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A Pedagogy of Place

Towards Place-Responsive Outdoor Education

Many outdoor educators have been asked ‘What is outdoor education?’ It is not a question that educators in mainstream curriculum areas such as mathematics, history, science or literacy are likely to have to answer about their own disciplines. Established school subjects are seldom required to justify their place in the curriculum. But outdoor education is a relatively new form of educational practice and can appear, to the uninitiated at least, to function outside the usual norms of the educational setting. When faced with the ‘What is …’ question, many of us may have replied with the rather formulaic ‘It’s about helping people learn about themselves, how they relate to other people and the environment’. This is often met with a nod and a story from the person based on their own experience: ‘I went on an outdoor course in 1990 and it was amazing’; ‘We did some of that outdoor team building stuff at work a couple of years ago’. Our inquirer might tell the story of a friend or relative, ‘My nephew is into all that camping stuff at school’, or comment, ‘That’s what these kids need today; get them out in the bush, that’ll straighten them out’. One gets the impression that, at a popular level at least, participation in an outdoor program will be good for a person, help them to work with others, and give them an appreciation for the ‘great outdoors’. Stories told by participants often recount long days doing things they never thought possible, the majestic views from the mountaintop, friendships made, the food cooked on fires or simple camp stoves, and a sense of accomplishment. But occasionally you will hear stories of people being pushed to do things they did not want to do or of being placed in situations that, years later, seem to have left a lasting negative impression.

If the conversation continues discussion may extend to different forms of outdoor education, such as residential camping, expedition programs, leadership training, personal development courses or environmental education projects. We might, should our listener still feign interest, talk about industry training, tertiary courses or formalised curricula within schools where outdoor education may be subsumed into other discipline areas (typically within health and physical education), or where it exists as a specialised subject of study (as it does in the senior years of secondary schooling in some states of Australia).

We may go on to describe to our listener how outdoor education has always proclaimed the importance of program participants having direct experiences that make learning ‘real’. ‘It’s about hands on learning,’ we say. ‘It’s about learners having to make decisions for themselves and then having to work through the consequences. It’s about taking responsibility!’ We may even begin to discuss how outdoor education uses an experiential approach to learning where challenging tasks are set for a group of participants, how their progress is facilitated by an outdoor education teacher or guide and, finally, how that experience is reflected upon or debriefed so that learners may be able to generalise useful knowledge that transfers back to school, work or home.

This is often about as far as we have to go in our attempts to justify outdoor education practice. In this book we are interested in going deeper than this. We will call into question some of the taken-for-granted ‘truths’ and underlying assumptions about what outdoor educators do and the nature of the educational experiences that are provided for their students. However, we want to do more than critique. We will also offer alternatives to the dominant forms of contemporary outdoor education practice. In this introduction we briefly introduce the main areas of concern which we feel require consideration and necessitate a reappraisal of the foundations of outdoor education, its aims, ideals, and pedagogical practices.

We hope that our views will be of interest and relevance to those training to become outdoor education instructors, guides and teachers as well as experienced practitioners. We have sought to be as inclusive as possible and to address the considerable diversity of forms of outdoor education practice; from school-based programs to camps and outdoor centres, from youth intervention programs to expeditionary learning, from outdoor guiding to those involved in nature interpretation, and from industry-based training providers through to postgraduate students and academics. Obviously we cannot please all, it may be considered too intellectual by some and not rigorous enough by others. We use case studies, anecdotes and personal narratives as ways of posing questions and teasing out, exploring and amplifying some of the more theoretically ‘dense’ sections of the following chapters.

We believe that outdoor education has now moved beyond its infancy. From time to time, however, outdoor educators may still need to justify their position and programs and the role outdoor education provides in enhancing the quality of life of individuals within their communities (e.g. via youth groups, formal and informal networks of clubs and volunteer organisations). We suggest that there is a poor collective understanding about the legitimacy of what we can reasonably claim outdoor education programs achieve and how outdoor educators go about their work. In this book we propose to take you, the reader, on a searching journey through some of the profession’s most ‘heartfelt’ beliefs about outdoor education and, in finding some of them wanting as appropriate forms of educational theory and practice, to propose a renewal of outdoor education for a changing world.

