Research – Recent Research – Outdoor Education
This research report, produced by the English Outdoor Council suggests they now have hard evidence on the value of the outdoors. Within the broad sphere of learning outside the classroom the report suggests that challenging outdoor activities and environmental studies are particularly powerful learning opportunities. The authors suggest that these activities contribute to a range of important societal targets across education, health, anti-social behaviour and community cohesion, however not all young people benefit from these opportunities.
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Outdoor education, in its various guises, has been part of the New Zealand education system for decades and is considered by many to be integral to school life. This paper addresses outdoor education within physical education in primary and secondary schools. It critiques the priority historically given to personal and social outcomes, suggesting that this has served to keep outdoor pursuits and adventure activities at the forefront of many school programmes, particularly in secondary schools.
In turn, it is proposed that this has sidetracked the focus from outdoor environmental education, a problematic outcome given contemporary concerns about the need to foster environmental appreciation, understanding, and action. A range of possibilities for a practice of outdoor education that deliberately and creatively fuses simple, 'skill-full' adventures, and student connectedness and commitment to local environments is highlighted.
The article discusses the advantages of outdoor education for lifelong learning. Barriers to outdoor education include the prevalence of a culture of risk aversion and limited financial support for learning outside the classroom. The British Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) published in October 2008 a report that provides evidence of the positive benefits of outdoor learning for all groups.
The use of group discussions as a means to facilitate learning from experiences is well documented in adventure education literature. Priest and Naismith (1993) assert that the use of the circular discussion method, where the leader poses questions to the participants, is the most common form of facilitation in adventure education. This paper draws on transcripts of facilitation sessions to argue that the widely advocated practice of leader summaries or paraphrases of student responses in these sessions functions as a potential mechanism to control and sponsor particular knowledge(s).
Using transcripts from recorded facilitation sessions the analysis focuses on how the leader paraphrases the students’ responses and how these paraphrases or ‘formulations’ function to modify or exclude particular aspects of the students’ responses. I assert that paraphrasing is not simply a neutral activity that merely functions to clarify a student response, it is a subtle means by which the leader of the session can, often inadvertently or unknowingly, alter the student’s reply with the consequence of favouring particular knowledge(s). Revealing the subtle work that leader paraphrases perform is of importance for educators who claim to provide genuine opportunities for students to learn from their experience.
Many believe the 'outdoors' is a key factor influencing student learning in 'outdoor education' because it is so different from the 'everyday' indoor contexts of students' lives. In much of the outdoor education literature the outdoors is construed as a neutral and simplified space which allows students to have more 'real' and meaningful experiences than is possible in mainstream or 'indoor' schooling.
Purpose: In this paper we draw on Foucauldian theoretical insights to interrogate some of the ways this binary distinction of indoor/outdoor is both produced and sustained in outdoor education and the effect this has on practice. We examine how this presumed indoors/outdoors distinction works to make particular assumptions about what and how students learn in outdoor education appear coherent and plausible while excluding possibilities of alternative student learning in this field.
Participants and settings: This article focuses on one aspect of a larger ethnographic study of the outdoor education programme in a New Zealand all girls secondary school. Data collection: The first author observed and participated in the outdoor education programme of this school during 2002. Students were interviewed about their perceptions of their experiences on camp at the end of each residential camp. The two outdoor education teachers were interviewed about their perceptions of outdoor education at the end of the year.
Findings: The rhetoric of the role of the outdoors in outdoor education provides a limited and partial understanding of students' experiences and what it is possible for them to learn in the outdoors. We argue that this indoors/outdoors binary produces particular knowledge of self and others and environment and specific ways of understanding students that are not necessarily advantageous to all. Conclusion: We conclude by urging a re-consideration of the sanctity of the indoors/outdoors divide—one that attends to the potential effects on students, teachers and outdoor education as a subject area, of continuing to premise outdoor education philosophy and practice on its unproblematised 'existence'.