Monday, April 22

Outdoor Research in 2021

Kevin O’Callaghan is the coordinator of the New MSc in Outdoor Education, Sustainability and Well-being on the ATU’s Mayo Campus. Kevin has over 30 years’ experience in the outdoors ranging from education out of doors with young people and geoscientist to adventure sports curriculum design and provision. Kevin’s main passion is journeying in landscapes preferably for more than a weekend.IntroductionThis article provides a brief overview of the research articles published in the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning (JAOEL) in 2021. Within the journal there was a comprehensive cross-section of research that concentrated on different facets of outdoor and adventure education, ranging from education outdoors for the early years to the more traditional adventure education. The research is presented in a thematic format and concludes with a brief analysis of the most widely cited and accessed research articles from this issue of the JAOEL.Adventure Sports and the role of the coach/instructorCarson, Davies and Collins (2021) in their research article ‘The hills are alive with … Many different folk! Rationalizing and operationalizing a professional judgment and decision-making approach within mountain leadership’, researched the increased demands on adventure sports professions due to the growth in participation in outdoor activities. This growth and evolution of the sector requires an adaptable and flexible workforce to satisfy the increasingly diverse range of participatory motivations. Using Mountain leadership as an exemplar, the researchers dissect the themes connected with motivations and social dynamics and contextualized these against pertinent environmental challenges. A decision-making process is proposed with its requisite planning and reflective skill set to assist mountaineers to negotiate the complexity of individualized service provision.The topic of situational awareness remerges again in ‘A study of situational awareness in a small group of sea kayaking guides’, (Collins et al., 2021). In this study of sea kayak guides operating in moderate water conditions, a novel approach was adopted by utilizing virtual reality technology. The findings suggest that the guides’ recognition and understanding of key informational cues lacked both comprehension of their meaning and the ability to project their future impact on the situation. Their findings indicate that rather than guides focusing and dealing with situations, in training more emphasis should be placed facilitating guides to predict and anticipate, through enabling them to coach and be proactive in anticipating potential events.Another instructor related study researched, ‘What do participants perceive as the attributes of a good adventure sports coach?’ (Eastabrook and Collins, 2021). While a correlation between the attributes of good coaches in traditional sports identified within the literature, showed alignment with those of good adventure sports coaches, the researchers also identified three additional attributes that are critical for good adventure sports coaches: (1) in-depth knowledge of the adventure sports environment, (2) a very high degree of individualization, and (3) an explicit focus on developing the participant’s confidence. The findings of this research should provide food for thought across all adventure sports.SchoolsLohr, et al., (2021) investigated the social and emotional learning (SEL) in their article ‘The impact of school gardens on youth social and emotional learning: a scoping review’. The rationale for the study was that because emotions impact upon how we learn it is imperative for schools and families to effectively address SEL to benefit all students. The study undertook a meta-analysis of 213 programes with over 270,000 students. From these, eight examples were identified on how school garden programming can impact SEL among school age children and adolescents. They concluded that further research is needed, as from the three qualitative studies, only one found statistically significant results, (Lohr et al., 2021) .Svobodová, et al’s., (2021) research ‘A proposal of a concept of outdoor education for primary and lower secondary schools – the case of the Czech Republic’. The research analysed the way in which OE is implemented at selected elementary schools providing the primary and lower secondary education in the Czech Republic. All of the analysed school education programmes included OE in some form but with differences among the schools in terms of quantity and quality of learning. This analyses was followed up by interviews with teachers, which confirmed that schools have no concept of OE. The researchers then looked at Denmark, Australia and Finland and proposed an outdoor curriculum for introduction into the National curriculum. Looking closer to home there may be lessons that the Irish curriculum could potentially adopt to avoid the fragmentation and relegation of OE to a subservient role in the curriculum.Svobodová, et al’s., (2021) research ‘A proposal of a concept of outdoor education for primary and lower secondary schools – the case of the Czech Republic’. The research analysed the way in which OE is implemented at selected elementary schools providing the primary and lower secondary education in the Czech Republic. All of the analysed school education programmes included OE in some form but with differences among the schools in terms of quantity and quality of learning.This analyses was followed up by interviews with teachers, which confirmed that schools have no concept of OE. The researchers then looked at Denmark, Australia and Finland and proposed an outdoor