The old truism that nothing is more certain than change is perhaps more apt than ever. Surely there are few left, even in the realms of politics and corporate business, who would deny the magnitude of global environmental issues such as climate change or the challenges posed by international social and economic instability. We are not going to spend much time discussing the history, economics or politics of these issues directly; there is plenty of good material available written by others more versed in the topics. The idea of educating for a changing world, however, is an important one. The effects of global phenomena like climate change, shifting populations, economic disruption and so on, are always experienced locally. It is local individuals and communities that will grapple with understanding these changes and developing appropriate responses. Today’s youth will need to know both how to understand local conditions and how they are connected to global changes. Rather than a ‘doomsday curriculum’ we think that this can be done in a way that encourages resilience and optimism. Typically outdoor education is an endeavour that is focused on youth and young adults. In this book our focus will be on outdoor education within the broad educational context, from all levels of schooling through to tertiary education and its use in community settings. It is worth noting that many vocational and university programs now support curricula incorporating the philosophies and practices of outdoor education. Some of these tertiary students may have had minimal exposure to outdoor education through their schooling. Hence it is possible for a student to be in the process of learning about outdoor education for the first time while simultaneously developing the skills and knowledge needed to lead and teach as an outdoor educator. Graduates from these tertiary education programs have the potential to be significant catalysts for change as they take on instructing, guiding, teaching and management roles within schools, community-based youth programs and commercial outdoor education providers.

Girl reading beside kayak and river

“Today’s youth will need to know both how to understand
local conditions and how they are connected to global changes.”

Though this book draws extensively on international literature it is also strongly focused on the Australian and New Zealand education and environmental contexts. Our intent is to remain cognisant of international debate about outdoor education theory and practice but to concentrate mainly on home-grown conceptual understandings and programming initiatives. As we hope to demonstrate, developments in outdoor education on both sides of the Tasman have the potential to make a unique contribution to the field locally, nationally and, we believe, internationally.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the ecological environments of both New Zealand and Australia have been significantly degraded and damaged through the process of European colonisation (Lines 1991; Park 1995). It is also evident that these settler societies have yet to adapt to local conditions in terms of establishing sustainable land management practices, which in turn suggests that we have yet to develop a set of sustainable values and ideas about the land. Yet both nations have established stable, and many would argue, successful, democratic societies. A critical awareness of the ideas and practices imported from abroad, those of which are worth adopting or adapting in the local context and those which are not, and recognition of where we need to develop more indigenous, home-grown knowledge, is a crucial challenge facing both countries. We suggest that the same challenge now confronts outdoor educators. Our overall aim then, in this book, is to discuss and argue for a place-responsive philosophy and form of practice in outdoor education. At this point it might be helpful to go into a little more detail about the struggle over the last few decades to find a common understanding of what it is that outdoor educators collectively believe defines outdoor education.

What is outdoor education?

Some may argue that debate around finding a universal definition for outdoor education, one that could apply in all learning contexts, is a futile one. It is not our intent here to seek the ‘Holy Grail’ of defining precisely what it is that outdoor educators believe and practice. However, we do feel that it is worth briefly summarising some of this debate to provide background to our arguments for an alternative set of values and practices. There are some quite detailed accounts of the historical development of outdoor education in the United Kingdom (Nicol 2002a, 2002b, 2003), Australia (Brookes 2002; McRae 1990) and New Zealand (Lynch 2006). For the purpose of this introduction we pick up the debate in the 1970s, where we see the emergence of outdoor education in its contemporary form. Since the mid-1970s outdoor education has developed as a recognised form of educational practice, both in formal schooling and in the community. Typically outdoor education has been presented in the professional literature as being concerned with personal and social development of young people across a range of areas of interest, such as: ‘self-awareness, teamwork, decision-making, environmental awareness, spiritual and aesthetic awareness, relationship-building, taking responsibility, communication skills and physical awareness’ (Gair 1997, 27). Writers from diverse international backgrounds, such as Mortlock (1984) in the United Kingdom and Schoel, Prouty and Radcliffe (1988) in the United States, claim that the aim of outdoor education is to facilitate the achievement of human potential through outdoor adventure experiences.

