2022 ESA Annual Meeting (August 14 - 19)

OOS 9-2 Is the 4DEE framework a sufficient “hook” to cultivate ecological literacy for all?

8:15 AM-8:30 AM
Loren B. Byrne, Roger Williams University;

As is true for other species, human populations are highly heterogeneous. Much of this variation relates to knowledge, values, and diverse sociocultural characteristics that affect people’s worldviews, interests, and behaviors. Following from this, people, including college students, have diverse perspectives about and appreciation for nature, environmental issues, and science, including negative views. Despite such variability, ecology educators want to help ALL students develop core ecological knowledge and scientific competencies. ESA’s 4-Dimensional Ecology Education (4DEE) framework provides a guide to help teachers focus on a core set of concepts and practices that can be used to define “ecological literacy.” An open question is how applicable the 4DEE framework is to different student audiences, especially those composed of non-ecology/biology majors. For such nonmajor students, the 4DEE framework by itself may be an insufficient “hook” to motivate them to care about learning ecology. This concern challenges ecology educators to think more critically about how they can make ecology and environmental issues more interesting, relevant and salient to diverse student populations. The objective of this presentation is to discuss how to more effectively cultivate ecological literacy in all students by operationalizing the 4DEE framework through connecting it to affective traits and learner-centered pedagogy.


The 4DEE framework overlaps significantly with the related but broader concept of environmental literacy. A key divergence is that environmental literacy has, from its inception, considered individuals’ affective, personal traits like values and emotions as essential to understanding how to help people connect with nature and adopt pro-environmental behaviors. In contrast, ecologists generally avoid affective issues in science communication and teaching, hoping that data and “cold, hard facts” will sufficiently motivate people to care about nature and use ecological knowledge for evidence-based decision making. In contrast, quantitative and anecdotal evidence indicates that engaging students’ affective traits can help improve learning outcomes. Learner-centered pedagogy—exemplified by minute papers, debates, and problem-based case studies—provides a companion framework for developing classroom activities that facilitate exploration of affective issues alongside 4DEE concepts and practices. In context of nonmajors teaching, emphasis may also be needed on students’ everyday lives, local communities, and non-ecology career goals to help them appreciate the value of, and cultivate, ecological literacy. Though the 4DEE framework is an important development in ecology education, its effectiveness for teaching diverse students requires that ecologists operationalize it using a wide-range of affective and leaner-centered pedagogical “hooks.”