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Spring Focus on Sustainability and the Environment : The Effects of an Ecotourism Trip to Costa Rica on Students’ Attitu...
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091523/00619
 Material Information
Title: Spring Focus on Sustainability and the Environment : The Effects of an Ecotourism Trip to Costa Rica on Students’ Attitudes, Motivations, and Environmental Knowledge
Series Title: Journal of Undergraduate Research
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Richburg, Lauren
Stein, Taylor
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: Spring 2012
 Subjects
Subjects / Keywords: study abroad
sustainability
conservation
self-exploration
cultural awareness
personal growth
Genre: serial   ( sobekcm )
 Notes
Abstract: This project examines ecotourism in a collegiate, study abroad program. The objectives of this study include identifying (1) any possible changes in environmental knowledge after a university study abroad program and (2) which aspects of the program students value and how those changed upon completion of the trip. The methodology of this study involves three questionnaires of a group of 24 University of Florida students who attended a weeklong study abroad trip to Costa Rica in March of 2010. Questionnaire topics included student motivations for participating in the program, student values of different study abroad activities, knowledge-based questions, and student demographics. T-tests were conducted between demographics, knowledge scores, motivations, group memberships, and other variables. From the results, we conclude that study abroad programs do give students increased knowledge in ecological and cultural facts and these facts can last for the long-term (in this case, at least six months). Along with increased knowledge, aspects related to students personal growth is highly valued and substantial.
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: sobekcm - UF00091523_00602
System ID: UF00091523:00619

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University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 13, Issue 2 | Spring 2012 1 The E ffects of an E cotourism T rip to Costa Rica on S A ttitudes, M otivations and E nvironmental K nowledge Lauren Richburg and Dr. Taylor Stein College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Florida This project examines ecotourism in a coll egiate, study abroad program The objectives of this study include identifying (1) any possible changes in environmental knowledge after a university study abroad program and (2) which aspects of the program stud ents value and how those changed upon comple tion of the trip. The methodology of this study involves three questionnaires of a group of 24 University of Florida students who attended a weeklong study abroad trip to Costa Rica in March of 2010. Questionnaire topics included student motivations for pa rticipating in the program, student values of different study abroad activities, knowledge based questions, and student demographics. T tests were conducted between demographics, knowledge scores, motivations, group memberships, and other variables. From t he results we conclude that study abroad programs do give students increased knowledge in ecological and cultural facts and these facts can last for the long term (in this case, at least six months). Along with increased knowledge aspects related to stud ents personal growth is highly valued and substantial. INTRODUCTION Ecotourism is a growing phenomenon that serves to educate tourists about sustainability while providing funding for local conservation efforts. There is a broad range of ecotouris m trips includ ing camping in Yosemite National Park, white water rafting in the Grand Canyon, bird watching in Costa Rica, kayaking in Alaska, and so on. The ecotourism movement has generated a lot of enthusiasm around the world because it is thought to be a gre at alternative to other types of tourism as well as both profitable and sustainable. Indeed, many believe it is a solution for growth in developing nations because it provides opportunities for both economic development and environmental protection (Honey, 2008) While ecotourism promises many benefits it is difficult to measure the purposeful benefits of ecotourism, namely participant education and behavior modification. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there are a varie ty of definitions of ecotourism. These beliefs range from all encompassing stating all tourism can be classified as ecotourism, to the other extreme which is the belief that it is impossible to conserve areas with any form of outside human influence and t hus ecotourism is a contradiction. (Orams, 1995) Some trips emphasize the experience of tourists by focusing on their satisfaction, enjoyment, environmental learning, and behavior changes while other trips emphasize the preser vation of the natural environment by focusing on minimizing disturbances, improving habitats, and ensuring long term viability (Orams, 1995) Although study abroad programs might be classified as an academic exercise, they poss ess many of the characteristics