These oft repeated aims of outdoor education – to heighten awareness of and foster respect for self, others and nature – originated in the discussions and resulting publications from the Dartington conference in outdoor education in 1975 which was convened by the United Kingdom Department of Education and Science (Nicol 2002b). Gair (1997) credits this conference with introducing the three commonly accepted components of the outdoor adventure experience (self, others and nature) to the discourse of outdoor education professional practice. In this context, argues Gair, ‘the self’ is concerned with the prospect that increased self-awareness and enhanced self-concept may stem from a positive response to experiences of a challenging and adventurous nature. ‘Others’ extends this concept to one that maximises the potential for group development and cohesion via experiences such as ‘the expedition’. From this viewpoint it is argued that physical challenges and a degree of emotional stress contained in adventure will demand that the group forges effective underlying social structures. Finally, ‘the natural environment’ is considered to be the arena for challenge in a physical sense. In addition, environmental awareness is considered an outcome of direct experience in the natural world.

The reason we introduce the debate about outdoor education for self, others and nature is that these foci have come to be repeated like a mantra in many outdoor education curricula and programs. Robbie Nicol (2002a, 2002b, 2003) has provided a detailed critique of these foundational concepts.

These aims were a formulation of what conference delegates already perceived their job to be. However, the aims were not arrived at as the result of empirical analysis and so there is no evidence to suggest, for example, that by ‘heightening awareness’ ‘respect’ would be fostered for any of the three aims. (Nicol 2002b, 89)

Nicol goes on to quote Cheesmond who stated that ‘maybe each strand has a distinct philosophical underpinning; the mountaineer, the group worker, the biologist for example, but they have proved to be uncomfortable bedfellows in achieving something overarching’ (Nicol 2002b, 89).

In very general terms, part of the confusion surrounding attempts to define outdoor education may be characterised by Ford’s (1981) early attempt to provide a catch-all concept for the nexus (or tension) that exists between outdoor education and environmental education. Ford’s (1981, 12) ‘in, for and about the outdoors’ definition of practice is characteristically broad in scope and ambition, and preceded several attempts to establish universal definitions that claim outdoor education as an experiential process, located in outdoor places, and that the subject matter is ‘relationships’ (Priest 1986). Simon Priest (1986) provided a definition that serves as a good summary of attempts to encapsulate both the aims and pedagogies of this relatively new form of educational practice. Priest’s (1986) definition of outdoor education was founded on six major points: that outdoor education was a method; that it draws upon a heritage of ideas about experiential learning from the likes of Comenius, Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Dewey; that the outdoor setting is vital to learning; that learning in outdoor education occurs across the three domains (cognitive, affective, and motoric); that the curriculum is interdisciplinary in nature; and that learning is a matter of many relationships (see Priest 1986, 13–14).

Some of these claims appear to be, if not grandiose, at least overly ambitious. There does not appear to have been much left off the rhetorical wish list surrounding the rise of outdoor education and what it claims to achieve. In some ways this is understandable. Outdoor education writers and practitioners, particularly in the early decades of its development, have had to quite deliberately practice a proactive and assertive form of advocacy for what has typically been seen as a fringe subject or an extra-curricular activity within educational programming.

Even so, given these efforts to define outdoor education, we might ask ourselves the following questions. Is outdoor education a curriculum or a form of pedagogic practice, or both? Is there anything distinctive about its educational aims, its content, or its pedagogic methods? How, specifically, do participants experience learning in the outdoor education context? We suggest that at times the rhetoric of the enthusiastic outdoor educator does not necessarily mirror the reality of what outdoor programs might actually achieve, nor how outdoor educators go about their work.

