Kayla Cranston, PhD

Antioch University
Home Faculty Directory Kayla Cranston, PhD

Kayla Cranston, PhD is the Director of Co-Design Science & Innovation at Antioch University New England. In this position, Kayla leads the design and administration of a suite of professional development services to strengthen the capacity of conservation professionals to effectively integrate Conservation Psychology into their daily work. Previous to this post, Kayla worked at Saint Louis Zoo as Conservation Education Researcher, where she led the evaluation of K-12 environmental education programs and designed and managed a co-design project that strengthened the capacity of the zoo to co-develop zoo programming with (not for) the community of North St. Louis County.

Her research brings a psychological perspective to the development of strategy and evaluation metrics that aim to conserve wildlife conservation while also fostering the well-being of human community members who are directly affected by wildlife conservation projects.

Kayla has shared her expertise in co-design and conservation psychology by teaching the topic to students and professionals at Antioch University New England, Oregon State University, Miami University, and currently online at the University of California San Diego Extension. She created and currently leads a coaching service to strengthen the capacity of environmental professionals at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Zoo New England, US Fisheries & Wildlife, and World Wildlife Fund to apply psychological principles and tools to strengthen and evaluate conservation and community engagement programs with her co-design approach. You can read about her approach to co-designing conservation programming with (not for) communities in her article on the topic that she co-authored in the special issue she co-edited in Zoo Biology.

See more about her research in capacity building for conservation at www.kaylacranston.com.

Kayla Cranston


Co-Design Science & Innovation

  • Postdoctoral Studies in Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management, Oregon State University
  • PhD in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Conservation Psychology, Antioch University New England
  • MA in Community-based Social Marketing, Prescott College
  • BS in Social and Behavioral Psychology

Teaching allows me to apply my knowledge of human motivation in a substantively different way than research, using an experiential and self-directed model of education that studies have shown to predict long-term engagement in the learning process. My primary goal in teaching is to facilitate opportunities for students to discover their own meaningful understanding of class material in a way that will also supply them with the knowledge and tools they need to create innovative solutions to real-world problems in the future. Because of the diversity of backgrounds AUNE comes from, this emphasis is particularly important for allowing students to gain knowledge and build skills in a manner most appropriate to their learning style, practical experience, and current understanding of the world. In all my courses, I provide an instructional scaffolding that allows students to approach material at their current level of understanding and then expand upon that knowledge base through a carefully crafted combination of pre-class readings and multi-media engagement, in-class discussion of central principles and demonstration of application, group work to further coalesce new information and practice application, and opportunities for students to demonstrate their new autonomous understanding of the topic through student-led projects. Since having a critical understanding of multiple perspectives is an essential skill in the environmental field, the overall atmosphere I create enables students to collaboratively develop and debate innovative alternatives.

I use a variety of techniques to encourage student engagement. The combination of my international research and practice over the past seven years and my fourteen years of basic and applied research play an important role in this. This experience allows me to develop activities and assignments that offer students opportunities to apply their new knowledge and skills to real-world scenarios. For a lesson on Behavior Change Models, for example, I designed a multi-class lesson plan to help students develop an in-depth understanding of how and why conservation interventions are oftentimes hampered in seemingly unexpected ways by local communities rejecting the solutions that conservationists perceive as straight-forward and helpful. This activity is based on the research of how individual motives, mental schema, and context help to predict human behavior and was grounded in real-world case studies of domestic and international conservation. Students were first introduced to the basic principles of the behavior change model through pre-class readings. I further reviewed the model in class by demonstrating how it could be employed to analyze a real-world example of American ranching practices. The students then broke into small groups and worked together to analyze American water conservation using the same model. They presented their analysis to the class and together we clarified logistical questions that arose. In preparation for the next class, students were individually assigned to one of the three dimensions of the behavior change model (motives, mental schema, or context) and asked to carefully listen to a National Public Radio episode that described a case study of a failed intervention in Haitian mango farming after the 2010 earthquake. As they listened to the episode, they made note of instances from the case study that belonged in the behavior change dimension they were assigned. During the next class, students shared with the class which aspects of the case study they believed belonged in their dimension. To conclude the class, I facilitated a discussion of the complexities and nuances that emerged, how the model helped (or did not help) students better understand real-world problems, and how it could be employed in their future work. I have since turned this in-class activity into an online experience and it can be found at the following URL: https://courses.ecampus.oregonstate.edu/fw560/vbn/story_html5.html

