Defining Environmental Education at AUNE

“Aim to land where you want to land. I don’t think you’re going to make a wrong decision at a place like Antioch.”

Antioch University New England has been a progressive leader in educational training since 1964. Multiple programs are available for Antioch students to pursue training in environmental education, holistic curriculum design, and engaging with multiple audiences.

Learn more about our four closely-related Master’s degrees for current and aspiring educators and help distinguish them for prospective students. 

MS in Environmental Studies

Antioch’s Environmental Studies and Sustainability department is home to our Masters of Science in Environmental Studies (ES). Options for the education-minded student here are plenty; ranging from the formal setting of the classroom to the non-formal “classrooms” of camps, parks, and nature preserves. 

MS in Environmental Studies, Environmental Education

The first thing to know about AUNE’s Environmental Education (EE) concentration is that it isn’t a typical environmental education program. It is the only NAAEE-accredited environmental education program on the East coast. Housed inside an Environmental Studies (ES) department, this program is firmly rooted in collaboration with ES faculty and shares several academic requirements with other ES students. Students find they have easy access to networking opportunities, department faculty, and many environmental organizations and nonprofits outside of Antioch. Completing this degree earns a Master’s of Science.

Unique to AUNE are our two concentration directors — Libby McCann and Jean Kayira. They bring a diverse background to the department, ranging from adult and community-based education to Indigenous knowledge and issues of socio-ecological justice. “We have a pretty broad understanding of environmental education and we are respected in the field because of that.” Libby says, “[Our program] is intended to be broad.”

Environmental education has a broad nature and can happen in multiple contexts including (but never limited to) classrooms, zoos, nonprofits, museums, aquariums, and public lands. But not everyone agrees over the use of terms and definitions. Environmental education language can be used interchangeably; definitions tweaked to suit multiple purposes and buzz words bestowed with multiple meanings. 

But rather than get lost in trying to address broad definitions and scopes, Libby and Jean encourage their students to pursue their own interests in most of their assignments so that each student can tailor their coursework to match their passions. “You choose what makes sense for you,” Jean insists. “[Students] tailor their assignments to their interests.”

Classes are very hands-on and experiential. Lectures are minimal, with a seminar-style that lets students experiment and collaborate to learn. “Learning community is at the center of how we teach,” Libby says with pride. People come from all types of backgrounds and bring their unique experiences and passions to a community of learners. A collaborative learning experience aids students in gaining interdisciplinary skills to set them apart from everyday educators. 

“If you see yourself anywhere else [than a classroom], then you’re not gonna get much better than the Environmental Education MS.” Libby insists. “You’re going to be more culturally competent and understand issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. You’ll be able to make quality programming in multiple contexts and expand your professional network. I can say that with so much confidence for our program.”

Learn more about Antioch’s MS in Environmental Studies, Environmental Education

MS in Environmental Studies, Science Teacher Certification

Run by Jimmy Karlan, this certification is the only science teacher training in the country that is embedded in an Environmental Studies department. As such, students in this program use subjects like natural history, ecology, environmental science, and place-based education in their approach to teaching.

Unlike other students in the Environmental Studies department, Science Teacher Certification students are focused more on teaching science in a classroom setting. Graduates of the program are certified to teach life, physical, earth, and environmental science at the middle school level, and biology, AP environmental science, and ecology in at the high school level. And because of their background in environmental science, they may also choose to work at summer camps, museums, and other non-formal areas of environmental education.

Many students who choose this path come from a background in non-formal education, and are looking to make the switch to the classroom for a permanent career. To give his students hands-on experience, Jimmy partners with the middle and high schools in Brattleboro, VT for immersive training. The classroom teachers act as mentors and the students design their own original lessons to teach to the students there.

“There’s a lot of student choice involved,” Jimmy says. “They get to hold on to their questions, their passions, and figure out how they can translate the goals and objectives of a course into their curriculum design.”

Much of the content in the certification overlaps with other ES programs, with the difference that students have to meet NH state standards to get accredited. Graduates with this certification have career access to the US public school system.

