, far quicker than used to be the case, make it mandatory for individuals in the field to be able to constantly update their knowledge base and skills.

This rapidly changing context of environmental education challenges teachers in profound ways. Long gone are the days when it made sense to require students to try to memorize massive amounts of information covered in formal lectures. It is far more meaningful for students to learn how to discriminate, among all the information that is accessible to them within seconds on internet, the bits that are both sufficiently reliable and ultimately useful to them. Since the ability to learn new material and acquire new skills will in all likelihood be the key to success in years to come, we need to actively prepare students for these activities, instead of asking them to regurgitate passively-assimilated content.

Faced with having to basically rethink entirely how environmental education is conceived, educators all over the world have embraced the challenge, and have come up in recent years with very innovative ways to foster student learning. One of the best known methods, generally referred to as problem-based learning, puts students in the driver’s seat, as it were, and requires them, in teams, to analyze a concrete problem and trace their way backward to the fundamental principles needed to understand and resolve it. Other innovative approaches encompass, e.g., discovery-based learning, case-based learning, tutorials to promote self-directed learning, and the development of dynamic learning portfolios where individuals document the status of their knowledge and skills in real time.

The idea behind this Research Topic, shared by several sections of both Frontiers in Education and Frontiers in Environmental Science, is that it would be beneficial for some of those who have innovated in their teaching in environmental science in recent years to share their experience, successes, as well as trials and tribulations, as the case may be. We welcome research articles providing a detailed account of specific innovative programs. Especially useful would be articles presenting an assessment of the long-term (> 5 years) impact of innovative offerings. However, critical reviews of a portion of the relevant literature, or “perspective” papers, presenting an idea still at the maturation stage, would also be most welcome.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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