curriculum for introduction into the National curriculum. Looking closer to home there may be lessons that the Irish curriculum could potentially adopt to avoid the fragmentation and relegation of OE to a subservient role in the curriculum.Forest SchoolsThe paper on ‘Articulating outdoor risky play in early childhood education: voices of forest and nature school practitioners’, (Harper and Obee, 2021) is pertinent as we find ourself in an increasingly risk averse society. Forest and nature schools are one approach to encouraging unstructured outdoor play in natural environments with its inherent risks. There is recognition that outdoor risky play provides developmental and health benefits for children such as resilience, risk assessment skills, social competencies, well-being, and of course increased physical activity. The study involved interviewing practitioners who shared creative strategies for navigating risky play within confines of their licensing regulations. These strategies included: being firm in the rationale for and practice of risky play, keeping detailed documentation of risk assessment, engaging in constant risk-assessment involving children in the process, being transparent with licensing officers and conveying intent of practice, inviting the parents to risky play activities, engaging in offsite field trips, and looking for ways around unclear policies. These findings may provide food for thought and hope for Irish practitioners.NatureIn the paper ‘Finnish student teachers’ conceptions and experiences of nature’ (Sarivaara, Keskitalo and Ratinen, 2021), focused on participants’ backgrounds in order to explore their connection with nature and how that relationship developed. The premise of the study was that outdoor-oriented learning relies on students’ perceptions of nature. To that end, three research questions were addressed.How do student teachers conceptualize nature?How do student teachers relate to and connect with nature?How and when was their relationship with nature formed? Almost every student teacher recalled how their parents would routinely take their children to the woods. At the same time, there was significant variation in the participants’ conceptions of nature. Most had an unnuanced and romantic view, and the analysis suggested that teachers must learn to reflect to understand their pedagogical options. A key task emerges for teachers which is to help pupils to broaden their understanding of nature and secondly to consider how to act on nature’s behalf. This raises opportunities for inquiry-based learning in schools. Using a student-centred approach to explore nature from different perspectives, pupils can widen their understanding of sustainability and natural phenomena. While focused on teacher education the linkages between forest school curricula and other forgotten outdoor spaces also appears pertinent.Adventure and Wilderness Therapies There is growing interest in the use of adventure therapy. The paper ‘The phased model of adventure therapy: trauma-focused, low arousal, & positive behavioral support’ (Trundle and Hutchinson, 2021) describes the development of the ‘Phased Model of Adventure Therapy’. The use of adventure therapy has been found to improve psychological wellbeing, self-esteem, and behavior in young people. This paper focused on a UK-based adventure therapy provider, the Creative Outdoors Group, who provides care to young people who are currently looked after by the Local Authority and display complex emotional and/or behavioral needs. This paper describes the theoretical underpinnings of the phased model of adventure therapy and how it was applied to an adventure therapy regime.Cultural PerspectivesIn the article ‘Outdoor education in Canada: a qualitative investigation’ (Asfeldt et al., 2021), an attempt is made to define just what OE is in Canada. The country’s large size, sparse population, varied landscapes, and diverse culture means developing a comprehensive understanding of the philosophies, goals and activities of OE in Canada is challenging. The study sought to describe the culture of Canadian OE programs in a bid to stimulate the development of a deeper understanding of Canadian OE. The researchers adopted a phenomenological analysis framework that explored OE programmes delivered by 22 different practitioners. Inevitably the findings indicate that OE in Canada is influenced by a blend of philosophies that include hands-on experience, integrated learning, and journeying through the land. Common goals include personal growth and building community integrated with place consciousness and environmental goals. Hiking, canoeing and kayaking, skiing and snowshoeing were the most common activities.Another paper looked at research again based in the Northern latitudes; ‘Sámi sports and outdoor life at the indigenous Riddu Riđđu festival’ (Skogvang, 2021). The researcher contemplated how sports, physical and outdoor activities included in the festival create indigenous people’s identities and cultural understanding. They found that activities facilitate the creation of ties between participants, networks and organizations and builds identities and bridges between participants. Participation claims to be crucial symbolic capital or polycapital in expressing indegenity or connection by participants, staff and volunteers at the festival.Higher EducationIn ‘A qualitative study of the perceived significant life impacts of a university summer outdoor education course’ (Wigglesworth and Heintzman, 2021) an exploration of the significance of an OE summer course was conducted by interviewing 15 individuals who participated in a summer course 20 years earlier. The recognition of