“From day one, I am preparing my students to present themselves professionally.” Jimmy says, “I don’t wait until the 5th semester, we do that first semester. Their cover letters are attention grabbers from the first sentence on.” Science teacher certification students also build and maintain a professional online portfolio that markets their skills and passions to potential employers.

Learn more about Antioch’s Science Teacher Certification View the professional portfolios of current students: Whistle Barkan and Hannah Root.

MEd for Experienced Educators

Outside of the ES department, Antioch’s Education programs are offering educators innovative ways to approach their students and their subjects. In AUNE’s Education department, Paul Bocko oversees two concentrations designed to help Experienced Educators redefine their teaching styles and create lesson plans with new tools to cut across traditional subject breaks.

MEd for Experienced Educators, Place-based Education

The Teton Science School defines “place-based education” as “an approach that connects learners and communities to increase student engagement, boost learning outcomes, impact communities and promote understanding of the world around us.”

Paul Bocko developed this concentration with this definition in mind but took his own approach to make it more welcoming for classroom teachers. Paul takes a system’s view towards training educators: immerse them in traditional Education topics, like learning about the developing mind and education philosophy, and also encourage them to do practical work in their classroom. His students take a critical look at curriculum design, consider issues of equity, and learn how to observe their students to better teach to them.

Although they may sound very similar, this concentration (MEd) is not exactly the same as Environmental Education (MS). While the two share a similar focus on a person’s surrounding environment, Paul feels that it is important to distinguish the difference between the language used. “I see place-based as more holistic: it includes the culture and community. It is teaching and learning by using the natural, built, historic, and cultural environment.”

Place-based education expands on what the idea of a person’s “environment” can be to include everything a person might interact with or depend on. It is a bridge between multiple subjects for a common goal. Rather than seeing clear divides between subjects like math, social studies, and science, it invites the teachers and students to consider how they can apply skills and concepts from those subjects to local, real-world problems in their community. They learn through activism and action as they work towards a goal.

But for Paul, the real distinction comes down to one simple question: are we doing good work with kids?

“We need to engage kids in being active citizens while they are in school, not see school as training for jobs. There has been such a push towards tests and data that we’ve gotten far away from students contributing to their communities.”

This concentration is targeted for experienced educators who want to integrate place into their work. Most are classroom teachers looking for a better way to teach across the curriculum and encourage their students to engage in their community. An interest in activism or a desire to train active citizens is a must for anyone thinking about pursuing this certification.

MEd for Experienced Educators, Educating for Sustainability

Antioch’s MEd is the first in the country to link education and sustainability together. With this degree, educators inside and outside the classroom can develop curriculum that addresses sustainability concerns and engages students in them.

Within the teaching philosophy is an emphasis placed on teaching to the 3 E’s: Economy, Environment, and Equity. Lessons are taught through the lens of sustainability, with a systems view. Much like Place-Based Education, the curriculum is designed to draw from multiple subjects and work towards a collaborative goal: sustainable action.

Paul describes this concentration with similar language to the place-based concentration, but with a more focused outcome in mind. “You want students and teachers to be connected to nature, to the community, and to culture so that they will be more involved to help solve whatever future problems there are.”

There is a lot of academic overlap between this concentration and place-based, as well as shared goals with environmental education. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise since the concentration began as a collaboration between the education and environmental science department. The ideal student for this program would also fall somewhere between the disciplines: interested in issues of sustainability but wanting to tackle them holistically by drawing on multiple disciplines.

Learn more about AUNE’s MEd for Experienced Educators, Place-based Education and Education for Sustainability concentrations.

Making the Distinction

According to Libby, the distinctions between the programs are more about the delivery and less about the content. “There is this interesting permeable membrane that we cross among these programs,” she insists.

Students in the Environmental Education concentration can take classes in the Education department and Science Teacher Certification students have the same core requirements as ES students. A place-based education course is available for Environmental Education students as one of the many approaches they can take to their educational philosophy.

Graduates of all these programs are equally employable, just in different contexts. Where you want to end up is just as important as the passions you have when deciding which to pursue.

“Aim to land where you want to land.” Libby advises, “I don’t think you’re going to make a wrong decision at a place like Antioch. We encourage students to take risks and have an openness to learning and to change. We all want to support students and their dreams.”