Friday, 20 May 2016

Backyard Adventure 2016

What's to explore in your backyard?  Often we travel far away for adventures and holidays to far away locations, either in our own countries or overseas.  But what about your own environment?  What about your own backyard?  How much of that have you really truly explored, and have you managed to gain a deeper appreciation of your local environment.

Backyard Adventure is part of the Diploma in Outdoor Leadership Level 5 programme at the Otago Polytechnic.  It is an outdoor education project based in the Dunedin local area. During the 'Backyard Adventure' our year 2 Diploma students prepare, plan and run a journey based around the the Dunedin Harbour area, exploring their local area. Clientele are usually local school students. Along the way they learn more about biking, tramping, camping and sea kayaking. Embedded within the journey they interact and learn about themselves, peers, local communities and leadership; through adventure. Through the collaborative interaction with local communities, people, organisations and ecosystems all participants get to share stories and interact with their own backyard and community.

Backyard Adventures was the brainchild of Jo Martindale and Andy Thompson in 2015.  It was initiated and inspired from Jo's research project for her Masters.  With the help of myself we designed the route and logistics.  It was a win/win for our Diploma students and Jos research and a great opportunity for young students from a school to be involved.  Now it has developed into its second year with two being completed.  In Jos research proposal she wrote, "If we are to learn anything from this decade we need to find solutions to our over use of resources and many of our unsustainable, everyday practices. We must teach our young to value and respect our own place, the local and what it contains. To do this we need to be in the environment. Outdoor education has the potential to lead us towards this sustainable future (Hill, 2013).  She continues to say,  "It has been argued that mainstream outdoor education in New Zealand still has adventure, risk, challenge and personal development as its main underpinnings (Hill, 2014, Zink and Boyes, 2007), with very little focus given to the traditions and history of Māori (Andkjær, 2010). By keeping these underpinnings, outdoor education is promoting the societal status quo of individualism and consumerism (Boyes, 2012). From my own experience working in outdoor education and at a tertiary institute, we travel vast distances to go to the ‘best’ locations for the pursuit, giving little thought to petrol use. Hill (2014) argues that this means outdoor education remains “distant from the goal of education for a sustainable future” (Hill, 2013, p.19).  Researchers and academics have been increasingly concerned with the unsustainable practices of outdoor education and how slowly outdoor educators have been prepared to change their focus for greater sustainability (Boyes, 2012)" (Jo Martindale - Research Proposal)

It is the first big experience for our Diploma students in planning, preparation and delivering professional instruction and guiding to clients.  To say the least most comments from students are; 'this is deep ending learning', 'total immersion' and 'amazing learning'.

This year, the journeys have continued, having just completed two weeks of journeys, one with Otago Boys High School and the second week with home school students, the value in the educational learning has been exceptional.  Through both weeks I have observed personal and professional development in our Diploma students.  It is exciting to see this, and also experience this alongside some fantastic young aspiring professionals.

Pre journey the Diploma students are given assigned roles. They are expected to prepare and plan the running of the journey,  this includes logistics, health & safety, accommodation, vehicles, budgets, liaison with clients, interpretation, medicals, assistant leader, leader, cooking, intentions, students wellbeing, equipment and intentions.  So plenty to do.  Often students will not understand or realise the importance of this phase, which comes back at them while on journey.  This often proves to be good learning in the value of preparation. to the Backyard Journey being successful are: the pre meetings, frontloading what is expected on journey, during the journey the facilitation of reflective discussions each day, a careful eye on the overall safety of the journey, and the willingness of students to embrace and enjoy the learning they can gain from their experiences.  Coupled with this is how they choose to apply their learning into the future.  In conversations during the journey we discuss ways students can feed forward their learning.  And lastly discussion with students after the journey to challenge and see what they have taken out of the journey experience and how they may be applying their learning.  Paul Hager & Phil Hodkinson (2009) write a great article on 'Moving beyond the metaphor of Transfer of Learning'.  They discuss the limitations of the metaphor of transfer of learning and broaden their discussion to 4 lens that I consider important; the propositional learning lens, the skill learning lens, the learning through participation lens and the learning through transformation and reconstruction lens.  Combining these lenses is an important teaching pedagogy I apply to this part of the Diploma. 

It is also a privileged position to be able to observe the many layers of learning with the Diploma students, school students, colleagues and yet have an eagle eye on the over safety and flow of the journey.  Often a thin grey line when to step in if a safety situation may occur and letting situations unfold for students to be able to experience first hand the richness of learning in their own actions. Letting people be accountable for their own actions is the gold nugget within this journey. this journey I was fortunate to have AJ join me.  AJ completed the Diploma in 2012 and has been working a professional sea kayak guide in Abel Tasman. At facilitation meetings she was able to gave her perspectives and observations which were priceless.  It is something I can not replicate as I have been the orchestrator of this programme, conversely she has now been on both  sides of the fence: from student - graduate - working in the tourism industry - to working on our programme.  Her reflective comments were an important part of this process to help students learn.

There is no doubt development of this journey has more work required and I can see it will metamorphosize as time goes on and I reflect on how I can develop it into part of the programme that is more effective for all involved.  It is an exciting part of our Diploma programme and this journey supports many aspects of the Diploma programme that all staff contribute too.

A special thanks must go to Warwick Kain and Claire Latta for their support and commitment to getting students from school on board with this.  Thank you to the outside community people such as Ron Bull, Paula from horticulture, OP, Steve Parker and Quarantine Island people that give up their time to be there.  Also to Jo Martindale for your support and discussions on this continued project, and finally, and most importantly, to the students who put their hearts and soul into the delivery, instruction and guiding of this journey.  

Andy Thompson
Andy Thompson Photography NZ


  1. Cool photos. Do you have the Paul Hager & Phil Hodkinson (2009) article to share please?