There is a growing body of literature which questions the underlying philosophical and pedagogical assumptions upon which much outdoor education practice is based. We will examine this literature in detail throughout the book. But, in broad terms, Alison Lugg (1999) traced a major shift in outdoor education discourse led by Andrew Brookes (1993) and Peter Martin (1992) in Australia, and Geoff Cooper (1994) and Peter Higgins (1996) in the United Kingdom. She argues that these authors have presented an alternative ‘that sees the primary purpose of outdoor education as educating for an environmentally sustainable future’ (Lugg 1999, 26). Chris Loynes (2002) has provided a paradigmatic overview of contemporary outdoor adventure education practice that brings some order to an otherwise broad and sometimes confusing professional discourse. He juxtaposes the influence of military, modernist and algorithmic (or formulaic) paradigms with alternative moral, ecological and generative paradigms for outdoor education. He focuses largely on differences between outdoor education’s origins in the United Kingdom and the United States, and is critical of the masculine and hierarchical tendencies of militaristic and expedition-based programs in Britain and of ‘production line’ approaches to learning in the outdoors that have become established in the United States. He contrasts these with the Scandinavian tradition of ‘Friluftsliv’ (as a cultural approach to outdoor living) and, in the UK, an emerging local ‘generative approach’, where he defines outdoor experiential learning as radical practice:

a journey of discovery of a personal ontology and epistemology for the participant. It incorporates actions based on the experiences inspired by learners choosing for themselves how to make a difference. The individual moves through the role of participant and narrator, and becomes an agent in their world. (Loynes 2002, 121)

It is clear that outdoor education is a term attached to activities and pedagogic approaches as disparate as adventure therapy, corporate training, outdoor pursuits, recreational camping, and elements of formal schooling. Yet the significance of the local outdoor places, the sites where outdoor education is actually practised, can be lost in the diversity of this educational landscape. The geographical locations where programs run can all too easily come to be seen as clinical sites, obstacle courses, testing grounds, venues, or curriculum resources. Philip Payne (2002) provides a useful summary in the Australian context, though the quotation could probably apply in most countries where outdoor education features as a component of schooling and community development.

Undoubtedly, outdoor education in Australia is a ‘set’ of social and cultural constructions, whose activity base borrows from diverse histories and has numerous aims that now tend to stress the development of adventure recreation skills, personal therapy and spiritual growth, social or ‘community’ development, profit-making or, more recently, environmental relations. (p. 5)

As we have already suggested, outdoor education is no longer in its infancy. Yet attempts by theorists, writers and researchers to define and qualify the profession’s scope and ambitions are made increasingly difficult by the proliferation of these multiple forms of practice, each with its own educational, therapeutic or economic agenda, yet each claiming an allegiance to outdoor education and the outdoors itself. Given the historical basis of the three aims of outdoor education, that participants will learn something worthwhile about self, others and nature, and the small but growing number of critiques of contemporary approaches and practices, we suggest that it is timely to consider recent literature, both from wider disciplines and from within outdoor education, concerning the concept of ‘place’. Place, we feel, has the potential to provide a renewed philosophical and pedagogical basis for outdoor education. A shift towards a stronger focus on a place-responsive outdoor education stands to serve youth and young adults well in a rapidly changing and, all too often, abstracted world.

Introducing the concept of place

The concept of place has to do with how people develop and experience a sense of attachment to particular locations on the Earth’s surface. It also has to do with how people are affected by and effect those places. Therefore, place is suggestive of both the imaginative and physical reality of a location and its people, and how the two interact and change each other. In this book we bring a fresh perspective to the growing interest in the meaning and significance of place-responsive experiences in education. Rather than harking back nostalgically to ‘the good old days when life was a lot slower and simpler’, much place literature is inspired by a desire to develop a realistic response to the many social and ecological challenges that individuals and communities face in different locations around the world, from rural town to city suburb, from industrial district to national park.

Whilst the late polymath and ‘scholar of everything’, George Seddon is probably responsible for introducing the phrase ‘a sense of place’ to Australia, it is John Cameron (2001, 2003a, 2003b) who has most clearly articulated the case for a pedagogic response to place. Both Seddon and Cameron were keynote speakers at the 12th National Outdoor Education Conference held at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Australia. Interestingly the conference was titled ‘Education Outdoors: Our Sense of Place’. In his address, Cameron (2001) suggested that ‘the task of the educator is how to foster an inclusive sense of place in students so that their love of wild places can extend to care for all places, even neglected city spaces’ (p. 28). Cameron’s quiet but hopeful challenge to the audience was to overcome the dualistic divide between wilderness, the prototypical site of much outdoor education, and home, the place where educators and students alike actually live most of their lives. This book is, in part, a response to that challenge.

