Otago Polytechnic

Jo Thompson's research uncovers how and why people learn to care.

Getting in the outdoors, especially a natural environment, is good for human wellbeing; but connecting with and learning about our local environment, community and their stories is even better for us. So while it can be a good to go to an outside location for learning, there are advantages in going a step further to integrate the outdoors into the learning.

Jo Thompson was keen to understand how people’s ethic of care could be transformed into motivation to act for their environment. She undertook a case study with a group of Year 10 Students, who went on a journey exploring their local place. The journey included many community members joining them at varying points followed by some environmental advocacy sessions.

Through her research Jo was able to describe the pathway to developing an ethic of care of the environment and motivation to act. Jo developed a model that linked four existing signposts for developing care for the environment:

  • being present in the place
  • hearing and telling place-based stories
  • apprenticing self to place - forming a sense of belonging to the place
  • reflecting on and representing place-based experiences

Jo also confirmed how people move from caring to action:

  • learning about action - understanding an issue and what is already being done about it
  • learning through action - not a bandaid solution like picking up rubbish, but creating a solution that adddresses aroot cause of the issue
  • learning from action - reflecting on the effectiveness of the action

Not everyone developed a motivation to continue to act voluntarily beyond the end of the study. Some did not buy in to the action which the group collectively decided to take. Others had higher priorities for their time. Those who were determined to continue were those who had a greater exposure to the place - had been present more often and therefore had more stories associated with it and a stronger sense of belonging.

Jo hopes to inform teachers, to help strengthen sustainability education. She is currently planning an article for the EONZ publication Te Whakatika and has presented at the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association Symposium in 2015. More publications, presenting and potentially further research are yet to come. 



April 2018

Image credit: Andy Thompson www.andythompsonphotographynz.co.nz