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Understanding the Impact of Outdoor Science and Environmental Learning Experiences Through Community-Driven Outcomes

January 1, 2024 - December 31, 2027 | Public Programs

Scientific and environmental literacy are valuable outcomes linked to academic learning, career pathways, and broader engagement in science and environmental fields and causes. However, while current tools for measuring these concepts are useful for measuring some dimensions of impact, they are aligned with dominant views that can marginalize, exclude, and erase the knowledge and expertise of communities of color. This project will employ a community-driven process, centering the voices of communities of color, to identify meaningful and relevant outcomes and develop research tools to measure scientific and environmental literacy. We will then conduct a national study to measure the impact of outdoor science and environmental learning (OSEL) experiences on students' scientific and environmental literacy. This study will contribute new understandings of how race and culture influence learning, as well as how racism and biases have shaped research to date. This project will produce a suite of psychometrically tested tools that are driven by communities of color, improving the field's ability to measure learning outcomes while also taking one step to counteract a long history of marginalization in research. The work will contribute to existing bodies of literature on the benefits of outdoor learning and the role OSEL experiences can play in developing science and environmental literacy.

The research will explore four questions across three phases. Phase 1 (Defining Outcomes) will explore: (1) What do scientific literacy and environmental literacy mean to communities of color? and (2) What outcomes are most meaningful for youth of color who engage in outdoor science learning experiences, and how can they be measured? A Community Research Network (CRN) composed of youth, educators, leaders, and community members of partnering OSEL organizations will engage in an iterative process of idea generation, data collection, and sensemaking to articulate and co-develop a set of outcome measures. These measures will be piloted with heterogeneous organizations serving diverse communities and will result in finalized items and scales. In Phase 2 (Measuring Impact) will explore: (3) In what ways do OSEL programs influence scientific and environmental outcomes for youth, particularly youth of color? (4) How do youth of color make meaning of these experiences? Phase 2 will include a quantitative study, using the instruments developed in Phase 1, at OSEL programs across the country, while also seeking to understand how youth of color make meaning of these experiences through a focal student case study approach at selected case sites. Finally, in Phase 3, the research team and the CRN will collaborate to share findings with the field, including through a conceptual framework that articulates the outcomes and structures within and adjacent to OSEL organizations that enable youth to thrive. Built on the premise that both research and praxis in OSEL have reinforced the oppression and marginalization of people of color, this project holds the goal that our community-driven approach and our creation of new community-driven measures will push researchers and practitioners to grapple with what it means to move towards more just and equitable practices in research and practice.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2314075
Funding Amount: $2,149,437.00


  • Melissa Collins
    Principal Investigator
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Jedda Foreman
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Valeria Romero
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Resource Type: Projects | Project Descriptions
    Discipline: General STEM | Literacy
    Environment Type: Park, Outdoor, and Garden Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Ethnic/Racial

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