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Relational processes between people and place: Understanding environmental interest and identity through a learning ecosystem lens

Hecht, Marijke (2020) Relational processes between people and place: Understanding environmental interest and identity through a learning ecosystem lens. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Supporting the development of environmental people – 21st century naturalists – is an essential component for addressing the local and global environmental challenges we currently face. My dissertation uses the conceptual frame of learning ecosystems to examine the complex nature of environmental interest and identity development. I explore the benefits of using a learning ecosystem frame as both a theoretical and methodological construct by asking how this opens up ways of thinking about the phenomena of environmental interest and identity development which unfold in dynamic, non-linear ways across time and space.
In this three-paper dissertation, I begin by reviewing the ways that the learning ecosystem framework has been applied in educational literature, coupled with a theoretical proposal for drawing lessons from adaptive biological ecosystem management to improve the use of the framework. I propose two conceptual shifts in learning ecosystem research: 1) the decentering of individuals with a turn towards relational processes as a unit of analysis, and 2) an embrace of place and materiality as a key element of the ecosystem that impacts learning.
I then apply this more robust learning ecosystem framework in two empirical papers that focus on learning ecosystems in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For both empirical papers, I use a collaborative research-practice partnership approach that aims to build trust between researchers and practitioners, uses research to inform action, supports practitioner goals, produces knowledge that informs broader educational improvement goals, and builds capacity for all participants. First, I examine interest development across the learning ecosystem through the analysis of 18 life-history interviews of adult naturalists. For the final paper, I use an ecosystems lens and ethnographic approaches to develop a nested case study of one informal science program with four cases that describe the relational processes between youth, educators, and nonhuman nature. In the cases, I explore how program infrastructures support the transition of environmental interest into identity for the adolescent participants. Taken together, these three papers offer a closer examination of the application of the learning ecosystem framework to help support environmental interest and identity development.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hecht, Marijkemeh183@pitt.edu0000-0003-2299-6534
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCrowley,
Committee MemberAkiva,
Committee MemberRussell,
Committee MemberFrancis A.,
Committee MemberStephen,
Date: 17 May 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 18 March 2020
Approval Date: 17 May 2020
Submission Date: 14 April 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 161
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Learning Sciences and Policy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: environmental education; identity; interest development; learning ecosystem; naturalist; relational processes
Date Deposited: 17 May 2020 17:25
Last Modified: 17 May 2020 17:25


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