California State University, Northridge

Wildlife Education and Attitudes Toward Animals

Barbara Wilkinson

[Barbara Wilkinson received her M.A. in Educational Psychology from California State University, Northridge, in spring 1997. She is interested in innovative educational programs about wildlife for children of all ages and wrote her thesis on multimedia wildlife education.]

Wildlife education enables children to understand the importance of including animals in their view of the Earth. Wildlife education "should result in positive changes in knowledge, attitudes, awareness, and actions toward wildlife" (Morgan and Gramann, 1989). "Since attitudes encompass both feelings and beliefs, they have both affective and cognitive components. Feelings and beliefs are generally directed toward decision-making, and therefore are important elements of perception" (LaHart, 1978). Perceptions influence the way individuals evaluate the external world. An examination of the sources where children are learning about wildlife can determine whether this type of education is taking place.

Most academic sources, in general, focus on the knowledge component of education. "Learning about animals in school appears to be so divorced from direct encounters with animals in their natural habitats that little basic understanding and lasting knowledge results" (Kellert and Westervelt, 1983). Encyclopedias and related books include factual information with some drawings or pictures, but are presented in a rather uninteresting way for children. Literature and newspapers are less focused on factual, identifying information about animals, but most children's storybooks personify animals. They do not educate about real animals in their natural habitats. Newspaper coverage of wild animals, except those focusing on human based events, is minimal to non-existent.

Our opportunity for exposure to wild and international animals is limited to visiting a zoo. Although the primary reason cited for visiting a zoo is for the educational benefit of children, Kellert (1980) has shown that the resulting knowledge scores were not significantly different from those of non-visitors. Morgan and Gramann feel that "zoological parks, classrooms, and wildlife sanctuaries are places where animals often are 'merely exposed' to onlookers" (1989). Even owning a pet only slightly raises knowledge scores (Kellert, 1980, Ascione, 1992). However, those who belonged to wildlife and/or environmental organizations or who watched animal-related television programs had significantly higher knowledge scores then any other group studied. Therefore, wildlife-oriented activities appear important in the development of knowledge (Westervelt and Llewellyn, 1985, LaHart, 1978, and Eagles and Muffitt, 1990). It may be that regular learning about wildlife in their natural habitat results in higher knowledge scores than more isolated learning experiences such as visiting a zoo. Learning about animals in their natural habitat may result in higher knowledge scores than would lessons on animals in school, consisting mainly of animals in the classroom or experiments in science class, which can result in limited knowledge about a few specific animals.

Kellert conducted a five phase report for the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. From 1977 through 1983, knowledge and attitudes towards animals were evaluated using survey and interview style questioning. Responses from children and adults from the United States were evaluated regarding knowledge and attitudes towards domestic and wild animals. Knowledge was assessed from a score on a true/false test of factual information on a wide variety of animals. Attitudes were determined by like-dislike responses to a list of animals. The attitudes were broken into categories, described by the following nine types: naturalistic, ecologistic, humanistic, moralistic, scientistic, aesthetic, utilitarian, dominionistic, and negativistic. These attitudes were defined as follows.

In Phase V of this study, Kellert and Westervelt (1983) focused on the attitudes of children from second through eleventh grades. A general tendency was found, for all the children surveyed, to feel mainly anthropomorphic attachments for individual animals such as pets or "lovable" animals, the humanistic attitude. The humanistic orientation is to hold certain animals, especially pets, in high regard but not animals in general. This attitude remains in spite of very different experiences with animals at the different grade levels. Younger children were more likely to have live animals in the classroom and to go on trips to see animals. Older children were more likely to have conducted experiments on animals. Further, "no significant difference was found in the knowledge scores of children who did and did not learn about animals in school" (Kellert and Westervelt, 1983).

Phase III of this study showed that the pervasive nature of this attitude is also present among adults, especially females and those living in cities. A resulting consequence is that "this challenge to wildlife programs will become even more real as society becomes more urbanized and more young people and females assume policy-making positions" (Westervelt and Llewellyn, 1985). Eagles and Muffitt, using the same definitions as the previous study, surveyed the attitudes of Canadian children from 12 to 14 years old. The attitude scales were also adapted from Kellert, with changes to make the questions easier for the children to understand. Like the United States study, they found the most common attitude among the Canadian children towards animals was humanistic. The authors also found that attitudes of those children who read about wildlife had higher naturalistic and scientistic scores, compared with non-readers who had higher utilitarian scores. Those children who watched television wildlife programs had significantly higher scores in those attitudes "valuing wildlife in its natural environment" (Eagles and Muffitt, 1990). These findings suggest that those children who are interested in watching or reading about animals also have attitudes carrying higher regard for animals.