There are a number of approaches to the notion of place that we could have drawn upon as a conceptual guide for this book. The Australian eco-philosopher Val Plumwood (2003) has argued that we need ‘a place-sensitive society’ whilst the American educator David Gruenewald (2003a) calls for ‘place-consciousness’ in education. However, the concept that we find most compelling is Cameron’s call for a place-responsive society which necessarily draws upon a place-responsive pedagogy.

In this book we consider how a pedagogy of place may reinvigorate both debate and practice in outdoor education. Initially we do this by drawing upon the extensive scholarship of place that has developed across a range of disciplines. Much of this scholarship has focused upon notions of home-place and dwelling, and we consider how it may apply to regional, residential camp and expeditionary style outdoor education programs. In addition, we couple this with a reconsideration of experiential learning pedagogies and how they may best serve renewed forms of place responsive outdoor education practice. The final part of the book reports upon a series of case studies that offer empirical evidence for alternative forms of place-based and place-responsive outdoor education programming.

The structure of the book

In chapter one we start the book with two personal narratives. It is not intended that these autobiographical accounts be complete. Rather these narratives aim to highlight some of the experiences that we feel have shaped our interest in the outdoors and raised important personal and professional questions about the purposes and practices of outdoor education. Our intent here is to inform readers about our personal histories in outdoor education so that they may have a sense of our preferences, our biases and the types of outdoor places and programs where we have worked and developed our ideas. We also use these narratives to forecast significant themes and issues in the book that we write about deliberately later on. We draw on anecdotes throughout the book from a range of sources, as we believe that this style of writing about outdoor education is important. It signals to the reader that context, situation and story matter. Much of what we have to say in the book relies upon the reader considering how it may or may not apply in their own personal and professional circumstances.

In chapter two we discuss some of myths, dubious claims and problematic assumptions we find evident in the professional literature and contemporary practices of outdoor education. The focus here is not on disproving claims about the documented outcomes of participation in outdoor education programmes. There is a large body of empirical evidence supporting the benefits of outdoor education on a number of psychological constructs (Cason & Gillis 1994; Hattie et al. 1997). The majority of quantitative studies seek to measure changes in various psychological variables using pre- and post-test questionnaires or validated measurement scales (e.g. self-esteem, locus of control, self-efficacy). The battle lines between quantitative versus qualitative methodologies and psychological approaches versus sociological studies have on occasions been well defined, fought over, blurred somewhat, or completely circumvented. We opt for the latter approach. In this book we are interested in asking questions of a different nature. So, we will deftly sidestep issues and debates about quantifiable educational outcomes at this point. Instead, our intent here is to question, describe and discuss the pedagogical and philosophical basis of an alternative outdoor education philosophy and practice, one that is based upon the principles of place-responsiveness.

In this chapter we also explore how outdoor nature as ‘wilderness’ has been valorised as a place in which it is argued that one’s true self will be revealed or where one can truly be free from the corrupting influences of society. The belief in the purity of the wilderness and the concept of naturalness serve to mask the particularities of the local and create a universal notion of the wild as a backdrop for human action. We also cast a critical eye on the taken-for-granted belief that adventure is a natural human condition and the taking of risks is not only desirable but a necessary component of learning in outdoor education. Drawing on a broad base of literature we seek to highlight the problematic aspects of placing young people in risky situations as a means to facilitate learning. The focus on the provision of risky activities as a means to learn has, in a New Zealand context at least, caused one outside observer (Andkjaer 2009) to suggest that outdoor education has developed as a ‘paradoxical spiral’ (p. 5) where activities involving risk and the ensuing search for safety constantly fuel each other. Risk taking and risk management as a pedagogic strategy in outdoor education reflects changing societal values. As Caplan (2000) noted ten years ago risk is a topic that is increasingly difficult to ignore. Hope (2005) has argued that Western society has become obsessed with the probability of accidents, illness or death. He has stated that ‘concern about such things as spread of disease, food production and global terrorism have encouraged individuals to increasingly think of everyday activities in terms of danger and risk alleviation’ (p. 3). We only need to think of recent media images which allude to the heightened risks of air travel and the necessary security measures put in place or the seemingly innocuous TV commercials warning mothers of the risk to their children of household germs and the need to use product x to sanitise surfaces and door handles. Hope (2005) has also suggested that many people believe that today’s society is much more dangerous than the one that existed even a few decades ago. Drawing on Giddens, he argues that it is not necessarily that society is more dangerous, but rather that people have become risk obsessed.