described in ecotourism definitions and much research has been conducted examining study abroad within a tourism context (Carsello & Greaser, 1976; Chadee & Cutler, 1996; Dukes et al., 1994; Robalik, 2006). Past research fo cusing on study abroad within a tourism context provides a framework for the methodology of this study. Specifically, a study by Heather Robilik involved distributing a set of questionnaire s to students studying abroad before and after their trips. This st udy found that self exploration and cultural experiences were primary reasons students cho s e to study abroad, and the biggest impacts post trip were related to cultural immersion and self exploration Students reported positive experiences and personal gro wth (namely, newfound confidence and open mindedness) that were not expected pre trip (Robalik, 2006). Other studies have focused on the effect of tourism trips on tourist perceptions One experiment used an interactional model to determine the short and l ong term effects of a white water rafting trip to the Grand Canyon. It sorted the variables into dependent, independent, or intervening and included tourist characteristics and management approaches to assess the impact of the immediate outcomes of the tou r on the conservation area. They concluded that ecotourism can influence participant knowledge and behavioral intentions when combined with The study made no at tempt to qualify or quantify the long term effects of ecotourism. Another related case study interviewed participants on a trip to Queensland, Australia on a sea turtle based conservation trip and concluded that the ecotourism experience had a significant impact on environmental learning. The authors of the study found that

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L AUREN R ICHBURG AND DR T AYLOR S TEIN University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 13, Issue 2 | Spring 2012 2 direct interaction with wildlife contributed to the success of the trip and found a direct correlation between environmental learning and entertainment value ( Tisdell & Wilson, 2005) This research is unique as it looks at ecotourism in a study abroad context. The context of the study is to find the link between an ecological study abroad program (i.e. ecotourism) and participant knowledge of protected areas. This study should support previous findings that demonstrate ecotourism impact on environmental learning and an influence on student personal growth This study will evaluate a group of University of Florida students who went on a weeklong ecological tr ip to Costa Rica in March of 2010. Because this is an annual study abroad trip, the survey was designed to be conducted again the following year. This study will determine the short term (immediately after) and long term (six months later) effects of the t perspective using descriptive statistics, a mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, and several t tests. METHODS Researchers surveyed twenty three University of Florida students who attended a seven day study abroad trip to Costa Rica in March 2010. They included eighteen females and six males ages nineteen to twenty eight. The students ranged from undergraduate sophomores to graduate students, but the majority of students were undergraduate juniors and seniors. The most common major was Wildlife Ecology, followed by Agricultural Education and Communication, Environmental Science, and Anthropology. Twenty out of the twenty three students reported having special interests in particular environmental issues (Table 1 ) Table 1 Student Environmental Characteristics Environmental Characteristics Frequency Percent 1 Subscription to environmental magazines 4 17% Member of outdoor/environmental clubs 10 43% Special interest in environmental issues 20 87% 1 N =23 The students completed three questionnaires: a pre trip questionnaire one week before the trip, a post trip questionnaire one week after the trip, and a post trip questionnaire six months after the trip. The first two questionnaires were administered i n class meetings and the final was online. motivations for participating in the program ; values of different study abroad acti vities ; knowledge of Costa Rica, tropical forests, and tropical agriculture ; membership t o environmental organizations ; participation in environmental activities ; and demographics. Data analysis included descriptive statistics to measure student demographics and preferences for trip characteristics and t tests were conducted between demograph ics, knowledge scores, motivations, group membership, and other variables. Knowledge scores were determined by a knowledge based questionnaire (Table 2). Table 2 Knowledge based Questionnaire Question Answer What are some of the major threa ts to Costa deforestation, loss of biological diversity Why is species richness and biodiversity so much greater in the tropics than in the temperate regions? latitudinal gradient ES) program has led to a recent increase in forest cover. true st threatened wildlife species? harp eagle, giant anteater Why does Costa Ri ca have such great hot springs? magma from its many volcanic areas Which of the following is an indigenous tribe of Costa Rica? Bribri Although nature based tourism is considered an important income source for local communities, which is a major reason many local residents do not receive equitable revenue from tourism? p rofits often leak out of the community to stakehol ders from outside the community a system to classify vegetation according to latitudinal regions and altitudinal belts What is a dairy cooperative? How does it work ? farmers who pool their dairy resources to maximize profit What products are made at the Dos Pinos plant? powdered milk and ice cream

