In my experience adventure education is one of the best ways to connect with nature. By moving through landscapes at a speed and mode of travel that enables and promotes one to truly see and experience what they are moving through allows them to form a connection to the land. Furthermore when moving through the depths of nearly untouched land one can truly see what nature holds and why it is something to care for thus promoting a sense of connection to it. Part of EE is forming a connection to the environment, and as this connection promotes interest, which promotes investigation into it thus resulting in learning. With this said I have experienced and seen students create a new found appreciation and connection to the land through the use of adventure education with EE. I am curious if anyone else out there has encountered success within the combination of adventure education and EE and the value of this strategy to connect people with nature.
Adventure Education as a conduit for EE
Araceli, I'm encouraged by your post.
I think that many adventure educators or AE students would agree with your perspective, myself included. AE courses typically focus on instilling a sense of place to enable the cultivation of an environmental ethic. However, it has been my experience that adventure educators and participants alike are restrained from going beyond minimum efforts toward this end by their other obligations (i.e. technical skills, physical needs, and group dynamics). I think that EE within AE often results from coincidental experiences related to things like weather phenomena, wildlife encounters, or unstructured observation/discussion. Simply, I regard environmental education as lacking within adventure education. So it's encouraging to see someone like yourself recognize the potential inherent in AE experiences.
It's not my intention to disrespect or put down adventure educators or their programming, I'm just noting that there's often no space left (or made) for EE. It can be a lot to ask - so I think it's all about planning for possibilities and intentionally seizing opportunities when they arise.
Jay, I think you make a really good point, and I've often felt the same way. I do think that the AE platform has a huge potential to be effective, like Araceli pointed out though. While NOLS, OB, and places like Prescott College all provide exceptional outdoor experiences to build skills, sense of place, and fostering an environmental ethic through direct experience, they can often be lacking in terms of curriculum designed to build knowledge. This is not always true, and to be fair, a course that builds skills and helps students shape their own dispositions is still incredibly important. Part of what strikes me as powerful and potentially revolutionary about AE is that it is a departure from the traditional model of knowledge dissemination. Much of the learning is self directed and student centered, which provides a ripe platform for inquiry driven education. Rather than sitting students down after a day of riding through a glacial valley and explaining how a landscape was formed, why not begin the day by writing a list of questions the students may want to answer down, and facilitating a co-teaching "think tank", guided by the group leader/instructor? I think that there is a difference between AE like NOLS/OB, and type of AE that is being demonstrated by Prescott College, Teton Science School, The Alzar School, Wild Rockies Field Institute, and Swan Valley Connections. Utilizing adventure as a platform for inquiry based curriculum delivery as opposed to simply delivering adventure and hoping for learning are two different things, and it excites me that young students and professionals like us can begin to make that paradigm shift.
Ari, I also find out in my own life that AE can be a great building block and foundation to EE. Moving to Prescott, I had little understanding of the natural world and my connection to it and spending my first 3 weeks on orientation opened the doors to finding connection with the natural world. For me, connection was the biggest part in wanting to deeply care for and learn about the natural world. It took stepping away from the front country and being deeply immersed in the backcountry to fully feel its effects and find that care. I often think about what kind of experiences can have this type of effect on people who do not have the opportunity to be immersed in nature and to disconnect from the front country in the way I did. From attending the AE Colloquium and hearing a presentation from a person who does AE work within a highly populated area and little space to be away from human constructs, I was inspired at how possible it still is to create programs and curriculums that provide these types of opportunities to people. In that area, the focus is more on community involvement in the natural world that exists under the human construction. All in all, I agree and think AE does make and has the potential to make an impact on peoples' lives to foster a care for the natural world, themselves and their communities.
I am not sure that AE is "the best" vehicle to connect persons to nature, but I am certain it is one way. Each of us has had specific and to us, special opportunities that make us predisposed to that form or style. For instance when I first started out in EE we had residential experiences with theme hikes and multiple types of chances to make connections. We then were introduced to AE and even Challenge Course experiences which was successful with many students in higher education becoming teachers. Over time however I moved back to my initial experience because we found a larger number of our pre-service teachers, the ones we wanted to connect their children to nature, did not immediately make that connection. Plus we found that many did not have the ability to use AE on their campus. In many cases they did not have the wherewithal to have a Challenge Course on their campus or have one in close proximity to them. So I would say that AE is a good way to connect some people to nature, but I would not necessarily say it is the best.