What Is Outdoor Education?

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What is outdoor education and what makes a successful outdoor educator?

Around Australia, outdoor education exists within the broader education perspective (Bucknell, 2006). It is not compulsory for students in some schools to embark on an outdoor experience and when a group of secondary students do step of the bus, issues in the forefront of their mind would most likely consist of “how will I cope with going to the toilet in the bush?” or “I’m glad I am sharing a tent with my best friend” (Dickson, Gray & Hayllar, 2005). In its most broadest sense outdoor education is education in, about and for the out of doors (Donaldson & Donaldson, 1958 p.65.). To be more specific according to Moscardo (2008), outdoor education can be seen as educational activities focused on understanding relationships between humans and their environments, improving physical health and recreational skills, teamwork and personal growth and development. Throughout this paper I will continue to dissect what outdoor education means and what makes a successful outdoor educator. According to Bucknell, (2006) students who participate in outdoor education demonstrate traits that exist in the core subjects like English and Mathematics. These traits are improvement in social and individual skills, leadership, self-confidence, teamwork, cooperation, motivation, and developing environmental understanding and awareness. Similarly a recent study by Lugg & Martin (2000, p.6) showed the most prominent learning outcomes espoused in outdoor education include group cooperation, self-esteem, and responsibility. Students are reinforcing these skills in an unfamiliar environment, that not of in a classroom. Students are in the natural wilderness doing activities like camping, climbing, bushwalking, caving, cooking, orienteering, abseiling, navigation and rafting (Sullivan, 2012). All theses activities are under the guidance of outdoor educators. For many outdoor educators, Kurt Hahn is considered to be one of the greatest influences on the development of outdoor learning. The development of the ‘outward bound’ program and the experiential learning theory is one that many educators live by. Experiential education, the student becomes more actively involved in the learning process rather than the traditional, didactic education  (Neil, 2004). For example, going camping or navigating and learning through observation and interaction with the environment is experiential and in contrast to reading and talking about navigation or camping in a classroom.  The main difference here, from a teaching point of view, is that the educator who takes his/her students on an outdoor education experience rather than stay in the classroom probably values direct experience more highly than abstract knowledge. To take a group of students into the natural environment is a huge responsibility. An outdoor educator needs to have certain characteristics to ensure the experience is safe, enjoyable and fulfilling. According to Barnes (2004) the ten most important characteristics required in an outdoor leader are; outdoor activity skills, personal attributes, experience, group working skills, communication skills, knowledge and understanding, problem solving skills, project management skills, information technology skills, academic award skills. There is no set list of ten, for example Munge (2009) findings are a bit more specific and outlined different requirements for educators.

Table 1: Munge (2009). Desired characteristics & competencies in a prospective outdoor educator or outdoor leader.

Three important attributes outlined in Table 1 are that of wilderness first aid, enthusiasm and passion. Outdoor educators act as role models for their students and showing enthusiasm in activities will provide a positive learning environment. Some students are hesitant to try such activities like abseiling or rafting and for them to know their educator is knowledgeable in the...
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