Growing up in a small town in Northwestern Alberta, Nevin Harper developed a deep appreciation for the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle. “It was very much a lived experience having a nature-based childhood,” says Harper, now an instructor of Sports Management at Camosun College. “Most of our family holidays were at the lake, camping, fishing and doing simple outdoor things. I learned the power of nature for transformational change in my youth.”
After university, he worked as a wilderness guide with young offenders and saw that kind of positive transformation first-hand. “For young people who were having issues in the school system, struggling with learning disabilities or lacking adequate family or community support, we saw them become more confident and starting to believe in their abilities after a month out in the bush.”
Inspired by this, Harper earned a PhD in Education with a focus on Adolescence Wilderness Therapy at the University of Minnesota. Now teaching at Camosun, he is leading the development of a new professional development program in Adventure Education, launching in summer 2017 through Camosun’s Centre for Sport & Exercise Education (CSEE).
“This is a unique program that combines both online and face-to-face learning,” he says. “It will prepare educators, outdoor guides and instructors, health and human service providers and others to bring, safe and meaningful adventure-based learning to their workplaces. Adventure education is designed to get people outdoors, get them active in challenging activities and to reflect on what they learn—that’s where personal growth and development happens.” He notes that it is not a guide certification program but he expects it will prove popular with guides who want to integrate educational theory into their work.
The program is designed to be accessible to busy working professionals, notes Harper. “You can do the online component from anywhere. As long as you can attend both field terms, you can complete the full program requirements.”
The 13-month, 30-credit blended program consists of online courses and two, two-week face-to-face outdoor field terms at both the beginning and end of the program. In 2017, the field terms will take place on Vancouver Island.
The summer field terms begin with a week of introductory online work, two weeks in the field and a further week online. The first field term is land-based and focuses on three core courses: adventures in group work, outdoor leadership and foundations of adventure education. Plans include hiking, camping, climbing and other outdoor pursuits, but the curriculum goes well beyond recreational activities.
“It’s important to understand the underlying educational opportunities when you put people in the field and they go through physical challenges together,” says Harper. “You find that people are expanding their comfort zone through supportive risk-taking. Students will learn how to facilitate these experiences, where a balance of challenge and support is critical. Students will better understand the psychological, sociological and environmental influences that promote individual and group growth, and the profound learning outcomes which occur in an outdoor classroom.”
The second field term is water-based with a curriculum focused on transformational learning, outdoor leadership and the wilderness experience. “It’s about learning how to facilitate experiences, how to use metaphor, the actual process as a leader: in what you say, how you set things up, how you debrief and how you engage with others,” says Harper. The last course of the program is the ‘wilderness experience’ which utilizes eco-psychology and examines human interactions with nature. “It can be an incredibly restorative experience. If you use the outdoor experience properly you can teach people to reduce stress, increase attention span, promote rational decision-making and improve executive functioning. That has an impact on both the individual and society as a whole.”
During the second field term, instructors will teach skills in paddle-boarding, canoeing and kayaking. “We’ll be on the water and do shoreline rescues, teach paddling techniques and instructional guidance,” says Harper who notes that people’s ability to understand the world and to make informed decisions is dramatically improved when they make nature a part of their lives. “This is well-supported by research —we’d all do better in our modern society if we spent more time outdoors. It improves health outcomes, civic engagement and improves our personal and collective resiliency.”
Adventure education is “incredibly exciting,” says Camosun Vice President Education John Boraas. “Anyone who looks at this program will want to take it.” He notes that the immersive approach taken by the program leads to applied, real-world learning. “Experiential learning in this new program provides a chance to experience and practice the ideas and concepts presented as theory.”
Harper emphasizes that the program is taking a team-based approach. “We’re assembling a top team of talented instructors, people who are leaders in their fields in Canada, coming from a diverse group of guides, outdoor specialists and education professionals.”
This team-based approach builds upon Camosun’s core strength of engaged and experienced faculty. Instructors like Harper “have passions for active living, developing skills as citizens and encouraging social and economic mobility,” says Boraas. “These are just a few of the passions that drive the college’s teaching faculty. They represent an enormous strength for the college.”
Why should people take this program? Harper gives a passionate pitch: “This is professional development that can be taken from anywhere. Students will meet incredibly dynamic, motivated people. That’s going to be a diverse group where people learn from and support each other, take risks and learn to connect deeply with nature. They’re going to form amazing relationships and have a great time while learning essential skills and theory out in the field.” For educators, this program is considered an acceptable integrated program for BC Teacher Qualification Service (TQS) category upgrading. TQS pre-approval is recommended.
Applications are currently being accepted. For more information, visit: camosun.ca/adventure.
“Ivan Watson is the marketing and comunications strategist at Camosun College’s Interurban campus. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org