An exploration of relationship development through outdoor education

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Barber, Paul (2021) An exploration of relationship development through outdoor education. Other Degree thesis, Victoria University.


As a field of study and practice, Outdoor Education has a tradition of being ill-defined with a diverse range of understandings regarding its form, function and place in secondary school curriculum. This has resulted in Outdoor Education being neglected as a mandated component of formal curriculum for middle school learning in secondary schools. Outdoor Education provides many learning outcomes beyond the scope of specified curriculums. One of the purposes of this research is to support the acknowledgement of theseoutcomes in the context of formal curriculums; to document and record them; and to providean analysis of their benefit for students undertaking holistic Outdoor Education programs. The framework for this thesis consists of a review of relevant literature, a domain evaluation and a case study. The totality of these findings support the general discussion for this research project which is followed by a summary, conclusions and recommendations for further research and improved practice. Through the exploration of Definitions, Curriculum and Outcomes for middle school Outdoor Education, this research aims to address ongoing debates regarding the nature of Outdoor Education in secondary schooling. To provide both an overview of the field in general and a specific contextual analysis, the research has been conducted as two separate studies. Study 1 is a domain evaluation consisting of two phases, a curriculum content analysis and interviews with recognised and respected experts in the field of Outdoor Education. Study 2 is a contextual case study based on data drawn from interviews with specific teachers and a targeted focus group. Data generated throughout all phases of this research was coded and analysed thematically using NVivo data management software. This research revealed that defining Outdoor Education as a field of study and practice is complex and that there is an array of differing perspectives for Outdoor Education. The current research identified Outdoor Education as an experiential, holistic pedagogy which immerses students in outdoor environments to build relationships with the self, others and environment. This study found that due to the rich diversity of experiences it offers, Outdoor Education can be used to inform educational outcomes in any subject area. Regardless, it was highlighted that because these experiences are unique, it should stand alone as an alternative to regular classroom learning and not be subordinate to any other discipline area. It is evident in the data generated from the curriculum analysis that Outdoor Education is under- represented in curriculums compared to other, more traditional learning areas. This was also reflected in the interviews with participants asserting that Outdoor Education is undervalued in some areas and should be acknowledged for its contribution to holistic development. All participants asserted that it has a place in the formal curriculum of secondary schools, advocating that it be embedded within the curriculum at all year levels. The data also revealed that Outdoor Education has many outcomes beyond the realm of formal mandated curriculum requirements and that these outcomes are important whether they are included in official curriculum or not. Data generated from this study revealed that Outdoor Education provides social and emotional learning (SEL) outcomes which contribute to both wellbeing and academic progress in other areas. Although Outdoor Education is interdisciplinary in nature it was found to be a holistic learning area which provides authentic experiential learning opportunities and distinct outcomes which are not found in any other discipline areas. The findings of this study affirmed that Outdoor Education contributes to the development of a positive relationship with the self by providing opportunities for learning outcomes through the explicit development of independence, self-direction and resilience. It also contributes to the development of positive relationships with others and the environment simultaneously through direct practical experience with a variety of social situations and environments. Participants in this research advocated that the provision of such opportunities should be recognised as legitimate outcomes of Outdoor Education with the proposition that school is the only place where students in this context can access these types of experiences. As an outcome of the findings from this research, it is recommended that due to the unique personal and social development opportunities that Outdoor Education provides, it be included as compulsory curriculum within all school year levels in Australia. This research advocates that the unrecognised outcomes of Outdoor Education programs be regarded as legitimate irrespective of their inclusion or exclusion as formal curriculum. In relation to Outdoor Education theory and future research, further development and explication of the philosophical foundations for Outdoor Education as a field of study and practice is recommended. In addition, it is proposed that the Outdoor Education community of practice develop a concise and unified basis for service provision (Wenger, 1998). Building on the current study, additional research exploring the relationship between Outdoor Education, student wellbeing and academic achievement is recommended.

Additional Information

Doctor of Education

Item type Thesis (Other Degree thesis)
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3901 Curriculum and pedagogy
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3904 Specialist studies in education
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords outdoor education; curriculum; secondary school; relationship development
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