Conservation Education Treasure Trove


Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques. Jacobson, S. K., M. D. McDuff, and M. C. Monroe . 2006 . Oxford University Press , New York , NY . 495 (xv + 480) pp . ISBN 0-19-856771-5 .

Students often ask me what they can read that will introduce them to conservation education and outreach techniques. I generally recommend a set of books and papers that together give an overview of both theory and practice in the field. I am pleased to say that I have a shorter list for students now that I have read Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques. Books in the Manuals in the Techniques in Ecology and Conservation Series from Oxford University Press, of which this book is a part, are designed to provide comprehensive how-tos for a particular field. It is not easy to provide a broad enough overview of a field to engage newcomers to the topic while keeping more experienced hands interested, yet this book has masterfully done so. In contrast to edited volumes, which are often idiosyncratic and repetitive on some topics while omitting others altogether, this book is well written and thorough. It is nicely illustrated with boxes and figures that effectively clarify terms and ideas. Vivid case studies and vignettes help ground readers in the realities of implementation. Contrary to many reviews on this topic, the examples given are not North America centric; instead, they consistently feature programs and activities from geographically diverse locations. The bibliography alone is a treasure for those of us interested in this field.

Chapter one begins with a rationale for education and outreach programs and continues with the three major steps in planning a program or activity—planning, implementation, and evaluation. The authors take readers through the strategic planning process including setting goals and objectives and identification of target audiences and potential partners. Under implementation, they cover both pilot test activities and program operations. Finally, they discuss one of the most intractable elements of education and outreach—evaluation. They provide a useful framework for evaluation objectives, differentiating outputs from short-, medium-, and long-term outcomes, and they conclude the chapter with a description of data-collection techniques for evaluation.

The second and third chapters, “Learning and Teaching with Adults and Youth” and “Changing Conservation Behavior,” should be required reading for all conservation educators. Too often education and outreach activities are undertaken with no understanding of how people learn and what motivates them to act. The second chapter draws from learning theory and psychological research to explain the importance of the experiential learning cycle, multiple intelligences, constructivism, and cooperative learning, for instance, in reaching people of diverse backgrounds and abilities. As the authors note, raising awareness and providing knowledge is only part of the challenge in conservation efforts. At the crux of most conservation activities is changing or managing human behavior. The third chapter in this book details the various theories of behavior change and provides some practical applications of these theories and specific examples of implementation.

The rest of the book focuses on specific conservation education and outreach techniques. For instance, a chapter on formal education programs deals with linking programs to academic standards and integrating educational policy and another emphasizes connecting classes to local communities through service or project-based learning, citizen science, and mapping. To illustrate the global nature of the coverage, examples in the “Conservation Education in the Schools” chapter come from Kenya, New Zealand, the Appalachians in the U.S., China, and The Bahamas. Other chapters describe techniques for active engagement of participants such as storytelling, role playing, field trips, and networking for conservation through environmental clubs, conferences, and partnerships. Chapter 5 includes a critical section on conflict resolution that points out the inevitability of conflict when bringing people and organizations from different backgrounds together. The authors note that conflict is not always negative and often provides an opportunity for innovative ways of thinking and new management strategies. A chapter on “Using the Arts for Conservation” gives examples of conservation activities involving music, literature, theater, and visual arts.

A marketing chapter discusses social marketing—the application of traditional marketing principles to societal issues such as conservation—and working with the press. Communication techniques are also covered in a chapter on writing that provides tips for products ranging from news releases to brochures, guidebooks, and letters to the editor. The “Taking Advantage of Educational Technology” chapter summarizes opportunities presented by video, the Internet (including distance education), computer modeling and simulation, and working with real-time data. The book concludes with a chapter on designing on-site programs in informal settings that details guided walks, exhibits, demonstrations, and facility design.

Throughout these more practical chapters, the trio of planning, implementation, and evaluation introduced at the outset of the book serves as a framework for introducing each of the tools or techniques featured in a chapter. This is a helpful construct for easily finding information in the book and facilitates the book's use as a handy reference resource.

Nevertheless, I finished the book wishing that the authors had taken more time with many of the “evaluation” sections of the techniques. Although they provided the nicely detailed overview of outputs and outcomes early in the book, the evaluation suggestions they wrote about tended toward qualitative rather than quantitative and/or focused on short- or medium-term outcomes. I would have liked to see more discussion—perhaps candor—in the book about the difficulty of effectively evaluating education and outreach programs. Some programs, such as those undertaken in formal school settings, are easier to evaluate in a more quantitative way that can more likely trace the source of learning to a particular method or technique used. Others are more difficult to evaluate even for short-term outcomes. I had at first hoped that the focus on behavior change in the third chapter would mean that the authors would write more in the evaluation section on successful efforts to measure and monitor behavior change and medium- and long-term outcomes, but that was not the case. This is by no means a problem inherent to this book but rather reflects the state of the entire field of evaluation in conservation education.

This book serves as an excellent reference manual for students, educators, conservation scientists, and natural resource managers. I will not only be recommending but also requiring this book in my classes on conservation.