Category Archives: MSc

The Field Trip and the ‘Occupation’ of Outdoor Educator: developing a place responsive approach to professional development in HE

By Danny Towers (University of Cumbria) and Dr Chris Loynes   (University of Cumbria)

 Place responsiveness in outdoor education is a big topic. It became more urgent for staff at the University of Cumbria when we were faced with an international cohort of masters students. The last thing we wanted to be accused of was a neo-colonial teaching of the British ‘way’ leading to the emergence of a globalised practice in places as far-flung and as different in their landscapes and cultures as Columbia, Kazakhstan and the Philippines.

But is it possible to overcome all the traditions, training and expectations of the UK’s iconic outdoor education practices, from adventure activities to environmental sciences, in order to develop a practice largely inspired by the place itself? We took inspiration from Quay and Seaman’s recent book ‘John Dewey and Education Outdoors’ in which they propose Dewey’s concept of ‘occupation’ as an organising principle for a curriculum. We then took the students to a remote (in English terms) valley and posed them the question ‘what kind of outdoor educator could you be here?’

The field trip design

We chose the valley of Ennerdale because as England’s first rewilding project it is already challenging the norms to be found in English landscapes, their appearance, the activities that take place and the way it is managed. We hoped this would give us a head start in challenging any expectations the students might have about how outdoor education ought to be practiced.

After outlining examples and critiques of British outdoor practices being adopted abroad we asked the students to think of the kind of outdoor educator they felt they wanted to become in this place. The intention was to encourage the students to explore the valley, notice their own talents, interests and motivations and consider these in the wider context of their cultural ideas of educational purpose. This, we hoped, would lead them to explore what knowledge and skills they needed so they could be helped to become that particular outdoor educator. The students’ prior experience of what an outdoor educator should ‘look like’, if they had any, is significant in this instance, and, likewise, their emerging understanding of Ennerdale. The important thing to us was to raise awareness of these influences so that the students could balance the three influences of the place, their own interests and talents and the ideas of nature based education in their cultures of practice.

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  1. A sensory exploration of the valley at different scales

Dewey’s concept of occupation

‘Occupations’ are not simply about vocational learning. Dewey’s intention was to connect ‘education’ to the ‘occupations’ of community, family and social life. The experience of ‘occupation’ is holistic in an immediate and aesthetic sense. The concept can be seen as an organising principle, providing a lens through which to explore a wider range of knowledge than typically highlighted in HE.

Historically, teachers as the ‘keepers of knowledge’ or the ‘expert’, determine what particular knowledge learners need to know. We hoped ‘occupation’ could help to change these power relations. We anticipated that the experiential doing and knowing would engage the students in using their experience to construct knowledge valid to them and give their sense of place a voice socially and, ultimately, professionally.

In seeking to develop a place responsive education outdoors we wanted to put less emphasis on the ‘occupation’ as defined by the professional world and to foreground the place, its landscape and culture, together with the individual professionals and their values and interests in determining the form the ‘occupation’ took. To our minds this could produce a more place responsive approach and a more politically engaged education.

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  1. Examining the new woodland from the perspective of the rewilded cattle

What happened

Initially, the students developed a long list of knowledge and skills drawing on their experiences and imaginings of what an outdoor educator did and why. This list was challenged by us to bring it down to skills and knowledge that could be developed in this place, an affordances approach. This led to an exploration of the valley and the hills around on foot and by canoe. The river, the lake, the forest and the surrounding hills became the centres of attention as students explored them and, in many cases, developed new skills in order to do this. The night became a focus of interest, either around the fire, on night walks or on overnight camps out in the forest, a first for a number of students. Interests were diverse.

At one point we watched a group of students at a gorge in the river. People were picking blackberries for supper, bouldering on the rocks of the gorge, swimming and jumping into the plunge pools, chatting by the riverside and sharing a way to listen to the sound of the river as it flowed underwater using the stems of nearby rushes. Meanwhile others were exploring how far they could walk round the mountain ridge surrounding the valley and others were learning to canoe sail on the lake.

