ERIC Identifier: ED391624
Publication Date: 1996-01-00
Author: Richardson, Michelle - Simmons, Deborah
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Recommended Competencies for Outdoor Educators. ERIC Digest.
Teachers need little special training to involve students in outdoor learning
experiences. However, developing the abilities outlined in this Digest will help
"enhance the value" of those experiences. For teachers who regularly lead
outdoor learning experiences, this Digest provides a guide for professional
The Digest begins by describing studies that have had a major influence on
developing standards of competence in outdoor education. The balance of the
Digest outlines leader skills needed for effective outdoor education, based on
recent standards drafted for the North American Association for Environmental
Several studies have influenced ideas
about effective outdoor education practice. Holt (1974), for example, developed
a list of competencies from his reading of the outdoor education literature. His
list included a broad range of subject fields, first aid and safety concerns,
camping activities, and general outdoor education techniques. Other writers
providing guidance include Buell (1983), Priest (1993), and Swiderski (1984).
Buell, for instance, identified specific knowledge, skills, and behaviors. He
divided them into his "Top Ten Entry-Level" and "Top Ten Experience-Level" competencies. Johnson (1989) compared knowledge and skills needed to lead
various types of outdoor programs, such as residential camping, outdoor
education, and environmental interpretation.
Outdoor and environmental educators share similar principles of outdoor
learning. Thus, the performance standards recently drafted by the North American
Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) (Simmons, 1995) can serve as a
useful guide for outdoor education generally. NAAEE-recommended competencies
fall into seven categories: (1) knowledge and skills, (2) educational and
psychological foundations, (3) outdoor education foundations, (4) environmental
understandings, (5) instructional methodologies, (6) learning environment, and
(7) assessment. Descriptions of each of these areas of competence, as they apply
to outdoor education specifically, make up the remainder of this Digest.
KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Depending upon the nature of the
activity, outdoor educators need skills in safety, group management, problem
solving, using technical equipment and tools, protecting the environment, and
organizing excursions or expeditions (Priest, 1993). Safety--an area that must
never be compromised in leader qualifications--begins with wise activity choices
and good sense. Other safety skills relate directly to the particular activity
planned (for example, demonstrated ability to lead rock climbing, swimming,
canoeing, and so forth). Group management skills keep the group dynamic positive
and group members working toward their task. Strong problem-solving skills help
overcome obstacles and address emergencies. Technical skills help leaders use
equipment needed to conduct particular outdoor activities. Environmental skills
help prevent damage to the natural surroundings and provide a model for
environmental responsibility. Organizational skills help leaders plan, prepare,
conduct, and evaluate outdoor experiences.
EDUCATIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS
can occur in various settings. But whatever the location, a teacher's
understanding of the learning process and child development remain important.
An effective outdoor learning experience begins with clear educational goals.
After setting goals, the teacher must be able to select appropriate activities,
curriculum materials, and instructional strategies. Outdoor education relates
well to many recent educational innovations. Service learning, constructivism,
problem-based learning, cooperative learning, and interdisciplinary learning all
translate well to outdoor settings (Knapp, 1996). Thus, an understanding of
basic education foundations and current educational theories are as important
for outdoor learning as for learning in the classroom.
Planning outdoor experiences that incorporate an appropriate level of
challenge requires teachers to draw on their knowledge of students' physical and
intellectual development. Educators need the ability to apply theories of
cognition with special emphasis on concept development and cognitive process. In
the outdoor setting, teachers can help students use intellectual skills to
infer, hypothesize, collect and analyze data, and draw conclusions. Finally,
familiarity with theories of transference helps teachers design outdoor
activities that provide the opportunity for students to gain knowledge and
skills they can use in their day-to-day lives.
OUTDOOR EDUCATION FOUNDATIONS
Outdoor education has enjoyed
a long history, beginning with camping education and school camping experiences
of the 1930s. It is distinctive in its methodology. Educators interested in
conducting outdoor education experiences regularly would benefit from a
grounding in the history and evolution of outdoor education.
Briefly stated, outdoor education involves a structured experience for
students, usually involving a challenge (possibly including an element of risk);
a period of reflection to help students derive meaning from the experience; and
an assessment activity. Skilled outdoor educators can use outdoor experiences to
achieve many general education objectives in subject areas such as the arts,
language, mathematics, science, and social studies as well as social and
behavioral objectives. L. B. Sharp (1943) stated simply the tradition of outdoor
education: "That which can best be taught inside the schoolrooms should there be
taught, and that which can best be learned through experience dealing directly
with native materials and life situations outside the school should there be
Outdoor educators should have
the knowledge and skills they need to awaken in students an environmental
sensitivity or appreciation. Once this appreciation is awakened, students can
often be motivated to take an active part in environmental improvement and
protection. Teacher-led values clarification and other related activities can
foster in students a willingness to recognize and choose among differing
perspectives associated with environmental problems and issues. Skilled
instruction that leads to moral reasoning helps students make their own
decisions and judgments about environmental issues.