discussion around competence learned and transfer during the course to participants’ family and work lives, rather than focusing on simply acquiring outdoor skills and knowledge is pertinent considering the focus on adventure sports within Irish OE. Another recommendation of this study is that outdoor pedagogues should recognise self-discovery and interpersonal skills development as valuable long-term impacts of an outdoor program that influence all dimensions of life, including work, leisure, and family. This research also provides useful insight into the long-term, transformative potential of outdoor experiences, especially in terms of participants’ leisure style and environmental behavioral changes.Technology in the Outdoors ‘Smartphone use in outdoor education: a question of activity progression and place’ (Bollinger et al., 2021) explores the controversial place of mobile phones in the outdoors, ranging from, their disruptive influences, to the potential for engagement and the promotion of access to resources. The research examined the perceptions of 151 outdoor instructors regarding appropriate student smartphone use during various activities. The results suggest that most instructors dislike smartphone use outside of commuting to and from events. However, when uses related to outdoor activities (e.g., GPS tracking, checking weather, locating relevant information), 50–65% of participants agreed that phones were appropriate. The exception was photography and video where there was 70–82% agreement on their appropriateness. An age and gender divide on the appropriateness of their use was also identified.Other themes in research‘The article ‘Norwegian teenagers’ experiences of developing second language fluency in an outdoor context’ (Myhre and Fiskum, 2021), explored how Norwegian teenagers experienced the development of spoken fluency of English as a second language through varied and sensuous learning in an outdoor environment. The results indicating that the students reported increased willingness to communicate in the target language due to increased confidence, real-life language use, and interesting ways of learning. The results are interpreted to be a consequence of a new and varied affordances in an outdoor environment.Research on ‘Hegemonic masculinity in outdoor education’ (Kennedy and Russell, 2021), notes the increasing attention being paid to gender issues in OE. Scholars and practitioners are sharing experiences of sexism and heterosxism and noting the need for an examination of hedgemonic masculinity in the field.Within the outdoors typical hegemonic masculinity value, enactments of toughness, emotional stoicism and agression, while feminity and alternative masculinities such as those of gay men, environmentalists and women are devalued. As this theory of masculinities is continually revised, indicating that multiple hegemonic masculinities may be possible. There has been so little research on masculinities in OE that there remains significant unanswered questions.Prince (2021) researched ‘The lasting impacts of outdoor adventure residential experiences on young people’. The researcher used evidence from four retrospective empirical research studies on lasting impacts (>12 months) of outdoor residential experiences for young people in the UK since 2015. Thematic and comparative analysis identified lasting impacts such as: self-confidence, independence, and communication. Respondents also identified confidence, teamwork, life skills, intra-personal skills and the take up of new opportunities / activities as the impacts of use in young people’s lives since their residential experience. The intensity and challenge of the outdoor adventure residentials, and the power of groups, influence lasting impacts. These findings from large datasets across a range of contexts have implications for funders and policy makers for the provision of outdoor adventure residentials for young people, given the costs involved for residential group experiences.ConclusionThe above overview identified ten different thematic areas, though the ‘Miscellaneous’ field may be contested. While some thematic areas have seen more publication than others in 2021 it is also worth reviewing the thematic fields that students and researchers are accessing and presumably reading within the field of OE. The three most accessed articles are:Losing our way? The downward path for outdoor learning for children aged 2–11 years, Waite (2010)Characteristics of risky play, Hansen Sandseter (2009)Mothers’ beliefs about risk and risk-taking in children’s outdoor play, Little (2015)While we would expect the older articles to be viewed more times the content and focus of the papers is worth noting – Children / outdoors / risky play. In this issue of JAOEL (21), in declining order the top 3 most accessed articles by author are; Tiplady and Menter (2021) with 5088 views, Harper and Obee (2021) with 3863 views, Almers et al (2021) with 1869 views, which further reinforces this research theme, i.e. Outdoor play and the role of risk in outdoor learning with children. Some in Ireland still perceive OE to be focused on adventure sports and outdoor centres, however the literature indicates a much wider sector. The data regarding those accessing and citing the literature may perhaps suggest that the more traditional adventure aspect of OE and the associated residential sector experience that many in Ireland still associate with Irish OE is not as topical. Another perspective could be that Irish OE has not evolved as much, however the growth in forest schools and outdoor play schools in Ireland would challenge that perception.

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