Do you daydream about future adventures, vacations, and expeditions?
Have you amassed such a gigantic pile of inspiring trip reports, guidebooks, maps, and itineraries that you realistically won’t be able to get to them all in this lifetime? Yeah. Me too.
When you plan an expedition, you typically have a destination and a goal. Say you’re going sport climbing on limestone cliffs over the sparkling, turquoise ocean in Thailand. Identifying this goal allows you to pack appropriate gear, bring the right climbing partners, and make sure that you have the climbing and international travel skills to pull off an enjoyable adventure. Researching climbing routes and Thai culture can also help get you excited about the trip.
A 2010 study in the UK suggested that “many people spend more time planning their next holiday than they do planning their careers.” The average full-time employee in the USA spends approximately 3.8% of their work year on vacation (not counting weekends). Many of us are lucky to have more than two weeks off per year, but it typically isn’t paid vacation.
If you daydream about your adventures, why don’t you daydream about your career?
One of the problems with professional daydreaming (unless you are an adventure photographer) is that Nat Geo doesn’t feature amazing photographs of our careers and Climbing Magazine doesn’t write job reports for epic careers. It is hard to amass a gigantic pile of inspiring job descriptions, study plans, and career paths. Information about individual jobs, specific employers, and people’s job satisfaction just isn’t that easy to come by, so many people skip the planning process and fly to Thailand with ALL of their climbing gear and hope for the best.
As this crazy year rolls to a close, I’d like to offer parts of the Career Mapping workshop* that I’ve been facilitating with my students and clients that jump starts the career brainstorming process. Here is a short list of questions that I use in the workshop to get people thinking about their career aspirations:
* “I would definitely emphasize how thought-provoking, influential (life and career wise) and deeply moving this workshop is.” – 2016 AEE Workshop Participant
When I started working for Colorado Outward Bound my biggest worry was that one of my students would get hurt on a backpacking trip. I lay awake at night imagining nightmare scenarios: rock fall, lightning, stream crossings, careless students, sprained ankles, broken femurs, helicopter evacuations. I worried constantly between the time I was hired and the day I arrived for training.
I felt like a little kid worrying about unseen monsters under my bed. I didn’t know what they looked like or when they would attack or what they would do, but I knew that dangerous, scary monsters were there – and they were coming to get my students in the Colorado wilderness.
Looking back, my fears were completely normal because I did not yet have a framework to define and manage risk. The monsters I imagined were big and scary and – worst of all – unknown.
Then I learned to identify specific hazards. Once I learned the hazards, I could assess the risks. Once I understood risks, my co-instructors and I could manage them. Risks that can be defined and managed are not nearly as scary as the imaginary monster risks under your bed.
It is worth developing risk management systems to improve your program and calm your mind – and this is an excellent time of year to do just that because risk management learning opportunities abound:
I can say from experience that risk management monsters are scariest when you ignore them during the day and worry about them at night. Shine some light on your monsters this month.
What are you afraid of? Share your risk management monsters in the comments below this post for a chance to win FREE enrollment in RM101* ($95 value).
* If you’re already enrolled in the course, think of what a great holiday gift it would be for your boss. I’ll draw the winner on Tuesday, November 29th- the day right before the world’s greatest risk management webinar trilogy.
I asked people at the Association for Experiential Education conference a question: how do you find meaningful work – make a thoughtful plan or let it magically unfold?
(Full disclosure: as an incentive to answer the question, I held a drawing and gave away prizes. If you keep reading, you will see that I am giving away more prizes at the end of this post.)
Nearly everyone answered my question with a question: how do I find meaningful work or how should I find it?
How do you prefer to find it? I replied.
Seventy percent of the people I surveyed said that they would prefer to let their careers magically unfold. Seventy percent!
The message that we get from society is that successful people have a plan. Successful people know from a very young age what they want to do when they grow up. They use the knowledge of their perfect-match dream career to motivate them to get good grades in high school, use those grades to get into a good college, and land a satisfying, high-paying job as soon as they graduate. I think society is perpetuating a myth AND I think it is freaking people out.
I recently interviewed more than a dozen successful professionals in the fields of experiential education and conservation science to learn about their career paths. Not a single one of the people I interviewed said that they were aiming for this career from a young age. Several of them mentioned an aha moment when they knew what they wanted to do, but that moment was typically sometime in their twenties and more of a vague idea than a concrete plan. A few of the people I talked to had several different aha moments on several different career paths.
So, should you make a thoughtful plan or let your career magically unfold? You should probably do a little bit of both. Regardless of your path, you should take the time to study the profession once you have your “a ha” moment and you know what you want to do with your life. You owe it to yourself to do some research for two reasons. First, you’ll know what you are getting yourself into. Second, you will gain a leg up on the competition for your dream job because you’ll probably know more than they do. Do your homework by asking: who is working in jobs that appeal to you and how did they get there? What do they like and dislike about their job? Could you follow their path to a similar career? My previous post has suggestions for personal professional development (specifically see ideas see #4, #5, and #6).