Some children read or watch fictional stories about wildlife, including those considered classics. Fictional stories written about animals have changed over the years to reflect our changing attitudes towards them. Oswald (1995) stated that "the definition of animal hero in realistic animal fiction generally changed from wild animals that were heroic for surviving against all odds to domesticated animals that were heroic for rescuing humans from wild beasts." Human characters have become central to the novel and the greatest level the animal can attain is to have a relationship with the most humane character. The author feels that this increase in romantic and unrealistic descriptions of animals in fiction is due to a reduction in accessibility to wilderness areas and wild animals. She concludes that there is a serious problem when this over romanticizing occurs in children's novels because they may come to expect real animals to act as the fictional characters do and therefore "may be disappointed and disillusioned by real animal behavior" (Oswald, 1995).

Ascione (1992) showed in his review of the literature that children's attitudes about animal-related issues can be enhanced either by a focused classroom presentation or by reading materials and media presentations. The author suggests using the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education's curriculum guides, which are integrated into classroom lessons throughout the school year. They include role playing and creative writing. The purposes and goals of these guides is to "assist children in developing compassion, a sense of justice, and a respect for all living things" (Ascione, 1992).

This wildlife education must go beyond information about animals because knowledge about animals and attitudes towards them have only a low correlation. Merely providing information about an animal increased knowledge but did not promote more positive attitudes (Morgan and Gramann, 1989, LaHart, 1978). A research review article by Kameron (1973) on how individuals perceive the world concluded that "a person's world view is a result of the 'real world' and attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. Knowledge was not considered as an independent variable" (LaHart, 1978). Morgan and Gramann (1989) found the combination of message based and non-message based approaches provided significant increases in positive attitudes. Unfortunately, some subject matters such as wildlife issues are difficult to implement non-message based approaches. The authors suggest that when we are unable to incorporate non-message based approaches such as modeling, "attitudes might be enhanced by using a message that focuses on those aspects of a target species that are most salient to an audience" (Morgan and Gramann, 1989). For example, show the audience a picture of an elephant picking up a stick with its trunk and explain that their trunk is used much like a human hand.

Kellert (1981) found that interest in local animals is greater than either national or international animals. African animals, classified as both international and non-domestic, would therefore be assumed to have low status among Americans. Yet the African elephant represents one of the most familiar and popular animals in the United States. In the Kellert and Westervelt study, it ranked eleventh out of 33 animals on the children's rank order of animal preference and ninth among adults (Kellert and Westervelt, 1983). Both Cynthia Moss and Ian Douglas-Hamilton observe elephants in the wild and write about their experiences. Their books contain a large and varied selection of photographs. Oria Douglas-Hamilton wrote The Elephant Family Book, which describes these animals at a level appropriate for elementary school children.

According to photographer Mitsuaki Iwago, the lion is the most popular animal among the sightseers on an African safari. His work concentrates on lions and his books include observations about the lions he photographs. Angelika Hofer and Gunter Ziesler's book, The Lion Family Book, illustrates these animals' lifestyle for younger children. Telling stories about wildlife, with photographs showing the animals, directed toward younger children may facilitate the interest in animals that is present in those older children who belong to wildlife organizations and watch wildlife programs.

The appropriate and most influential age for children to be exposed to animal education has been estimated by several researchers. Westervelt and Llewellyn (1985) found that environmental education programs are most commonly found in grades 11 and 12, which is after attitudes toward wildlife have been firmly established. "Attitudes toward consumptive and non-consumptive uses of wildlife appear to be well formed by the time young people reach eighth grade" (LaHart, 1978). When describing the developmental progress of the second through eleventh graders, Kellert and Westervelt found that second through fifth graders were characterized by changes in affective and emotional concern for animals. And "in general, the transition from fifth to eighth grade appeared to signify basic changes in intellectual and cognitive understandings of animals" (Kellert and Westervelt, 1983). "Several authors suggest that at this age [10 - 12 years old], students are actively searching for more information about animals, their attitudes toward animals are still forming, and therefore excellent opportunities exist for fostering an appreciation for the natural world" (Westervelt and Llewellyn, 1985).

Interactive Multimedia Instruction

In addition to literature, magazines, and television programs, interactive multimedia computer programs are also available for children as learning tools. Computers are currently available in most schools and are being purchased and installed in more schools across the country every year. Currently, the computer labs in schools are mainly used to teach programming, for example to use Macintosh's LOGO program to create a picture. "Some students, who had developed an expertise in programming, believed that their teachers were not knowledgeable enough or that their computer classes were too elementary" (Beyond Technology's Promise, p.103). When computers are used as learning tools, "most students thought learning is more exciting with computers ... a majority of students stated that they learn 'better' using a computer" (Davidson and Ritchie, 1994). Children use home computers mainly for playing games. Educational software designers have recognized the attraction to games, and have responded by incorporating a game-like format to their programs. As a consequence, "they permitted children to obtain winning scores by playing the game in a rapid, repetitive, mindless fashion that precluded learning the material the program had been fashioned to present" (Lepper and Cordova, 1992).

