All you do is have Fun! - Investigating the Developing Professional Identity of University Outdoor Leadership Students

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Cox, Matthew (2022) All you do is have Fun! - Investigating the Developing Professional Identity of University Outdoor Leadership Students. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Current Outdoor Leadership literature focuses heavily on professional practice knowledge, skills and requirements. However, minimal consideration has been given to emerging outdoor leaders' professional identity development that creates a foundation for sound professional practice to develop. This study seeks to understand professional identity development among pre-service university students studying outdoor leadership. This information will support future outdoor leaders to progress into the outdoor industry with the capacity to create and maintain sustainable careers. The concept of professional identity is becoming more prominent in the workforce and social discourse. External pressures for professional sustainability, such as work/life balance and remuneration, industry-driven accreditation requirements, the increasing specificity of professional knowledge, and individual expectations for social validation, foster a need to develop a mature professional identity. A robust professional identity will allow outdoor leaders to find validation for their professional career choices. It will also help provide direction when planning future career decisions and a counterpoint to the challenges outdoor leaders may experience through the social perception of their profession and choice of career. The need to understand how professional identity develops is a core concept for the outdoor industry. In a profession where society relates much of the work undertaken in employment as ‘fun’, thereby devaluing the efforts of those engaging in the work, it remains vital for those same individuals to have a matured sense of professional identity. This developed sense of identity will add to their professional and personal credibility and the overall credibility of this growing profession. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of professional identity development in emerging outdoor leaders and the relationship of professional identity to professional practice. A key component of this investigation was to extend the understanding of outdoor leadership students by evaluating their perceptions of the profession and the roles of professionals. This study also explored elements in the design and development of curriculum in a university delivering an outdoor leadership course. It is hoped that one outcome of this study’s contribution to knowledge will be to assist university educators to support students from outdoor leadership courses to attain a mature professional identity, which will enhance the outdoor industry's overall professional standing. Specifically, this study was longitudinal and qualitative. Twenty-five participants commenced the research, and 11 completed all data collection phases. The data collection phase of the research lasted three years and followed a cohort of students (study participants) who were interviewed individually at the start, middle, and end of their degrees. There were 47 individual interviews lasting from 21 minutes to 48 minutes in length. The three specific interview rounds were semi-structured, with thematic data analysis of each interview framing the development of the interview guide for the subsequent interview. The individual interviews generated 1,647 specific references that were analysed thematically and organised into five main themes through open, axial, and selective coding processes. The final phase of data analysis involved considering all interview data relating to themes generated within preceding phases and developing new themes based on the complete data set. The five main themes in the longitudinal study highlighted that the participants initially struggled with conceptualising professional identity. However, as the participants progressed through their course, their curriculum had numerous enablers and inhibitors affecting the progression of their professional identity development. External factors such as family, friends, and general social perceptions also featured prominently in the data. Significant themes were the practical nature of the learning experiences, exposure to role models, and their academic and theoretical learning experiences. This significance stimulated responses concerning the interrelationship of qualifications versus experience for professional credibility and validation. This research supports the concept that courses must have high levels of practical learning experiences, with solid theoretical and academic foundations, for university outdoor leadership students to develop a mature professional identity. The students must be introduced to the concept of professional identity early in their curriculum and revisit this concept frequently. The students must also learn how to adequately justify their profession more clearly within society by using developed nomenclature and developing the ability to express what they ‘do’ for work in a manner that averts the societal perceptions often associated with work that is ‘simply’ enjoyable and fun. Future research directions and implications of the results at a student level, course curriculum level, and professional level are presented as an outcome of this research.

Item type Thesis (PhD 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 leadership, professional identity, qualitative, professional practice, curriculum, outdoor education, university.
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