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  1. Exploring the rewilded River Lisa from the river’s point of view

Students were exploring how to engage with the valley temporally and spatially. They developed a wide range of approaches inspired by each other, the skills and knowledge of the staff and the valley’s material presence. Engagement was sensual and embodied rather than intellectual. Social opportunities were often a central focus although some solo walks and overnight camps did take place.

What, to us, was missing was a way to engage the students with the deeper environmental knowledge, and social and political aspects of the valley, the knowledge held by ‘experts’ such as the rewilding officer and the farmer. We were only encountering the valley through a narrow lens. Orchestrating these other views in a short time frame and without assuming our mantles as experts was challenging.

A walk and talk with the rewilding coordinator began to develop a deeper interpretation of the valley beyond the material encounter. Moving through the forest following the trails created by the herd of almost wild cattle and wading upstream in the unconstrained river were powerful experiences brought fully alive by the observations of the rewilding coordinator who had the perspectives of time and a larger purpose. She could point to the green fuzz of regenerating trees or tell how, in the last heavy rainfall, this valley was the only one not to flood as the water was held and released in the naturalised valley so much more slowly. She could stand with us on the riverbank and tell the story of how the removal of a bridge had caused the return of several species of fish to healthy populations now their spawning grounds were restored. One such critically engaged encounter opened the door for further explorations of the knowledge about the valley held by others.

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  1. Finding time to be with the forest and its other inhabitants

Conclusion

Our instinct was perhaps right in that a different outdoor educator can emerge when the norms of practice are withheld. The approach was successful in problematizing the ‘occupation’ of outdoor educator amongst the students. They reported that it helped them to explore their own interests more confidently throughout the remaining two years of the degree programme and to be alert to their personal, professional and cultural contexts. Time seems crucial to us. Place responsive outdoor educators needs to experience a landscape in space, over time and with others to develop their own ‘occupation’.

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  1. Telling the geological story of the valley from the pebbles in the river

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  1. Tales of the forest – the human interpretation

Quay, J., & Seaman, J. (2013). John Dewey and Education Outdoors. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishing.

Acknowledgements.

The MA Transcultural European Outdoor Studies is an Erasmus Mundus MA provided in partnership by the University of Cumbria, the Norwegian School of Sport Science and Marburg University. This blog is partly based on a presentation made at the HERG session at the 2015 RGS International Geography Conference at Exeter University. Photo credits: Chris Loynes

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Creating Global Students: Internationalization of Curricula in Higher Education

Transcultural European Outdoor Studies: a case study of transcultural learning and teaching

By Dr. Chris Loynes (University of Cumbria)

Travelling, curiosity and the quest for the unknown have been a key metaphor for personal growth and human development for at least two thousand years. These ideas re-appeared in the late 13th century when students began to go on so-called Peregrinatio Academica. – peregrinations – to foreign universities. These reached their peak in the 17th century. Today most universities worldwide value transcultural travelling and cooperation in their internationalization strategies.

Financially supported by the European Union’s education programme Erasmus Mundus, a two-year joint international master’s degree entitled Transcultural European Outdoor Studies (TEOS) began in the fall of 2011 and is now in its fifth year. The programme is run collaboratively by Marburg University, Germany; the University of Cumbria, UK and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo. It is explicitly inspired by the ancient idea of peregrination. TEOS involves travelling cohorts of students who spend a semester at each of the universities to explore three of the main European outdoor traditions in their native contexts: Erlebnispädagogik, Outdoor Education (Loynes, 2007) and Friluftsliv (Gurholt, 2008), respectively. The cohorts of approximately twenty international students each come from nearly as many countries and five continents. The course is full time and two years long.

Cultural interaction on the programme takes many forms including living and studying in an international group, studying in three countries, studying with the national cohort of postgraduate students in each country, being taught in English yet learning two other languages, exploring the local cultures and landscapes, experiencing and examining outdoor activities and outdoor educations of each nation and engaging with visiting scholars from other countries as well as the host nations. The central question of the programme is how the different landscapes and cultural contexts of the three nations, whilst influenced by many of the same historical roots, lead to varying forms of human nature relations and outdoor education practices. Over the first five years of the programme this question has been asked by both staff and students.