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EFFECTS OF AN ECOTOU RISM TRIP University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 13, Issue 2 | Spring 2012 3 RESULTS On the six month p ost trip survey 62% of students reported that the study abroad trip changed their perception of Costa Rica. Of the twenty three students, 71.4% attitude. Nobody reported a neutral or unfavorable attitude. When asked about mot ivation to travel outside the country again, 96% of students repor motivated No student reported feeling unmotivated. For the one week post trip survey, students were asked to describe their three favorite and least favorite activities from the trip and why. The answers among the students were strikingly similar. Twenty one students mentioned active activities such as zip lining, hiking, and horseback riding ; eight mentioned cu ltural activities such as visiting the Indian reserve and talking with locals ; six mentioned social activities, primarily relaxing at the hot springs ; and one mentioned lectures. All of the responses to the least favorite activities included some kind of physical discomfort : most commonly, dislike of local food, long bus rides, and uncomfortable sleeping conditions. A paired t test was performed to determine if the study abroad trip was effective in increasing the score on a knowledge based questionnaire a bout Costa Rica. The initial t test compared the pre trip score to the one week post trip score. The mean accuracy increased from 37% to 73%. The mean percentage increase was 39% with a standard deviation of 5% (t(22)=7.99, two tail p=6.0x10 8 ) providing evidence that the trip increased knowledge about Costa Rica. A 95% C.I. about mean score gain is 28.65%, 48.74% A second t test confirmed that this increase was retained when students were tested again six months later. The following year, seventeen comp arable students on the same trip were asked the same questions pre and one week post trip, and they experienced a similar knowledge gain The mean accuracy increased from 55% to 85%. The mean percentage increase was 30% with a standard deviation of 5% (t( 16)=6.00, two tail p=1.85x10 5 ) Students were asked to rate how important various activities were to a study abroad course on a scale of 1 ( not at all important ) to 5 ( very important ) Several paired t tests were performed to determine if the means diffe red when students were asked about the same activities before and after the trip. No significant differences were found, indicating that students valued the relative importance of each activity similarly before and after the trip. Pre trip, students ranked , important activities. Post trip, students ranked taking nt ( Table 3 ) Table 3 Preference for Activities Pre trip Survey Post trip Survey (one week post) Activities Mean 1 Standard Deviation Mean 1 Standard Deviation Wildlife watching 4.565 0.662 4.500 0.598 Eating local foods 4.522 0.665 4.136 0.640 Participating in cultural activities 4.348 0.647 4.227 0.685 Taking guided hikes of protected areas 4.304 0.876 4.591 0.503 Talking with locals 4.304 0.703 4.091 0.684 Participating in optional recreation activities (e.g., zip line) 4.217 0.736 4.2 27 0.752 Spending free time with group 4.087 0.733 4.091 0.610 Organizing and preparing 3.783 0.850 3.500 0.913 Individual free time 3.696 0.876 3.682 0.839 Attending guided tours of agricultural areas/facilities 3.522 0.994 3.227 0.922 Participa ting in group activities (e.g. completing assignments) 3.391 0.783 3.318 0.894 Visiting bars/clubs 3.000 1.000 2.932 1.094 Attending lectures 2.957 1.065 3.318 0.716 Souvenir shopping 2.913 0.996 2.773 1.066 1 1= Not at all important, 2= Not very im portant 3= Neutral 4= Somewhat important 5=Very Important

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L AUREN R ICHBURG AND DR T AYLOR S TEIN University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 13, Issue 2 | Spring 2012 4 Students were also asked to rate different reasons for participating in a study abroad course on a scale of 1 ( not at all important ) to 5 ( very important ) Pre trip, students earn about environment trip ; post trip, students ranked , No significant differences were found pre and post trip for t he majority of the motivations ; however students ranked as more important after the trip than they did before the trip ( Table 4 ). Table 4 Preference for Motivations Pre trip Survey Post tri p Survey (one week post) Motivations Mean 1 Standard Deviation Mean 1 Standard Deviation Have fun 4.783 0.422 4.864 0.351 Learn about environment 4.565 0.590 4.591 0.590 Experience another