Over the past eight years, Drs. Gassner and Wolsko have been conducting a longitudinal investigation into the effects of the UWCSEA Outdoor Education programme on adolescents’ development and psychological well-being.
This presentation emphasizes the unique characteristics of learning outdoors, the critical importance of maintaining a multidimensional connection with nature in an ever-urbanizing world, and the powerful and enduring Outdoor Education experiences of students at UWCSEA. For more background on this work, see these UWCSEA Perspectives links:
- Flourishing People in Place: Understanding the Impact of Outdoor Education (first published in Dunia magazine 2017/2018)
- Journey as a Destination: Evaluating the UWCSEA Outdoor Education Programme (first published in Dunia magazine 2014/2015)
A number of key research findings are highlighted from several years of focus groups, in-depth interviews, participant observations, and surveys with students in Grade 6 and up:
- Consistent patterns of experience on outdoor expeditions facilitate positive social emotional development among students, as reflected in the UWCSEA profile
- In turn, such positive development predicts higher psychological well-being and academic achievement
- Resilience, social bonding, and connection with nature are among the most profound experiences realized in Outdoor Education at UWCSEA
- Students who experience more connection with nature on their Outdoor Education expeditions report higher psychological well-being one and two years later
- Students who demonstrate more resilience on their Outdoor Education expeditions report higher levels of grit one and two years later
The logistical challenges of maintaining an effective Outdoor Education programme during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the necessity of initiating local Singapore trips, have coincided with UWCSEA’s increased focus on deeply understanding and mitigating of the ecological consequences of travelling far and wide to experience the outdoors. With an eye on sustainability, this talk concludes by examining the trade-offs associated with exploring nearby nature versus accessing unique environments abroad.
Cameron Hunter: Good afternoon, everyone. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr. Michael Gassner and Dr. Chris Wolsko from Oregon State University, Cascades. They will be presenting on Coming of Age in the Natural World: the Role of Outdoor Experiences in a Sustainable, Holistic Education. Michael Gassner - smile Michael - is the programme coordinator of the Tourism, Recreation and Adventure Leadership Program at OSU Cascades.
He teaches and conducts research in the area of outdoor recreation, adventure education and outdoor leadership and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, which he says is very cold. Chris Wolsko - say hi - is an associate professor of psychology at OSU Cascades. He teaches courses in social and environmental psychology and has research interests in eco psychology, self-Identity and social comparison, stereotyping and prejudice, and the social cultural construction of mental and behavioural health. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder. Over the past eight years, doctors Gassner and Wolsko have been conducting a longitudinal study into the effects of the UWCSEA outdoor education programme on adolescent development and psychological well-being.
They have uncovered consistent patterns on how the programme facilitates positive social emotional development among students predicting higher psychological well-being and academic achievement.
This presentation emphasises the unique practice of learning outdoors, the critical importance of maintaining a connection with nature in an ever urbanising world, and the powerful and enduring impacts of the outdoor education experiences of students. of UWCSEA. Over to you, Michael and Chris.
Michael Gassner: First of all, I just want to say thanks for having us, Chris and I are what's the word consistently humbled to be put in this position. And because we're so nervous, we're going to read from scripts until the Q&A, to keep us in line so I will try to keep my eyes up as much as possible. And we're going to go back and forth just so you know how the flow of things go I just want to first acknowledge some bias.
I'm a fanatic or fanatical about spending time outdoors. I always have been and especially for extended periods of time, partly because of the huge amount of learning and good it can provide to just about anyone When I was really young and I think this was where it was instilled, my parents would routinely say, no matter what the weather, you know, pouring down rain or what go outside until suppertime, just go.
And I would ask, well, what am I supposed to do? Just go, get out? And later, I learned that, you know, with five or six kids, maybe she just needed some space. But it was good for me in the end. When I was a bit older after undergraduate studies, after thinking I wanted to go and see the world, I bought a one way ticket to Singapore a long, long time ago.
My parents asked me, when are you coming back? And being who I was, I said, well, I'm not sure it's a one way ticket. And just let us know when you're coming back. And maybe I haven't really come back yet. But in any event, it's been a great adventure, and the idea of adventure really runs through our talk to some degree. Outdoor education at UWCSEA plays an integral role in a sustainable and holistic education.
It contributes a large amount of learning in terms of social emotional development, psychological well-being, academic achievement and other things. Giving a nod to coming of age in the title of our discussion, outdoor ed is the curriculum in which resilience, social bonding and commitment to care for nature and other profile traits are among the most realised. It's a unique curriculum to teach and reach students
That classrooms or field trips just don't provide. Current UWCSEA Grade 12 students are telling us very recently that extended expeditions in novel environments that challenge them as individuals and groups have been some of the greatest sources of learning over the course of their UWCSEA experience over the last six or seven years. Interestingly outdoor ed used to be something on the fringe of education and really on the fringe of many people's reality.