Different cultures of human nature relations

The understanding that is emerging is of three romantic traditions yet with different ideas of nature and landscape. In the UK the value has been placed on ‘other’ places of wilderness and strangeness both at home and abroad (Loynes, 2010). Rooted in the British imperial past and its history of exploration the challenging expedition remains a central plank of outdoor education practice. Norway, on the other hand, has only emerged relatively recently from a rural past and as an independent country (Gurholt, 2016). The mountains are celebrated both as home and as a national icon celebrated as a core element of the nation’s identity. Being at home whilst journeying in this cultural mountain landscape acts as an endorsement of an ideal of what it is to be Norwegian, something that most Norwegians engage in as part of their everyday lives. For Germans curiosity about ‘other’ cultural landscapes beyond their own borders has inspired journeys abroad and this exploration remains practiced by youth movements such as the Wandervoegel.

The journey as pedagogy

The TEOS curriculum explicitly sets out to explore this experience of the journey as a phenomenon and as an experience in which the students are engaged on a micro scale of excursions and a macro scale of the two-year study programme. The concept of journeying or of being ‘on the way’ underpins most philosophies of outdoor education. According to anthropologist James Clifford (1997) the “travelling cultures” paradigm opens up a broader dialogue concerning travel as a reflection of humanity’s transcultural condition.

Again, the three countries share a common idea of the journey that has unfolded in different ways in each culture. The three key stages of ‘departure’, ‘being on the way’ and ‘the return’ are commonly held. In Norway the departure to the mountains became the most valued element as Norway gained independence from Sweden and the person found individuality from the collective. In contrast, German practice celebrates the ‘being on the way’ as of value in its own right, learning about the ‘other’ for its own sake. In Britain it is rather the return that is emphasised. Whether what is brought back is new knowledge or some personal attribute it is what this has to offer at home that seems most important.

A paper, that has taken the full five years to craft, is close to submission. The intentions are two-fold. Firstly, we hope the paper will deepen and discuss how ideas of travelling and transcultural sensitivity are argued and advanced in the aims, curriculum development, study strategies and comparative research policy within TEOS and other programmes. Secondly, we wish to discuss the contribution to new understandings of the complexity of human-nature relationships in the increasingly globalising field of outdoor pedagogies that TEOS may represent.

References

Clifford, J. (1997) Routes: travel and translation in the twentieth century. Harvard University Press.

Gurholt, K. P. (2008). Norwegian Friluftsliv and Ideals of becoming an ‘Educated Man’. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 8(1): 55-70.

Gurholt, K.P. (2016). Friluftsliv: nature friendly adventures for all. In Humberstone, B., H. Prince, & K. Henderson (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook in Outdoor Studies. London and New York: Routledge.

Loynes, C. (2007). Social Reform, Militarism and Other Historical Influences on the Practice of Outdoor Education in Youth Work. In P. Becker, K. H. Braun & J. Schirp (Eds.), Erlebnisse und die Padagokik. Marburg, Germany: Abenteuer.

Loynes, C. (2010). The British Youth Expedition. In S. Beames (Ed.), Understanding Educational expeditions. (pp. 1-16). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

A tale of two cities: urban regeneration in Reading and Luton.

By Alina Congreve (University of Hertfordshire)

When I started work at Reading University, I took over the urban regeneration module that urgently needed refreshing. Coursework involved students writing essays to answer questions such as ‘Shall we build the channel tunnel rail link?’. The course was run twice with quite small numbers, in one term for third-year undergraduate students and in the other for MSc students. Most of the students who selected the option did so because it had a reputation for being easy. I took a decisions to run the module once and run it well, combining the third-year and MSc groups.

