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A case study of adventure education: An ecological analysis

Thaddeus J. France, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Historically, the dominant approach to instruction has been for teachers to break down information and present singular facts and behaviors to receptive students. An instructional environment where the teacher disseminates information portrays the learner as a passive agent in the learning process. Conversely, educational researchers have described a complex ecology when teachers, students and tasks interact to complete academic work (Doyle, 1977, 1983). While much attention has been directed at how teachers and students interact as the learning ecology evolves, less attention has been dedicated to the examination of the interaction between learning tasks or experiences and students (content-embedded accountability) in the evolution of this complex ecology (a program of action). The purpose of this qualitative case study was twofold. First, was to examine the learning ecology created throughout an adventure education unit in the physical education curriculum. Second, was to examine the role of content-embedded accountability in the developing program of action. Participants included Ivana, a 23 year veteran physical education teacher and her physical education class (N=19). Data were collected throughout an adventure education unit (N=8 classes) using qualitative research techniques (e.g. field notes, formal interviews, informal conversations). Data were inductively coded through a method of constant comparison. Multiple processes of open and axial coding were completed to develop major themes and supporting categories. Overall, the strong program of action (PoA) was co-created by Ivana and her students. Structures within the adventure education model provided a framework that allowed the teacher to align content, instruction and assessment and students to focus on their learning to be civil and self-directed. Ivana was influenced by structures in the adventure education (AE) model to (a) bridge the global school initiative for teaching civility with student learning, (b) select activities based on student engagement with relevant content, (c) implement instructional methods that included students' social participation and (d) align assessment with the content and her instructional methods. A significant feature in this ecology was the role of content-embedded accountability, which helped to shape the PoA. Ivana's role as a facilitator and structures in the adventure model for learning tasks held students accountable for their self-directed engagement with the content espoused in the AE model. The structure of content embedded in learning tasks eventually defined how Ivana facilitated student learning. Instructional models such as AE can assist teachers to define content, align instructional methods and create learning tasks that initiate a system of accountability. Future researchers could benefit from considering the connection between a teacher seen as a "technical virtuoso" and the instructional model from which they operate.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Recreation|Physical education

Recommended Citation

France, Thaddeus J., "A case study of adventure education: An ecological analysis" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3216948.