culture 4.522 0.665 4.636 0.727 Go hiking 4.522 0.665 4.8 64 0.351 Travel to a new place 4.522 1.163 4.682 0.894 Learn about tropical ecosystems 4.435 0.843 4.591 0.590 Learn about new culture 4.348 0.832 4.500 0.598 See exotic animals 4.348 0.775 4.591 0.734 Meet new people 4.261 0.752 4.773 0.528 Lea rn in an international setting 4.217 0.850 4.636 0.492 Participate in inexpensive study abroad trip 4.000 1.128 4.500 0.673 3.870 0.815 4.545 0.739 Learn about ecotourism 3.783 0.795 4.273 0.827 See exotic vegetation 3.783 0.795 4.727 0.456 Earn 3 college credits 3.435 1.590 4.682 0.894 Learn/use Spanish 3.304 1.363 3.727 1.241 1 1= Not at all important, 2=Not very important 3=Neutral, 4=Somewhat important, 5=Very Important DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION The context of the study is to find the link between an ecological study abroad program (i.e. ecotourism) and participant knowledge of protected areas. The study involved a set of three questionnaires given to a group of twenty three University of Florida students who a ttended a weeklong study abroad trip to Costa Rica. Questionnaire the program, values of different study abroad activities, and knowledge of Costa Rica. Results support previous findings and show that self exploration and cultural experiences are primary reasons for studying abroad (Robalik, 2006) The students highly valued having fun and experiencing a new culture pre trip, but they also valued environmental activities and experiences. This stron g interest in the environment is most of the trip. The positive responses post trip indicated that the trip satisfied student motivations. The six month post trip questionnaire indicated that th e trip had resulted in changed, favorable attitudes towards Costa Rica and the students felt motivated to travel outside of the country again. The students rated learning about ecotourism and seeing exotic vegetation more highly post trip. Both of these aspects were emphasized through lectures and guided hikes of protected areas. This shows that through study abroad s tudents learn to appreciate new concepts and ideas that they previously did not rate as important; however, instructors must work to stress these new concepts in different ways throughout the trip. The increase in the accuracy of knowledge based questions indicates that study abroad programs do give students increased knowledge in ecological and cultural facts, and these facts can last for the long term (in this case, at least six months). This indicates that classroom learning does have a place in study abroad context when combined

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EFFECTS OF AN ECOTOU RISM TRIP University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 13, Issue 2 | Spring 2012 5 with hands on learning. Along with increased knowledge aspects related to students personal growth is highly val ued and substantial. Based on student responses to open ended questions, they experienced personal growth primarily through active and cultural activities. There are several limitations to this study. The small sample size makes it more difficult to genera lize the findings; however, it should be noted that many significant statistical relationships were found. The fact that the students choosing this trip had previously demonstrated interest in environmental issues may have contributed to their positive ass essment of the activities and personal growth. Also, students may have experienced memory lapses when answering open ended questions about the trip. The researcher attempted to alleviate this by asking these questions on the one week post trip survey. The findings of this study may be used as evidence for the positive impact of ecotourism study abroad trips on student knowledge and growth While this study is an in depth analysis of on e trip results suggest the findings can be applicable to other study ab road trips as well. Recommendations for future research include expanding pre and post trip analysis to a variety of study abroad programs in other countries. Further research could be done to determine whether the increase in environmental knowledge affe cts student behaviors. BIBLIOGRAPHY Carsello, C., & Greaser, J. (1976). How college students change during study abroad. College Student Journal 10, 276 278 Chadee, D.D., & Cutler, J. (1996). I nsights into international travel by students. Journal of Travel Research 35(2), 75 80 Dukes, R., Lockwood, E., Oliver, H., Pezalila, C., & Wilker, C. (1994). A longitudinal study of a semester at sea voyage. Annals of Tourism Research 21(3), 489 498 Honey, M (2008). Ecotourism and Sustain able Developme nt: Who Owns Paradise? Washington, DC: Island Press Orams, M. B. (1995). Towards a mor e desirable form of ecotourism. Tourism Management Vol 16 3 8. Robalik, H.A. (2006). Study Abroad: An Exploration of Student Development and Student Percep tions. ( Un published doctoral dissertation). University of Florida, Gainesville FL. Tisdell, C., & Wilson, C. (2005). Perceived i mpacts of e cotourism on e nvironmental l earning and c onservation: Turtle w atching as a c ase s tudy. Environment, Development and Sustainability 291 302.