In trying to design new, engaging coursework I set up a meeting with the head of regeneration at the Borough Council. After a very shaky start to our meeting he mentioned two projects that he was thinking of paying commercial consultants to do with a budget of about £30,000. I offered to do them both for £7,000 with my students. The projects involved students working in two low-income neighbourhoods, collecting information and ideas from local residents to support neighbourhood plans. Once someone is paying you for work you have to do it, so I used the money to pay a regeneration practitioner to mentor the students. They were expected to complete stages of work by set milestones and the regeneration practitioner met with them several times as they reported back on progress.

Community facilities at Amersham Road

The students worked in teams and when in the community they were always in groups of two or more. Within their teams they had their own specific brief, to minimize the risk of a student free riding on others efforts. Students liked the combination of team-work and individual effort being rewarded. They learnt a lot about young people in those neighbourhoods who had very different experiences from them, including those who had turned down training and apprenticeship because their family needed them to earn money. They ran focus groups, talking to older people who travelled into the city centre to get groceries because they were intimidated at their local shopping parade with fears about their safety.

TwoCities image

The students identified the way youth provision did not cater for 8-12 year olds, leading to them being drawn into trouble at an early age. They also provided innovative solutions and came up with fresh ideas to draw in private sector support. They approached large Reading based employers based in the town and suggested schemes where staff working in IT could volunteer one day a month to help older residents improve their skills. They also suggested improved timings to local bus services so residents were not so cut off from employment. These were were taken up by the bus operator. Students presented their findings at the end of the module to the Council and community representatives.

Starting at Hertfordshire with a new MSc planning course, only a small number of students signed up to the regeneration optional module. Concerned the group was too small for the students to have a good learning experience, I approached a colleague who ran the Tourism and Hospitality Management MSc After some discussion she allowed the regeneration module as an option on her programme. It took time to build up contacts and networks that I had developed at Reading. Hatfield has been subject to an excessive number of student projects that have added little value to the problems of the town. Looking a bit further afield I heard about the work of Luton Culture, a third sector organization that runs that arts, museums and community facilities. In the town centre an arts venue, the library theatre, had been almost unused for 18 months. There were ambitious plans to re-open the venue with a lively programme of theatre, comedy and music. There were a number of ideas Luton Culture staff would like to explore, but were stretched for time. These included: creating links between users of the library and the theatre; introducing a loyalty card; working with schools; and creating a volunteering programme for young people. The students carried out desk research and contacted other arts venues by phone and email. Whilst half the lecture content was delivered by a regeneration practitioner and half by me, there was no budget this time for practitioner mentoring. With the smaller group (15 students) this was feasible but it would be much more challenging with two or three times that number.

A key feature to the success of both projects was the commitment and support of staff at Reading Borough Council and Luton Culture. They were able to provide information, contacts and other practical support, such as local venues for meetings, that meant the students could get off to a quick start. They also provided an enthusiastic audience for the students work, ensuring that their first experience of delivering work to a client was a positive one.

So, was is the benefit for the University? Or to put it another way, how can you persuade your head of department you should be spending time on this? A key hook is positive local press coverage. In many university towns there is a lot of negative publicity about students, often focused on rowdy behavior and untidy front gardens. To have a story in the local media about students making a positive contribution to the town can start to change that. Some universities have community awards for students who make a significant contribution to the community, and winning or being shortlisted for awards is good for the department. Professional bodies are keen for both staff and students to be engaged with real world problems and this type of project can provide evidence of that engagement. From a personal point of view it can also help your own career development, engaging with senior figures in local government and giving interviews to the media.

So what are the challenges? Surprisingly, few come from the students. A few students are initially skeptical, but this can be largely overcome if you open the module in the right way. This is going to be challenging but it is going to be interesting and it will look great on your CV. One challenge is time pressure, and while English universities have professional staff whose role includes engagement or work placements, the scope varies widely. You will get very different levels of practical assistance depending on where you are. Local authority budget cuts have put pressure on funds and getting even small amounts of money to pay for additional support is more challenging than five years ago. The biggest barrier I currently face is the university ethics procedures. This can take 6-8 weeks for even a simple questionnaire or focus group with residents to be approved. As a result I have had to adapt so that the projects are carried out without the need for ethics approval. We still have quite a bit to learn in making these kind of projects a regular part of students learning rather than the exception.