Nature-Based Learning in Higher Education (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing Author Nicole Kras, Ph.D., Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Human Services at Guttman Community College.

On Tuesday, April 13th, I organized a workshop that focused on various aspects of nature-based learning (NBL). NBL is described as follows:  

Nature-based learning, or learning through exposure to nature and nature-based activities, occurs in natural settings and where elements of nature have been brought into built environments, such as plants, animals, and water. It encompasses the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and behaviors in realms including, but not limited to, academic achievement, personal development, and environmental stewardship. It includes learning about the natural world, but extends to engagement in any subject, skill or interest while in natural surroundings (Jordan & Chawla, 2019, p.2). 

We were fortunate to have Dr. Cathy Jordan as the key speaker. Dr. Jordan is a Professor of Pediatrics and the Director for Leadership and Education at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Since 2013 she has also served as the consulting research director for a national nonprofit – the Children & Nature Network. Dr. Jordan provided workshop participants, both within and outside of CUNY, nationally and internationally, a solid foundation for understanding the research behind NBL. She also shared some of the identified benefits of NBL including increased concentration and engagement, stress reduction, and increased cognitive skills. Building off of Dr. Jordan’s presentation, I posed the idea that NBL, primarily researched in early childhood through high school settings, can also be beneficial in higher education. I shared some ways that I have piloted NBL experiences with my students at Guttman Community College to help support course and program learning outcomes. These NBL experiences included an eco-art workshop, an animal-assisted therapy workshop, and an educational program co-designed with the Central Park Zoo. This educational program focused on students learning about responsible and ethical habits of people at work using ethnographic data collection methods. Student feedback from these experiences were overwhelming positive and support the need for future research in this area. After the presentations, participants shared their thoughts and questions about NBL, as well as some nature-based ideas that they have implemented in their teaching. It is the hope that this workshop ignites further collaboration both inside and outside of CUNY on identifying the potential benefits that NBL can have for students in higher education.   

Nicole Kras, Ph.D., is Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Human Services at Guttman Community College. Her research focuses on human services program design, nature-based learning in higher education, and the influence of the natural environment on the lives of New England Island Residents.  

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