Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Learning from Incidents and Students' Perceptions of Safety and Challenge: A Case Study of Outward Bound New Zealand

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Learning from Incidents and Students' Perceptions of Safety and Challenge: A Case Study of Outward Bound New Zealand

Article excerpt

Outdoor adventure activities and risk

Recent fatalities that have occurred during the conduct of outdoor adventure activities in educational situations, the media's portrayal of outdoor activities as involving a high amount of risk, and heightened health and safety policies are all impacting how organisations working with outdoor adventure activities presently operate (Brookes, 2011; Brown & Fraser, 2009; Stan & Humberstone, 2011). In New Zealand (NZ), occupational safety and health is an increasingly political issue following the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, in which a methane explosion killed 29 workers in 2010, and the Mangatepopo tragedy, where six children and their teacher were killed at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC) in 2008 (Brookes, 2011). These and other related fatalities, involving activities such as bridge swinging and river boarding, were impetus for the NZ Government to initiate an Adventure Activities Safety Review (AASR, 2009), with subsequent regulations implemented by the Department of Labour in 2011.

Conceptions of risk in OAE programmes are often differentiated as "perceived" or "real" risk (Brown & Fraser, 2009; Zink & Leberman, 2001). For example, rock climbing, ropes courses, and abseil towers require the careful management of risk by trained instructors and quality safety equipment, which make the real risk low. The perceived risk of these activities, however, can be quite high and "often prevents participants from engaging in, developing and extending complex risk-taking strategies of their own volition" (Brown & Fraser, 2009, p. 71). However, when real risk is minimised by outdoor experts, OAE programmes "may be more amusement park than educational" (p. 71).

There is an immense amount of academic literature which supports the idea that risk is an inherent part of outdoor adventure education (OAE) programmes and can provide for meaningful learning experiences. Learning is enhanced through risk (Zink & Leberman, 2001), including improving one's self-concept, personal growth, leadership, and the opportunity for self-actualisation (Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997). Risk may be referred to as "the potential to lose something of value" (Zink & Leberman, 2001, p. 56). "This loss may lead to harm that is physical, mental, social, or financial" (Priest & Gass, 1997, p. 19). In OAE, some examples of these "losses," which range in severity, may include physical injuries, emotional distress, social pressures, and damage to gear. Zink and Leberman (2001) expanded on the definition of risk in OAE by associating risk with an uncertain outcome that has potential benefits, and in doing so, they have opened up a wider discussion. The awareness that risk can be potentially beneficial may assist in acknowledging the complexity of risk, especially where this concerns education, highlighting how taking risks may engender valuable learning opportunities.

Niehues et al. (2013) argue that there is a need to reframe perceptions of risk in outdoor activities to focus on the significant potential benefits, in contrast to the "framework of control" that educators have been implementing, which constrains and limits students' opportunities to learn from outdoor experiences (Thompson, 2005, p. 12). However, in recent years opportunities for outdoor risk taking have been reduced for many young people. Little (2015) notes that societal changes have impacted children's opportunities for outdoor play with a trend towards over-protective parenting. Whilst the benefits of risky outdoor play are acknowledged, "tension existed between their [parents'] desire to provide opportunities for their children to safely engage in such play and overcoming their own fears and concerns about their children's safety" (p. 24). Stan and Humberstone (2011) point out that many people are also concerned about the level of risk, the possibility of accidents, and potential for litigation: "Moreover, because of the fear of litigation that schools are faced with, school trips are often cancelled or not planned at all, because it is perceived that avoiding the exposure of children to any kind of risk of harm outweighs the benefits of such trips" (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.