My interactive teaching approach to learning follows a flipped classroom pedagogy, wherein factual transmission happens outside of class via assigned readings or multi-media and class time is reserved to integrate that knowledge through small group activities, class discussion, and student presentation. While many students thrive by directly interacting with classmates in a flipped classroom, this learning style is not for everyone and I create space for this difference by offering opportunities for students to also engage in the material individually and anonymously while in class. One tool I often employ for this purpose is TurningPoint technologies. I use the clickers with PowerPoint presentations to allow students to anonymously explore classmate perspectives on potentially sensitive topics and to test out survey question formats to think critically about the experience of responding. I have also created and taught online courses using Blackboard and Canvas and would welcome the opportunity to continue honing this aspect of my teaching in the future.

I have designed and taught 5 on-campus classes related to conservation psychology, communications, sustainability, human dimensions of conservation. My approach to teaching these courses embodies my drive to engage students in real issues and practical tools that they will need upon graduation. I took courses in graduate school that followed a similar experiential pedagogy and have found the skills I gained during those courses to be among the most useful in my career.

I take pride in creating valuable learning experiences for my students with the methods I’ve described above. I was especially pleased by this set of comments from four graduates who recently wrote in their evaluation of my course: “Dr. Cranston is an amazing professor and her class is incredibly important for people going into conservation/natural resource management. Her upbeat spirit and high energy truly inspired me to learn and invest in the course content. By letting us focus on applications that fit our goals and specific interests, she created a class that is in line with our need to be self-directed in our future careers. Each class period and the overall organization of the course lent enough structure so that content and assignments were clear, effective, and productive. I truly appreciate Dr. Cranston taking her role as an educator seriously. I highly recommend her classes to my peers because of how much I’ve learned and enjoyed being in her class.”

Peterman, Cranston, Pryor & Kermish-Allen. (2015). Measuring Primary Students’ Graph Interpretation Skills Via a Performance Assessment: A case study in instrument development. International Journal of Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2015.1105399. Available Online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2015.1105399

Cranston, K. (2016). Building & Measuring Psychological Capacity for Biodiversity Conservation. (Electronic Dissertation). Available at: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=antioch1472034188

Cranston, Kayla Ann. (2009). Theory in action: A sustainable community development framework from a psychological perspective. M.A. dissertation, Prescott College, United States — Arizona. Retrieved May 27, 2009, from Dissertations & Theses @ Prescott College database. (Publication No. AAT 1462237).

Mazur, Zoloto, Cranston & Sanabria. (2012). Environmental Discounting: using the ERBI to estimate the likelihood of engaging in environment-responsible behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Cranston, Kayla A, Saunders, C.D, DeYoung, R. (in development). Willing & able: Fostering psychological capacity for biodiversity conservation.

Cranston, Kayla A, Trevelyan, R. Saunders, C.D, Kaplin, B. (in development). Psychological willingness as an indicator of long-term capacity for biodiversity conservation.

Cranston, Kayla A, Delie, J., Beidenweg, K. (in development). The impact of social data on coastal manager mental models and decision-making.

Invited Presentations

  • August 2019
    Conservation Psychology Institute, Saint Louis Zoo
    St. Louis, MO
    Presentation: Community-based Social Marketing
  • June 2019
    Black Jack Town Hall
    St. Louis, MO
    Presentation: Participatory Asset Mapping and the Saint Louis Zoo
  • April 2019
    Ferguson Youth Initiative (FYI)
    Ferguson, MO
    Presentation: Participatory Asset Mapping, Ferguson, and the Saint Louis Zoo
  • August 2018
    Psi Chi Missouri Chapter, Lindenwood University
    St. Louis, MO
    Presentation: What is Conservation Psychology?
  • January 2017
    Women in Science Group, Oregon State University
    Corvallis, OR
    Presentation: Long-term engagement in environmental decision-making
  • June 2015
    Conference of Environment & Human Well-being Claremont Graduate University
    Claremont, CA
    Presentation: Building & Evaluating Capacity for Biodiversity Conservation
  • October 2007
    ECOSA Institute of Sustainable Design
    Prescott, AZ
    Lecture: The Importance of Life Principles in Biomimicry-Based Ecological Design

