Adventure Education as Cultural-Historical Activity
A Study of Experience, Learning and Social Processes in Project Adventure Workshops
The present study aims to illuminate the way participant learning in adventure experiences intersects with broader social, cultural and institutional contexts, and was guided by the following questions: How is participant experience constructed in a facilitated, small group adventure setting? How is the construction of the adventure experience related to the intentions and orchestrations of the trainer? How is the construction of the adventure experience related to the institutional and social context in which it occurs?
This study used grounded theory methodology (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) and cultural-historical activity theory (Engeström, 1987; Leontiev, 1977; Vygotsky, 1978). Activity as an analytic device facilitates the mapping of historical, social and cultural influences on local action, while grounded theory helps maintain close attention to local phenomena.
Aside from making methodological advances, I develop several major concepts. First, I identify the object of adventure education as the morally improved and socially interdependent subject. It is this object that defines and establishes the conditions toward which the activity is oriented and must be understood. Second, Participation frameworks position the subjects as interested actors who negotiate and align with one another through the course of different exercises. As an analytic device, participation frameworks help identify the way subjects expect the workshop to conform with their goals, and act on the basis of their expectations. Third, collaborative ideation is the process through which the object of adventure education is realized. There are two sub-parts to collaborative ideation: vertically mediated action, or the ways participants’ encounters with speech, kinesthetic poses, and physical instruments are orchestrated by the trainer for particular effect; and horizontally mediated action, or the ways participants become resources for each other’s learning. These factors reflect a complex process of interaction in which participants experience contradictions between the actions required for involvement in the adventure, and the social expectations they have for situations.
About the Author
I have been a certified English teacher at the high school level and I hold a Master’s degree in outdoor education from the University of New Hampshire. I have worked extensively at multiple levels in K-12 education, from tutoring individual students to teaching in and out of a high school classroom to leading district-level experiential reform initiatives. I have just finished a Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Outdoor Experiential Education from the University of New Hampshire, where I am also a lecturer in the social foundations of education at the undergraduate and graduate level. I am the former service learning and character education coordinator for the New Hampshire State Department of Education, during which time I worked with 29 schools engaged in various reform initiatives funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Education. At that time I was also the co-chair of the National Training and Technical Assistance Committee of the State Education Agency Network. I have also appeared on New Hampshire Public Television’s Crossroads and New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange with Laura Knoy in promotion of experiential education in New Hampshire schools. In the fall of 2006 I will assume the role of Assistant Professor in the Kinesiology Department at the University of New Hampshire, in the Outdoor Education option.