It's now a research-based practice but is still grounded in the ideas of being outside exploration, adventure, challenge, risk, mystery, awe and fascination. You know, as teachers it's the integral stuff of a great quality and holistic education The irony is that something that is so inherently good for humans has taken so long for many to accept. But then when we stray too far from our genetic and cerebral roots, it's sometimes difficult to make our way back.
Chris can speak a little bit more on this point later. Thanks to UWCSEA, we have a lot of data now, but this is really not a research report today. We're going to make an assertion that in outdoor education it's perfectly OK to not know, to not always have predetermined outcomes. We don't want to go outdoors only if we know the exact outcomes.
We want to dare to dream. We want to dare to adventure, we like those one way tickets, but the outdoor ed students you always want them to come back. They will come back. OK, yes. I wanted to clarify that. But the idea is dare to dream, dare to adventure and maybe don't follow the herd all the times because then are you really a leader at all?
These are concepts we want to think about and weave throughout our discussion. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, you know that small little clothing company had something to say about going without knowing. Speaking about a major 10,000 mile adventure he did many years ago with the founder of another small company The North Face, Doug Tompkins. He said fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all, but we just went for it.
I would argue that there are times when we as individuals and organisations just have to go for it. This idea of grappling with going without knowing is difficult, especially now. It used to be we could just go. Now we've become disjointed if we do not know the outcomes first. Adaptability is lost. Is there something actually wrong with not knowing before going?
Discovery, novelty, exploration, risk - these are part of the human spirit, after all, aren't they? They're also a large part of what made Singapore what it is today. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, had probably more unknowns in his mid-thirties when he started this country than one could imagine, but he just went for it. The click of a mouse, the slipping of a switch and grins, a sense of control. Extended time in the natural world allows us to learn adaptability, flexibility, immediate consequences of our actions.
That we are not the ones in control of everything. It offers students the ability to experience what's in the literature now. - VUCA situations, situations that have volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
The ideas of exploration, mystery, risk, awe, fascination are central to the process and myriad of benefits of outdoor education. These are the essence of mental or physical adventure, crucial catalysts for learning and are inherent in being outdoors, are they not?
Storms come, sun comes out, things happen unpredictably. We're not striving today to come up with an algorithm or through this research project, to come up with an algorithm for every eventuality and eradicate the beauty of the mystery, the awe and the fascination. Mysterium tremendum et fascinans in Latin translated as mystery that attracts tremendous awe and fascination. It just makes you sound pretty smart
if you say it in Latin, that's the only reason I'm doing that. OK, but by definition, nature is mysterious and that's ok.
These days we're becoming increasingly alienated from the natural world. But ironically, COVID has helped us realise what we forgot, what we are missing sometimes. For example, look at us now. Artificial light, temperature controlled rooms. We can control everything at the click of a mouse to flip a switch. We are so sophisticated, but in the end we're humans who are inextricably tied to the natural world,
from our genetic makeup to what sustains us. The natural world is no longer and really never has been externality, in economic terms. Sometimes we dismiss it as so, but it's not really true. So many people say, Oh, I don't need to spend time outdoors. It's hot, sweaty, it's cold, it's miserable to be active outdoors, to sit and wonder.
But in the end, at our genetic core, this is who we are as humans. We were designed to move, to use our bodies and minds. Our bodies were designed to be responsive to sunrise, to sunset, to the cycles of the seasons, however subtle they are. We may really need mystery, awe and fascination to counter the extreme, predictable individual and worldview that now appears to encompass everyday life.
Remember, humans created and have only lived in cities for a very, very small part of human history. Those who say I don't need to go outside so much, well, they may have become so isolated from who they really are at the core that their baseline may have shifted to a point where they're no longer aware of the myriad of benefits they're missing.
So in the end, we think we need to restore a reciprocal relationship with the natural world. And this is what Chris is going to talk about a little bit now.
Chris Wolsko: All right, next slide, please. Much has been made of the fact that in 2010, for the first time in human history, a majority of humanity lived in cities. And this trend is only expected to continue, only expected to increase over the next 20 years by 2050,
I forget if this is a World Bank or UN or some office that is estimating this sort of thing. But around 70% of us will live in urban areas by 2050. North America has the greatest percentage actually of residents living in urban centres, and by all accounts the rest of the world is eager to catch up as those of you living in Singapore or elsewhere in East and Southeast Asia are no, no doubt aware.
While the push towards urbanisation has had clear benefits for the organisation of labour, for economic growth, for efficient access to health care and critical infrastructure, and in some sense that almost as I think about saying these words an almost in Singapore too, which is, you know, 100% urban, it feels sort of sacrilegious to say that there might be costs to such a dominant trajectory for humanity.
But the World Health Organization and other people working in public health are aware that and just maybe those of us living in cities are aware that this trend towards urbanisation and industrialisation and associated lifestyle components does not come without some heavy costs. This long arc of industrialisation has brought about a whole lifestyle that's inspired by, but not necessarily specific to urban populations that many working in public health would consider less than optimal.
And I just name a few concerns up here on the slide. So chronic indoor living, as Mike mentioned, too, under artificial lighting and a mechanical time schedule. Right. There are other time schedules like cycles of the moon and sun but we live according to that clock in the corner of the room. It disrupts natural human cycles of rest and restoration and waking and exposure to daylight.