What if you haven’t had your aha moment yet? I have a few ideas for that too. I developed a career mapping workshop that facilitates the career brainstorming, visioning, and professional research process. You can see an overview video here and the handout here. You will also be able to sign up for the online version of the workshop in December at www.educatewild.com.
Now I ask you, engaged reader, how do you find meaningful work – make a thoughtful plan or let it magically unfold? And when has that worked or not worked for you?
As a thank you for commenting on this post, I will send an Educate Wild! Outdoor Educator’s Tiny Bag of Tricks to one randomly selected person who comments on this post by noon PST on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 (Micah, this is your chance!).
The case for personal professional development
Teaching in the field can be so time-consuming (and energy consuming) that practitioners forget to take time for themselves. You might have a daily yoga practice and get out regularly to run, but what are you doing for your professional self? How are you paving the path to your next career move? How have you made yourself indispensable in your current position – or how are you building your skills to shift your career path?
These questions can feel overwhelming if you are already working 12-hour days, looking at an email inbox with 136 unanswered emails, and feeling guilty about not revising your incident response plan. How could you possibly take on one more thing? I argue: how could you not?
Professional development sometimes feels like something that you do for your employer – attending the state-mandated food handler training, keeping your Wilderness First Responder certification current, clicking through the slides for the online driver training – but I’m talking about enriching your professional skills, taking time to connect with people who are passionate about outdoor programs, and dreaming about your future.
Here are seven ideas to keep your skills fresh, your professional network growing, and your next move on the horizon:
Dr. Angie Moline is the founder of Educate Wild! and an adjunct faculty member in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University.
Guest blog for OutdoorEd.com - The Outdoor Professional's Resource.
Rick Curtis, the owner of OutdoorEd.com and Director of the Outdoor Action Program at Princeton University, recently asked me to write a blog post for his website. I hope you will enjoy reading about my reflections about planning to manage risk on a four-day Environmental Science of the San Juan River class that I taught this spring.
Note: This blog post also contains a discount coupon for RM101: Introduction to Risk Management a.k.a. How to NOT Kill Your Students in the Field
Whole person education is the idea that educators should foster intellectual growth, social relationships, personal growth, and physical challenges throughout the learning process. I thought that I had come up with this idea myself until I ran into this description on the Boston College Office of Graduate Student Life website:
I’ve thought a lot about how to engage these learning modalities and I want to share my ideas with you. Here I am providing an overview of each type of learning and am happy to talk with you about each modality in more detail.
1. Fostering Intellectual Growth
Intellectual growth has been a focus of public education for several decades, so you are probably already familiar with these techniques. My environmental science, environmental studies, and ecology students feel a great responsibility for the environmental, economic, and social crises of today. So it makes sense that they learn best when they have a practical, real-world problem that they feel like they can understand and potentially solve. This is true when I ask them to dissect the cause of environmental problems using case studies and when I ask they serve as “consultants” for local non-profit organizations.
I use real-world problems in the field as well. My favorite approach to keeping students intellectually engaged in the field is to roll out a case study – as if it were scavenger hunt – throughout a course. I start by giving them a brief overview of the a thorny problem – maybe by watching a short film clip or reading a magazine article – and then the adventure begins. We meet with guest speakers. We read increasingly detailed articles and essays. We have discussions over meals. The students write reflections in their journals. Near the end of the course I ask students to present how they would solve the problem if they had a large budget and plenty of time. This storytelling / problem-solving method of teaching has worked to keep many students intellectually engaged throughout long, hot, challenging field courses.
2. Fostering Social Growth
My students are oriented towards one another and the greater social good. They want to make a difference in the world, which is at their fingertips via smartphone or computer. I have found that group challenges are a valuable way to engage students in learning – especially if the challenges are meaningful and authentic. Specifically, I have students work to solve the problem of sediment erosion in the Grand Canyon, to determine how to reduce food waste in the university dining halls, and how to measure the number of exotic trees along the San Juan River.
In order for students work successfully in groups, I teach communication and conflict resolution skills during the course. I spend one lecture explaining group development, giving the students tools for conflict resolution, and letting them share stories about past group projects that have gone awry. I encourage open communication by arranging students in a circle whenever possible (so students can see and hear one another) and facilitating conversations about the course content and the group process. Throughout the course, I check in with students about projects and empathize with them if a group member isn’t pulling his or her weight. I assure students that the slacker’s grade will be impacted, but suggest that the more enduring, lifelong lesson would be to learn skills to engage the slacker and resolve the situation. I am willing to put in time outside of class to help students learn these skills.
3. Fostering Personal Growth
A fun, lively, group-project oriented learning environment works for many students, but can be distracting and even taxing for introverted students. So, I facilitate self-reflection and personal growth in my classes as well. I will admit that I have more tools for facilitating personal growth in the field than I do in the classroom (coming soon), but I still think it is important to create space in indoor classes for students to quietly process information on their own. I often ask students to answer reflective journal questions, to work alone to create mind maps, and to draw sketches of experimental designs to engage the right sides of their brains. I also ask at least one opinion question on essay exams so students can speak their minds.