As Hope and Oliver (2005) have rightly observed, perspectives of what is risky are culturally constructed and differ across time and cultures. Thus opinions as to whether risk is likely to have positive or negative outcomes will also differ. Thus various interpretations of the benefits, or dangers, of a particular risk will change, reflecting the dynamic nature of risk discourses. In chapter two we discuss these complex concepts of risk as it applies to outdoor education. A recent tragedy (April 2008) at a New Zealand outdoor education centre, in which six students and their teacher died, has brought the issue of risk taking in an educational context into sharp focus once again. We discuss how the educational aspect of outdoor education can be overshadowed by an emphasis on risky pursuits and the associated safety management policies and procedures that must then be put into place in an increasingly risk averse society.

The final issue to come under the spotlight in chapter two in is a critique of the promotion of a stylistic or simplistic version of the Experiential Learning Cycle which is often deployed in outdoor education programs, possibly in the place of more localised approaches to teaching and learning. We believe that the idea that a challenging activity followed by a debrief, in which participants are coached to articulate what has been learnt, so that it may be applied in other contexts later, is too neat and tidy a product to explain the complex processes of learning. Drawing on a range of critiques from a variety of disciplinary areas we suggest that this formulaic model overlooks the nuanced embodied, social, cultural and geographical components of the learning process.

The case for place

In chapter three we begin the argument for a consideration of an alternative place-responsive form of outdoor education. According to David Orr (1992), educators have failed to see much significance in understanding, or attempting to teach, about place. He explains that ‘place is nebulous to educators because to a great extent we are deplaced people for whom immediate places are no longer sources of food, water, livelihood, energy, materials, friends, recreation or sacred inspiration’ (p. 126). The typical curriculum, according to Orr, is based upon abstraction, which disconnects people from their tangible experience and from day-to-day problems and issues where they live and work. Outdoor education participants’ experiences can be based at or near their homes, or occur nearby within their region. But outdoor education is also often practiced in remote locations, far from where participants live most of their lives. In either case, we argue, it may be taught in a way that is responsive to place or in a way that it is not. There are environmental and cultural consequences that flow from any form of practice that does not respond carefully, and we will argue empathetically, to place. It is possible for educational practice to function as a form of placelessness and to encourage a sense of detachment from local conditions as much as it is possible for it to encourage a sense of attachment to a place.

In chapter three we introduce and discuss concepts from clearly articulated theories of place that have been developed in other disciplines. The focus here is on how places are encountered and experienced by people and how people develop relationships with particular places, and how these relationships are influential in the creation and maintenance of their identities. We argue that this scholarship of place has considerable potential to provide new perspectives and possibilities for outdoor education. The outdoor places where outdoor educators work are so close to them that it is possible that they may fail to carefully consider how place(s) contribute to and shape the educational experience. Equally it is possible that outdoor educators may not often think about how their actions while working in a place, shapes and changes the place itself. Leaders, teachers and participants may all too easily project certain desires upon the place for what they want it to be, such as: a wilderness, an adventure gymnasium, a therapeutic refuge, an arena, or a playground. We peel back these different cultural constructions for outdoor places and reveal how they shape what we do as outdoor educators. It is possible that educators and outdoor leaders may be guilty of projecting their desires for what they want a place to be in order that it appears to neatly match the learning goals and intents of their program. When this happens educators are really claiming that it is only the learners’ experiences that matter. The leader’s role becomes one of facilitating the learners’ construction of worthwhile knowledge and a sense of personal development while simultaneously silencing or dismissing an alternative experience of the outdoor place that is possibly rawer, deeper, more sensuous and more connected to the past, present and possible future of that place.

