Resilience, Adolescents and Outdoor Education: Is Resilience Context Specific?

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Chalman, Casie-Anne (2019) Resilience, Adolescents and Outdoor Education: Is Resilience Context Specific? PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This exploratory study investigated the impact of participation in a three-week journey style outdoor education program upon levels of resilience attributes and coping skills of adolescents. Globalisation and modernisation has increased the social burdens of the 21st century and amplifies pressures to conform to unrealistic expectations in society, resulting in negative impacts on young people’s mental health and well-being. These life stressors, along with the excessive amount of time that young people spend using technology, is impacting their development and causing young people to experience increased amounts of psychological distress. In order to manage these stressors, young people often require the development of adaptive coping skills and resilience attributes. Schools can assist their students by supporting the development of resilience attributes and coping skills which are crucial for the future success of young people, to thrive, cope with adversity, and live at an optimal level of human functioning. Outdoor education programs are regularly delivered by schools to students worldwide as an effective method to facilitate the development and enrichment of personal and social attributes. However, this field is undermined by ad hoc theory and limited research that supports the ability to enhance levels of resilience and coping skills through outdoor education programs with adolescents in mainstream school settings. The purpose of this longitudinal study was to investigate the effects of an extended journey style outdoor education program on levels of resilience attributes and coping skills with adolescents. Specifically, the study used a mixed method approach to investigate if the resilience attributes and coping skills were context specific to the setting in which they were developed. The research is framed around particular theories including experiential learning, transactional theory, optimal arousal theory of play, the adventure experience paradigm theory, developmental theory and behaviouristic theories. This research examined two groups of Year 10 boys who were aged between 14 and 17 years (N = 111). The program group (n = 69), who participated in an extended journey-style outdoor education program, and the control group (n = 42), who did not participate in any outdoor education programs, completed the same survey measures. To identify which particular attributes of resilience and coping that were strengthened and developed through participation in the three-week program, both groups answered the Resilience Scale and the Brief COPE scale questionnaires within a similar timeframe. Post-positivist theory was used to analyse the quantitative data, and constructivist theory was used to analyse the qualitative data. The quantitative results revealed that the program group reported higher scores of resilience and resilience attributes compared with the control group following participation in the outdoor education program. Repeated measures t-tests showed significant increases in Overall Resilience and the Existential Aloneness, Perseverance and Purposeful Life subscales. A mixed-design analysis of variance model (ANOVA) revealed a main effect for group and Self-Reliance, F (1, 109) = 7.31, p = .008, and an interaction effect for both time and group was also found for Overall Resilience, F (1, 109) = 3.86, p = .043 and Existential Aloneness, F (1, 109) 9.40, p = .003. Compared to the control group, the program group showed reductions in coping skills that have the potential to undermine well-being in youth, such as Substance Use and Behavioural Disengagement, while increasing in adaptive coping skills such as Active Coping, and Planning after the program. The qualitative phase of the research addressed the question of whether the resilience attributes and coping skills developed during the program were transferred and drawn upon by the participants in their lives back at school six-months after the program. Qualitative data was collected through two means; observation data, and small group semi-structured interviews. The researcher conducted field observations of one group's experience during the three-week program. The observation data provided an insight into the goals and activities of the program and helped to inform the design of the semi-structured interview guides. Small group semi-structured interviews were conducted with the program group (n = 18) immediately after completion of the outdoor education program. Follow-up semi-structured interviews were then conducted with the same 18 participants six-months after the program. Semi-structured interviews conducted immediately after completion of the program highlighted that participants increased their capacity to demonstrate Overall Resilience, as well as Self-Reliance and Independence, Mental Strength, Determination, and various Developmental Tasks. The students also reported developing positive relationships with their peers, leaders, and the natural environment. An awareness and increased levels of appreciation was shown towards their relationships with family members and technology. A range of coping skills were also developed and applied by the boys during the program, including Putting Things into Perspective; Removing Oneself from the Stressor; Ability to Accept Social Support; Addressing the Issue; Chunking; Coming to Terms with Difficulties; Cognitive Reframing and Applying Positive Thinking; Distraction and Avoidance. Thematic analysis of researcher observations and both sets of semi-structured interview responses revealed three main themes that impacted the development and transference of resilience attributes and coping skills during and after the program. These themes included the program design, the group leader and the learner. The findings showed that most participants struggled to make links between the different contexts of learning. Some of the attributes and skills developed did transfer; however, a common finding was that most participants felt their learnings had dissipated in the six months after the program. This research supports the notion that outdoor education programs are an effective method to develop resilience attributes and coping skills in young people, however, for the transfer of learning to occur in other contexts, it is recommended that practitioners re-assess their intervention’s program design and implement more strategies to improve the transfer of learning. Overall, the findings of the thesis are discussed in terms of the development and refinement of program design of extended outdoor education programs which aim to foster the transference of resilience and positive coping skills into other contexts. Future research directions and implications of the results in relation to professional practices associated with the development of resilience and adaptive coping skills through outdoor education programs are also presented.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education
Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords outdoor education; adolescents; resilience; stress; coping
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