4. Fostering Physical Growth
It is much easier to encourage physical activity in the field than the classroom, but kinesthetic learners need to move their bodies. In the classroom, I have students role play scenarios and mill during mocktail parties for discussions. I had a colleague years ago who encouraged his students to use interpretive dance to present their final projects in atmospheric science classes. I recently met an art history professor who has her students physically reenact the scenes in famous paintings. These approaches bring a lot of fun into the classroom and keep things lively.
As a former Outward Bound instructor, I rely heavily on physical challenges in the field that require the group to work together in order to accomplish the task at hand, such as getting everyone up and over a mountain pass before thunderstorms with potentially hazardous lightning build in the early afternoon. This type of authentic challenge fosters all four types of growth in students and provides enough of an adrenaline rush that students are buzzing with excitement on the way down from the mountain. In my experience whole person teaching is more engaging, more fun, and more impactful than brain-based teaching. What techniques do you use to teach to the whole person?
Note: My last blog post highlighted three benefits of field-based learning: enhanced connections among people, personal growth facilitation, and curiosity stimulation. Franz Plangger from the Outdoor Council of Canada observed that the first two benefits focus on personal development. So he asked if the literature supports the idea that outdoor / experiential education is beneficial for curricular achievement, content acquisition, and “passing the exam”. Thanks for asking, Franz!
Administrators ask : do you teach in the field because it is more FUN or because your students LEARN more?
The best answer is “both”. While some learning outcomes are better suited to experiential education than others (i.e., memorizing multiplication tables vs. learning to identify trees), well-designed field courses can be created for almost any academic topic. Even if your administration wants you to “teach to the test” you can do that in a field setting. If you start with clear, concise content-driven learning outcomes, design a course that inspires students’ curiosity about the subject matter, and engages them with the material in an authentic, meaningful way, your students will learn more in the field than they do in the classroom.
Field courses require active student-centered teaching, which works better than traditional teaching.
Traditional teaching methods, such as lecturing, reading textbooks, and working through problem sets, are typically used in distraction-free learning environments such as classrooms, libraries, and lecture halls. The outdoors is not a distraction-free learning environment. Experienced field instructors know that students can listen to a lecture for 10-15 minutes before the physical environment becomes too distracting (e.g., mosquitoes, weather, wildlife) for them to pay attention. Therefore, the most practical and effective way to keep students engaged in the field is through active learning. It works best to get them moving around, asking questions, talking with one another, and exploring their environment. This redefines “distractions” into “curiosities” that the students can focus on and learn about.
Field instructors simultaneously use multiple teaching methods, such as active, problem-based, and experiential learning, to keep students engaged in the field. However, educational researchers typically test one teaching strategy at a time. For example, one section of a class learns with the methodology in question and students in the adjacent classroom serve as a control group. Research that uses this reductionist approach allows us to highlight individual benefits of field teaching methods, but certainly misses emergent and synergistic benefits such as increased enjoyment, confidence, and improved relationships. Student-centered learning is not only more fun for students; the educational literature suggests that it is more effective than traditional methods.
This gets us to the question: can field courses “teach to the test”? Presumably when your administrator asks this, she is talking about the high stakes standardized tests that have become routine in K-12 education. Multiple sources support the idea that standardized tests “measure lower order knowledge and skills (e.g., recall and comprehension) as opposed to higher order thinking (e.g., analysis, synthesis, evaluation).” Perhaps your administrator is suggesting that field courses focus on higher order thinking skills at the expense of lower order skills – and thus compromise test results. However, a comparison of 12th grade government classes that used traditional techniques and experiential education methodologies (e.g., student-directed learning, real-world connections, critical reflection) found that students in the experiential education rich classroom performed the SAME as students in a traditional classroom on lower order thinking skills but BETTER than the control students on higher order thinking skills (Ives and Obenchain 2006). This suggests that you can promote higher order thinking on field courses without sacrificing the skills needed to “pass the test”.
Finally, field courses provide opportunities for students to learn in many different ways throughout the course of a day, which teaches to different learning styles. For example, students start the day by working together to count the number of invasive weeds near the campsite [collaborative learning is consistently more effective than individualized learning]. Then, students meet with a noxious weed expert, listen to a short presentation about invasive plants in the region, and ask follow up questions to learn how they can help manage the invasion [students in an active learning classroom scored approximately twice as well on physics tests than traditional students]. Next, they work together with the guest speaker to design a strategy for weed removal [problem-based learning increases student engagement, but not necessarily test scores] and spend an hour pulling weeds [service learning can improve standardized test scores]. After dinner students are asked to reflect on their personal opinion of non-native plants and whether they believe “weeds” should be managed or left in place [critical self-reflection allows students to process their experience and synthesize new information]. This progression allows students to build an understanding of a real-world issue that impacts the field area where they are living and studying.
Field instructors need to use a wide variety of student-centered teaching methods to keep their students engaged in the field. These teaching methods combined with a stimulus-rich learning environment, provide numerous opportunities for students to become curious and involved in learning. Once students are interested, educators can facilitate active learning about real world issues. The educational research supports the idea that these three methods (student-centered learning, student engagement, and active learning) increase student learning over traditional methods, so we can logically conclude that students learn more on field-based courses than in the classroom.
Partial List of References
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