Place-based and place-responsive approaches in education and outdoor education

In chapter four we explore how the theoretical understandings about place and identity have been interpreted and applied in place-responsive educational initiatives. First, we discuss how the development of teaching for positive relations with nature in outdoor education has proved a false dawn in terms of a place-responsive form of practice. Here we discuss examples of how, despite the best intent, the goal of developing relationships with nature is problematic for a pedagogy of place. Next we discuss what writers and educators have had to say about placed-based imperatives and initiatives in education generally. Though it may not initially seem that this is directly related to outdoor education programs that tend to provide experiences away from the more ‘formal’ learning environment of the school, we feel that there is much of value here.

Many of the theoretical arguments and case studies of place-based programs in schools and local communities, which focus on how participants experience the places where they live and learn, provide compelling role models for outdoor educators and practitioners to consider. There are opportunities for place-responsive outdoor educators to work as an extension of these place-based approaches in the school and local community, and also to be a distinctive form of educational practice that sometimes occurs far away from the learners’ homes.

The final section of chapter four considers the work of outdoor education writers and researchers who have begun to explore the significance of place in participants’ outdoor education experiences. There has not been a great deal of work yet published on this topic. That this is the case is not altogether surprising. Perhaps outdoor educators are, as David Orr suggests, a displaced people. Yet seasoned outdoor educators and guides are often acutely aware of how local tides, weather, river levels and so on dictate to them what they may or may not do within a program. They know which campsites will be sheltered from a shift in the wind and which will catch the morning sun, and how important this knowledge might be for participants to have a good experience. They also often know a lot about local flora and fauna, even in which forest tree a particular bird or animal might be spotted. They may be interested in the local geology, history and ecology of the places where they work, and often know about the threats to the ecological stability of the place. They may also have collected anecdotes and stories about the place’s cultural history, and they usually have a good feel for when it is appropriate to either pass these understandings along to participants or how to craft learning encounters that make it seem as though it is the experience of the place that is revealing this knowledge to learners. So, why is there so little of this evident in the professional literature of outdoor education? Why is it that undergraduate students training to be outdoor education teachers, or trainee guides, or even current practitioners, when reading outdoor education textbooks or journals, or attending an outdoor education conference, may well get the impression that this kind of local knowledge and sensitivity does not really matter? Why does it seem that many of the practices and principles of our profession are presented as being ‘place proof’ rather than place-responsive?

No place-responsive pedagogy for outdoor education that is based upon empirical evidence has yet been proposed, enacted or evaluated. But a small number of important research studies have been completed that begin to illuminate the complexity of place-oriented teaching and learning in the outdoors. We focus mainly on research writing which presents empirical evidence. In Canada, Brent Cuthbertson (1999), Bob Henderson (1995) and James Raffan (1992), while not specifically researching place-responsive outdoor education, offer some very interesting insights. Similarly, in Australia, Alistair Stewart (2003a; 2004b), Brian Wattchow (2006; 2007; 2008) and Marc Mullins (2007) have begun to address this gap through researching outdoor education expeditions and outdoor educators working as river guides. In each case the researchers were examining existing programs and seeking to establish how participants experienced those outdoor places. Similar to John Cameron’s work, Lou Preston and Amma Griffiths (2004) used an action research project to work with students to establish connections to their local landscape through repeated visits. In New Zealand, Mike Brown (2008b) has written of his experiences on a program with a strong Ngāi Tahu cultural influence; Dave Irwin (2007/08) has commented on educating for change in the tertiary sector; and Jocelyn Papprill (2009) and Arthur Sutherland (2009) have written about secondary school programs that link outdoor education with sustainability and ecological activism. We plan to draw upon this research and these narratives for inspiration in this book as we advocate both a philosophy and form of practice that sees local places as a vital partner in educational endeavour.

