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Assessment of undergraduate students’ environmental stewardship reasoning and knowledge

Christie-Joy Brodrick Hartman (Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, and Department of Integrated Science and Technology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Christine E. DeMars (Center for Assessment and Research Studies, and Department of Graduate Psychology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Heather Peckham Griscom (Department of Biology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Harold Martin Butner (Department of Physics and Astronomy, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 2 May 2017

569

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to present a public university’s design and implementation of an assessment approach that measures the change in undergraduate students’ environmental stewardship reasoning and knowledge abilities over time.

Design/methodology/approach

In support of a university’s strategic emphasis on environmental stewardship, members of a university committee developed environmental stewardship learning outcomes for undergraduate students. The learning outcomes were not required in specific academic courses or in general education. Subsequently, volunteers from a variety of roles, in cooperation with committee members, developed a corresponding assessment test that focused on reasoning and knowledge. The instrument was revised between Spring 2011 and Spring 2014, and its validity was evaluated. An exploratory analysis of student learning over time was conducted using 22 items shared by different test forms.

Findings

A series of implementations and revisions resulted in a 50-question test, the Environmental Stewardship Reasoning and Knowledge Assessment (ESRKA), which showed good reliability (0.83). A comparative analysis provided evidence of the validity of the instrument. Results from a small sample of students showed that second-year students generally performed better on the 22 items than incoming first-year students. Those taking the assessment as second-year students, 18 months after their initial assessment, scored significantly higher on the 22 items by about 10.4 percentage points (0.61 standard deviation units, t68 = 6.23, p < 0.0001).

Research limitations/implications

Because of the small sample size and revision of the items, the analysis of student learning is only exploratory.

Originality/value

The learning outcomes and validated assessment instrument may be used either in whole or part by other institutions. The approach to measure changes in students’ environmental stewardship reasoning and knowledge abilities as cohorts over time could assist universities in tracking environmental stewardship learning and could inform strategic implementation of learning opportunities through the curriculum, as well as through other student learning experiences.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors appreciate the valuable contributions of the James Madison University (JMU) committee members who reviewed the literature and developed the environmental stewardship learning outcomes discussed in this paper, as well as the committee members and volunteers who participated in the assessment question development process discussed. The authors also thank Linda C. Halpern, PhD, Vice Provost for University Programs at JMU, and Kenneth F. Newbold, Jr., PhD, formerly Associate Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship at JMU, for facilitating these efforts. All authors are faculty members at James Madison University. This study is the result of the authors’ collaboration as contributors to the university’s environmental stewardship efforts.

Note: The full test is available at no cost to the educators, with some restrictions that protect the integrity of the test.

Citation

Hartman, C.-J.B., DeMars, C.E., Griscom, H.P. and Butner, H.M. (2017), "Assessment of undergraduate students’ environmental stewardship reasoning and knowledge", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 492-502. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-07-2015-0128

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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