Naomi Ray: Understanding and Measuring Environmental Literacy at the Community Scale

Authors:  Naomi Ray, Nicole Ardoin, Alison Bowers, Anna Lee


The view of the lone individual striking out on his or her own to make a discovery, find new knowledge, and subsequently succeed or fail is, perhaps refreshingly, becoming an outdated notion. Similarly, the notion of an individual action representing the pinnacle of success in terms of saving society from its ills or, on the flip side, a single action causing society’s downfall, is equally far-fetched. To more effectively address environmental issues through environmental education, this project seeks to deeply understand how to foster and measure collective environmental literacy. Core to this work is examining the critical role of a community’s collective knowledge and action when identifying and confronting environmental issues. To those ends, the main project goals are to: (1) Examine the various epistemological lenses by which environmental behavior change and action are understood at the collective level, (2) gather, coalesce, and analyze measures that aim to capture collective efforts, and (3) operationalize and revise for our context those measures, culminating in pilot-testing them in on-the- ground, community-based settings.

This project measured collective environmental literacy with a focus on water quality. Community asset mapping and targeted survey work were used to examine high school graduates from Atlanta, Georgia. The data suggests that we can develop a few instruments and approaches for pilot testing in the future. 

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8 Comments on “Naomi Ray: Understanding and Measuring Environmental Literacy at the Community Scale

  1. Hi Naomi,

    Nice job! I really loved your slides, super colorful and fun. I really liked how you touched upon some things you’ve identified that could be done to improve your survey, that is such an important part of learning! I really like your idea of creating a resource directory of assets to give to people after.

    I also thought it was interesting that social media wasn’t a higher source of information. Do you have any ideas why that is? Did you collect any demographic information from your participants? I wonder if it was a older crowd, who may be less active on social media versus a younger crowd.

    I also wonder what the next part of this project is, particularly since you collected emails for follow up interviews. What type of additional follow up are you/the lab considering?

    • Hi Bianca,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the presentation. Thank you for listening.

      The low ranking of social media as a news source surprised me as well. Firstly, I think people may not realize how much information they take in from social media because we use it so much. Also, the question asked about information focused on their specific community and I think a lot of the viral environmental posts that people encounter aren’t focused on their community, while their local news station would focus on things happening in their specific community.

      As for the next steps, my mentors Alison Bowers and Anna Lee are planning how to proceed to conduct pilot testing. A few of the places they are considering are in Virginia and near Palo Alto. So as of now, I do not have plans to follow up with the people who left their emails because my project was a pilot of a pilot test. I do think if Alison and Anna continue with the survey/ Community Asset Mapping method, they will include a question to follow up with people.

  2. Naomi: This was a great first pass at conducting these surveys! As someone unfamiliar with these methods I learned a lot. One thing I thought was interesting is that it looked like a fairly high (ca. 70%) number of respondents indicated a little to a lot of concern about water quality within their community, yet in the conversation question nearly 75% also said they never talked about water quality? This seemed like an interesting contrast to me? Do you have any thoughts on about the comparison?

    • Hi Kate,

      You brought up a great point. The concerns question was focusing on how the respondent thought their community felt about water quality, while the discussion question was focused on their household. I think the majority of people may not talk often about water quality in their homes because they have not experienced any issues in their households. Question 1 showed that only 18% of people considered water quality to be a problem where they lived. Moreover, they would imagine that there are a lot of people outside of their household who do care because they are preventing issues from arising, and also Atlanta is a city where people actively voice their concerns about many political and social issues.

      Thank you for listening to my presentation!

  3. Hi Naomi-

    I so enjoyed watching your presentation and getting to hear a summary of all the hard work you did this summer. Your slides were super easy to follow and presented the information in a clear, succinct way–nice job!

    Like Bianca’s comment above, I too am curious what you think the next steps are for this project based on what you learned. I loved your comments about ways to revise and improve the survey. I know we have talked about doing interviews so I am curious what topics and questions you think would be good to cover if we do interviews.

    Something we have talked about in the lab is if we need to focus on a certain environmental topic when measuring and exploring the collective environmental literacy in a community, so it is great to have your work which did focus on a specific topic (water quality). When measuring collective environmental literacy, what do you see as the benefits of focusing on a specific topic?

    • Hi Alison,

      Thanks for all of your guidance this summer.

      In terms of the next steps, I would revise the questions to more accurately test their environmental knowledge, and I would condense the survey, while still including the free-response questions. In terms of following up, I would followup on question 19 ” How concerned is your local community with water quality?. It would be interesting to hear people’s explanations for why they thought a lot of people cared while not many people talk about it in their household. I think it would also be interesting to followup on if people even think they need to learn more about the environment because some people may not have wanted to be interviewed but are still interested in practicing better habits.

      Focusing on a specific topic like water quality or air pollution is advantageous because it prompts people to be more specific in their explanations. But, I also see a need to include some more general questions especially more general knowledge-based questions so we can make conclusions about environmental literacy vs water literacy.

  4. Hi Naomi,
    Great presentation! I had never heard of the term “environmental literacy” before, and I learned a lot from your presentation about it. Your data is very interesting, especially the questions about concern with water quality in contrast to the level of discussion about water with the family. I also noticed that no participants in the survey got a 4/4 knowledge score and that one of the next steps that you are considering is to release a resource directory. Do you have ideas about what you would like to include in that directory to help people become more knowledgable about water quality in their area?

    • Hi Gillian,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the presentation. Thanks for listening! I was planning on following up with the participants who indicated that they were interested in follow-up interviews. I was going to specifically ask them about which places, organizations, websites, social media accounts, community leaders they use as resources in their life to become environmentally literate. In the survey, people were only so specific in their responses. They categorized the resources they would use but did not give specific enough information for me to create a directory on the survey responses alone.
      Personally, I would include some water quality reports form the city of Atlanta because I used those to write the knowledge-based questions.

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