The case studies

Having completed the theoretical underpinning of our argument for an alternative focus upon the significance and educative power of place in outdoor education in the first four chapters, we continue the book by presenting a series of case studies. Each of these case studies addresses a different set of problems and issues regarding place and outdoor education philosophy and practice. In each case study we describe recent research projects that we have completed into outdoor education practice and what they reveal in terms of the challenges and possibilities of a place-responsive approach. These research projects have not necessarily been framed as resolving what a place-responsive outdoor education program should look like. Rather they represent attempts to keep adding to the empirical evidence base for outdoor education and especially, in this instance, to contribute knowledge and insight into a place-responsive outdoor education.

The first case study focuses on Australian university outdoor education students’ responses to extended river journeys on the River Murray that they completed as part of their studies. The study sought to reveal the complex responses of the participants and how they represented both a sense of place and placelessness. As a phenomenological study it highlights how often it is the mundane, embodied, everyday qualities of outdoor experiences that are rich in potential for place-responsiveness. The second case study reports on New Zealand tertiary students’ experiences of outdoor education in their own backyard. As part of a second-year paper entitled ‘Learning in Adventure and Outdoor Environments’ students embark on a three-day journey from their university via bicycle, on foot and river travel. This mini journey (approx. 125 km) starts and finishes at the university campus. This outdoor education experience takes them through countryside that many of the students pass through as they commute to and from their classes; yet it opens up a different way of seeing the landscape and understanding the significance of everyday taken-for-granted places. In the third case study we report on a localised outdoor program that is being developed in a secondary school in the North Island of New Zealand. Here we seek to gain insights into and understand why teachers in a local secondary school sought to move away from a traditional activity-focused outdoor education program and what it was like for them to make that transition. The final case study is based on a series of interviews with a Victorian outdoor education teacher who has developed a place-responsive outdoor education program in his school over the last 15 years. It presents and reflects on what it is like for a teacher to develop a deep affinity with a number of outdoor places, what these places mean to him, and how he works to develop an appropriate pedagogy for his students and staff colleagues that responds to the particularities of those places.

These stories of current programs – the ideas of the educators and guides who have designed and worked on them, and the responses of the participants to them – are not intended to be exhaustive. We have already stated that outdoor education is a diverse field of practice, and it would not be feasible to try to audit how place is incorporated into all forms of outdoor education in every possible location. Rather we hope that each case study reveals insights for the reader and provokes discussion about outdoor education philosophies and practices. We hope that it will encourage reflection about how current programs are already responding to place, or may be modified to become more place-responsive, or to stimulate outdoor educators into designing alternative programs and to think about emerging pedagogic strategies that respond to both the best traditions of outdoor education and the local conditions where teachers and learners engage meaningfully with local places.

Designing place-based and place-responsive outdoor education experiences

The final chapter summarises and concludes the book. We are cautious about being seen to provide prescriptive advice about outdoor education programming. To do so would be hypocritical given the emphasis we have placed on the importance of geographical situation, cultural context and the experiential education encounter with place. Only the local educator who has actively developed a sensitivity to the interaction of these phenomena can know what kind of experience may best provide learners with opportunities for a successful educational experience. As we suggest in our autobiographical narratives and much of the content of the book, place experiences are unfolding in their character. A nuanced, local, place-responsive curriculum and pedagogy is likely to evolve over time, through repeated efforts. Even so, we do feel that it is appropriate to provide a series of signposts for other educators and outdoor education programmers to consider. These might best be thought of as design principles in crafting place-responsive outdoor education experiences. We hope that the discussion of theory, the presentation of stories of practice, and the reflections that follow provide food for thought and some inspiration about the power and potential of place in outdoor education.

Cite this chapter as: Wattchow, Brian and Brown, Mike. 2011. ‘Introduction: Towards Place-Responsive Outdoor Education’, in A Pedagogy of Place: Outdoor Education for a Changing World, Wattchow, Brian and Brown, Mike. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. pp. xiii–xxix.

© Copyright 2011
All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the copyright owners. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University Publishing.

A Pedagogy of Place

   by Brian Wattchow and Mike Brown