Multimedia instruction can include features to attract and hold attention, provide students with lesson information, and contain features to facilitate learning the material. Norman believes that the electronic classroom goes beyond computer labs to provide "a unique potential for the interactive and collaborative learning of any subject" (1994). The program being evaluated by the author includes interactive screens, animation, and computer access to assignments and readings. Designers must integrate learning principles with multimedia capabilities for effective instruction. To accomplish this goal, "programmed instruction requires the highly disciplined application of learning techniques such as shaping, fading, priming, and prompting" (Bostow et al, 1995). Further, the authors assert that "someone must organize the interchanges between student and machine into a sequential series of small steps, each small step being a component leading to the desired terminal performance" (Bostow et al, 1995). These interchanges must predict and address ideas that are difficult, resulting in the illusion of the computer answering questions posed by the student.

The interactive multimedia instruction can create an exploratory environment where the student plays an active role in the learning process. Arnone and Grabowski compared program control, learner control, and learner control with advisement for learning and curiosity in first and second graders. The program control condition provided a linear path through the lesson. Under learner control condition, the user could choose from multiple paths through the lesson. Students who had control over sequencing, pacing, and remediation, combined with advisement to use the "stop and think" option scored higher and spent more time on task than under the other conditions. In addition, the authors feel this condition resulted in higher scores because it provides the most interaction between student and computer. The learner control with advisement condition also "generated the most questions and the most independent ideas" (Arnone and Grabowski, 1992).

Rosenzweig sees electronic media as "extremely good at condensing large amounts of data in small amounts of space"(1993). This and the wide variety of media available for his subject matter prompted him to convert a history book into an electronic book which included audio, film, and pictures, combined with non-linear search features, using Hypercard and Macintosh. The same hardware and software combination was selected when an electronic guide at the Museum of Dion in Greece was developed in 1993. These authors selected the Macintosh because of its reliability and friendly interface and Hypercard because it is the first and most widely used multimedia authoring tool. Hypercard and Macintosh provide a relatively simple authoring tool to create learning environments in a wide array of settings.

An advantage to multimedia authoring tools is the ability to include pictures and audio so children can look at and hear about the animal simultaneously. Researchers have said that lessons using two modalities increases learning. Small et al. (1993) conducted four experiments comparing recall of information about animals with and without pictures of the animals. Their results showed that the pictures facilitate recall whether the information is present in the prose and the picture or only in the prose. This effect does not exist for information in the picture, but not addressed in the prose. The picture was even helpful when the information in the prose was not obviously illustrated in the picture, so long as the picture was relevant to the prose. The effect was present for familiar and unfamiliar animals, which is important because children may be familiar with some of the animals and not others.

Many suggestions have been made to assist designers intending to make their programs more user-friendly. Dessipris et al. (1993) suggest inserting a help button on each screen, and conducting a pilot study looking for screens on which users hesitate due to feeling lost, then making changes to ease the navigation. Rosenzweig (1993) provides his students with over 200 excursions, or side trips, that elaborate on some fact or idea from the main text. The use of "quicktime" has enabled him to incorporate films into some of these excursions. Schweir and Misanchuk, in their book Interactive Multimedia Instruction, outline the many ways to approach lessons that are available in this media, such as simulations and tutorials. In creating education tools, objectives and learning styles must retain their importance, while elements such as aesthetics, ease of navigation and help segments must also be given consideration.

Educating children about wildlife reaches beyond learning facts about animals to an appreciation, affection, and respect for these living creatures. Much of what we teach children passes on the attitudes and values of the society. As we become more urbanized, our personal experiences with animals becomes more isolated, much of the time being limited to domesticated pets. The pervasive attitudes towards animals is described by researchers as humanistic, which singles out pets and "lovable" animals as recipients of affection while showing little appreciation for wildlife in general. Without firsthand experiences with wildlife, much of urban America has come to depend upon wildlife organizations, publications, and television programs to educate forthcoming generations. In the 1990's, children are becoming enamored with computer technology. The popularity of computer games, internet, and equipment is reaching children at a younger age. The advancing technology is resulting in more user-friendly computer programs. Also, there is a trend for computer programs, such as the internet, to be exploratory in nature. This format transfers very well to educational programs in general and to wildlife programs in particular. Photographs, movies, audio recordings of animal sounds and narration can breathe life into these animals. In addition to factual information, stories with pictures can add an element of familiarity and identification for these little known animals.

With knowledge and understanding, children can come to appreciate the animal's unique qualities. This requires time and effort, so the learning tool must capture the children's interest and provide continued curiosity throughout the lesson. "More ambitious and imaginative efforts are required as the eventual condition of wildlife will, of course, depend on the future commitment and concern of today's children" (Kellert and Westervelt, 1983).