Academic Presentations

  • June 2016
    Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
    53rd Annual Meeting: Tropical ecology and society: Reconciling conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity
    Montpellier, France
    Presentation: Psychological willingness as an indicator of long-term capacity for biodiversity conservation
  • August 2015
    27th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB)
    Montpellier, France
    Presentation: Fostering & Evaluating Durable Motivation in Capacity Building Programs
  • July 2012
    Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
    49th Annual Meeting: Ecology, Evolution, and Sustainable Use of Tropical Biology
    Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
    Presentation: The Role of Empowerment & Meaningful Action In Effective Biodiversity Conservation
  • June 2011
    Antioch University New England, Keene, NH
    10th Annual Environmental Studies Student Research Symposium
    Presentation: Capacity Building for Biodiversity Conservation in Eastern Africa
  • May 2008
    Prescott College, Prescott, AZ
    Thesis Presentation: Less Talk More Action: Creating a Theory-Based Community Action Plan to Foster a Sustainable Future
  • January 2008
    Highlands Center for Natural History, Prescott, AZ
    Lecture Series: Sustainability Theory and Applications

Research Activities

Empathy and Moral Reasoning for Animals and Other Children in Nature Preschool Students
PI, Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO
Observational methods were designed and interviews conducted to determine the impact of the Saint Louis Zoo’s Nature Preschool on preschoolers’ empathy and moral reasoning for animals and other children.

Fear of and Empathy for Animals, Sense of Place in Urban 2nd Graders
PI, Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO
Interview methods were designed to determine the impact of the Saint Louis Zoo’s 2nd Grade programming on participating students from Biome Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Cognitive Structure of Shoreline Manager Priorities on the Olympic Peninsula
First author, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Analyzing quantitative and qualitative data from a study that explored how shoreline managers’ mental models and priorities changed after an intervention that showed them social data about their constituents. Findings indicate that there is a slight correlation between the shift in shoreline managers’ mental models and priorities after the intervention. This study provides a baseline of metrics and methods to use in future studies of how social information affects managers’ decision-making process.

Learning Interventions for Private Landowners to Restore Watershed Ecosystems
Co-author, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interpreting data and co-writing discussion about this study, which used semi-structured interviews with private landowners to investigate determinants of support among riparian landowners to cooperate in restoration efforts. Findings indicate different learning interventions influence support for restoration. First, peer-to-peer interactions and relationships can influence land-use decision making. Also, ecological monitoring data and information that increases awareness of the condition of watershed ecosystems can influence support for restoration projects on private property. This study provides insight into how watershed restoration organizations can more effectively work with private landowners through understanding and incorporating these distinctions in landowner outreach and engagement.

Local Engagement in Coastal Management Decision-Making in Oregon
Co-PI, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Using interviews, focus groups, and literature review to identify the psychological, socio-economic, and governance-focused wellbeing and motivation metrics related to environmental decision-making across community team members along the coast of Oregon. Working collaboratively with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Sea Grant to identify community groups. Working directly with community teams on the Oregon coast to co-create metrics that will help monitor their wellbeing and motivation as it relates to future environmental decision-making.

Psychological Determinants of Capacity for Conservation in Practitioners
PI, Antioch University New England, Keene, NH
Comparative study using interviews and surveys to identify universal and population-specific metrics to determine long-term action toward environmental goals in North American and East African practitioners. Exploratory Factor Analysis was used to analyze the results. Findings indicate that meaningful ownership, effective autonomy, community need, group efficacy, and understanding all play an important part in the development of long-term capacity in practitioners while meaningful ownership, effective autonomy, and community need are predictive of 35% of variance in long-term capacity behavior. Interesting differences were found across populations. This study provided insight into the psychological underpinnings of capacity building across North American and East African practitioners and highlighted the importance of considering population-specific differences in these dimensions in future cross-cultural capacity-building efforts.

[simplecast-embed error="Could not find episode"]
Skip to content