An educator's knowledge should include an understanding of how natural
systems work and how social systems interact with natural systems. Regarding
natural systems, teachers should be able to communicate and apply major
ecological concepts. Important concepts include individual, species, population,
community, ecosystem, biogeochemical cycle, energy production and transfer,
interdependence, niche, adaption, succession, homeostasis, and humans as an
ecological variable. Regarding societal systems, educators should understand and
be able to communicate the relationships between beliefs, political structures,
and environmental values of various cultures. Educators should understand and
communicate how human cultural activities influence the environment from an
ecological perspective. They should have a clear awareness of economic, social,
political, geographic, and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas.
Educators need an understanding of environmental problems and issues at all
societal levels, from local to global. Issues include air quality, water and
soil quality and quantity, wildlife and habitat, energy and land use, human
population and health, and waste disposal.
Effective classroom teaching
requires a good match between educational objectives, students' developmental
levels and learning styles, teachers' instructional methods, and available
facilities and resources. The same could be said for outdoor teaching. Using a
variety of teaching methods to directly involve students in exploring the world
around them, and their relationship to it, fosters creativity and critical
Outdoor education addresses learning objectives through guided direct
experience in the outdoors, using the natural and built environments as resource
materials. Such experiences in the outdoors provide three-dimensional reality to
what is taught in the classroom and make possible depths of understanding and
appreciation that may not be possible indoors.
Outdoor education can occur in any
outdoor setting, ranging from a school yard in an industrial neighborhood to a
remote wilderness setting. As Ford (1986) describes it, outdoor education often
takes place on a walk around the block or on a visit to a cemetery, gravel pit,
or urban renewal project. It can happen on the concrete of a playground, in the
weeds of a vacant lot, on the fringe of a sewage treatment plant, at a city zoo,
on a forest trail, or in a national park. Locations like these make good sites
for firsthand experiences, direct contact with a topic, and student interaction
Providing a positive learning environment is always important--indoors or
outdoors. The educator must be capable of recognizing the diversity of students,
responding sensitively to students in word and action, and supporting the full
participation of all students.
Capable outdoor educators create a safe place for learning--a community of
learners. Such a setting promotes appreciation, exploration, and discovery, and
provides an intellectually open, stimulating, and exciting environment. In such
an environment, students pursue their own ideas individually and in groups.
Teachers also guide students in self-assessment, collaborative work, and
preparation of presentations of accomplished work. Capable outdoor educators
model certain habits of mind, including curiosity, excitement, wonder, and
If teachers are to know whether outdoor
education practices have been effective, they need skill in assessment
practices. In addition to assessment conducted at the district or
state/provincial level, teachers should be able to determine both formally and
informally whether student performance meets expectations. Part of planning an
outdoor learning experience, then, becomes developing a set of criteria to use
in analyzing student achievement in cognitive, affective, and behavioral
dimensions. Assessments should be ongoing. It's best to use a variety of
strategies, such as observing and listening to students as they work, discussing
students' ideas and understandings, and asking students questions.
These competencies are suggested as a framework
for professional development that could enhance educators' involvement in
outdoor education. Educators will want to focus on some of these competencies
more than others, depending on the nature of their interests. It should be clear
from reading this outline that teachers already have many of the skills that can
be applied to outdoor learning situations. Teachers should not be overwhelmed by
the list of competencies just outlined and consequently limit their efforts to
lead outdoor learning. On the other hand, gaining an increasing number of these
abilities will enrich outdoor education experiences for both students and
Buell, L. (1983). Outdoor leadership competency:
A manual for self-assessment and staff evaluation. Greenfield, MA: Environmental
Ford, P. (1986). Outdoor education: Definition and philosophy. Las Cruces,
NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ED 267 941)
Holt, L. (1974). Identification of the competencies needed by the classroom
teacher in programs of resident outdoor education. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, Ohio University, Athens.
Johnson, W. C. (1989). The identification of desirable knowledge and skills
in outdoor leaders of outdoor pursuits, resident camping, and outdoor education
and environmental interpretation programs in the United States. Unpublished
doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene.
Knapp, C. E. (1996). Just beyond the classroom: Community adventures for
interdisciplinary learning. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools.
Priest, S. (1993). Important components of outdoor leadership. Pathways: The
Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education, 5(4), 13-16.
Sharp, L. B. (1943). Outside the classroom. The Educational Forum, 7(4),
Simmons, D. (1995). The NAAEE standards project: Papers on the development of
environmental education standards. Troy, OH: North American Association for
Swiderski, M. J. (1984, February 27-March 3). Outdoor leadership
competencies: A research study surveying outdoor leaders. Paper presented at the
American Camping Association Convention, San Diego, CA. (ED 255 351)