It undermines sleep patterns, it undermines a healthy stress physiology. And even cognitive performance can be undermined through disruption of circadian rhythms. Ever increasing reliance on digital communication, recreation, as well as machine based transportation, means that we live our lives on average, largely devoid of physical activity. I don't have the stats off the top of my head, but in the US, the number of people who are almost completely inactive is sizable.
I believe it's, you know, on the order of 25 to 30% of the population. And of course physical activity is essential for our mental and physical health. The vast majority of our leisure time is spent in front of a screen and this data right there I looked not totally sure of the national representativeness of it or where the sample was taken, but it seemed pretty dialed.
"We are social" I think was the site. So that's data from Singapore and it dovetails pretty, pretty well with what I see for from Nielsen Ratings nationally representative data in the United States. So the vast majority of our leisure time something like 70 to 80% in the US and I would imagine that it's similar here is spent in front of a screen. The numbers in the US for a combination of non-talk, non-text, smartphone use, television watching, online use that is non-work related is about eight or 9 hours for the average U.S. adult that's some of that's overlapping so we're you know playing video games while we're a sending emails or watching television while we're checking our social media and so forth.
But it's a huge thing, right? And many of us find watching television and smartphone surfing on the MRT or wherever we happen to be to be relaxing, a pleasant distraction. But it seems kind of that that is where the positive benefits tend to end and we're talking about non talk, non text use of these things as well.
So some of the costs for those of us who are more addicted include of course, sleep disruption, relationship problems and even worse, academic performance. As I'm thinking about this now and listening to Dr. Gardner this morning, I thought about that values gap that he talked about, like asking people to think about what they value in their life and then what they actually do.
And this is one for me. You know, we we spend an inordinate amount of time on screens. But if we really stop at the end of the day and think about what we value, who we want to be, how we want to spend our limited time on this planet, we probably don't say, I really value TV. That's like my top value.
Right? I but, you know, there are other things that are happening in an in high stress work environment and this industrial trajectory tha make us feel that we need to cope by being on screens. Anyway, recent data on social media indicates, especially for girls and young women, wait for it, that it's use is more predictive of mental health problems, by which mean we mean kind of classic anxiety and depressive disorders than a history of sexual assault, obesity or hard drug use.
It's correlational. There's been some good longitudinal work on social media as well that suggests more of a causal relationship. But with the kind of social comparison and egocentric preoccupations that we involve ourselves with on social media is tremendously harmful. But most central to the present conversation, we increasingly inhabit a world in which we are disconnected from the natural environment.
And I use the phrase here "existential disconnection" to underscore the idea that we're losing touch with what is actually happening outside of our built environment. So where our food comes from, where the raw materials for our technology comes from, where our waste goes and also that our commodification of nature and the service of industrialisation has caused us to lose touch with the deep systems of meaning that give us a sense, sort of making our way back, to what it means to be human.
One of my favourites Vandana Shiva writes, "In the dominant mechanistic paradigm, not only are humans separated from nature, nature is declared inert matter, mere raw material for exploitation." Even sometimes as we seek it out for outdoor recreation, it becomes a commodity, a consumer interchange in which we just, you know, get restoration. We get an experience, we tweet about it, we post on social media, we affix it to our ego and feel good about ourselves and then go about our rest of our life.
And relatedly, another one of my favourites, who you may be less familiar with, but Vine Deloria, Lakota and history professor in the US for a long time, says "If you see the world around you as a collection of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, you will inevitably destroy the world while attempting to control it. Not only that, but by perceiving the world as lifeless, you rob yourself of the richness, beauty and wisdom to be found by participating in its larger design."
Which is all to say that along our road to ecological recovery, we must also have a spiritual reckoning or again, in the words of Dr. Gardner from this morning, maybe at least a secular religious experience. He talked about is UWC a secular religious organisation? I would say. Yeah, and that's OK.
We could talk about that later if you want. Next slide, please. For many, though, a more immediate and accessible entry point into this human nature conundrum and the trajectory of technology and urbanisation is through the lens of public health. The W.H.O. has put reports out on this. It is becoming a more widespread, accessible and urgent thing that people are talking about.
So taking note of our increasingly sedentary, indoor, urban and digital lifestyles, researchers from a variety of disciplines have made great headway over the last two decades in fleshing out the positive benefits of exposure to natural environments for mental, behavioural and physical health. These studies are wide ranging and methodology, so they measure exposure to natural environments in a variety of different ways through sort of epidemiological correlational types of studies, certain experiments.
So lots of lots of methodologies and lots of different exposures. So having more green space in one's neighbourhood experiencing higher levels of biological diversity in your local parks, walking in a city, but in an area that's more green, more natural versus more built. And the effects are wide ranging as well. In fact, I know a lot of people talk about the comparison between spending time in nature with the sort of restorative quality of the really spontaneous and fractal-like environments to what happens to us as we practice mindfulness actually.
And the smattering of effects over the last ten to 20 years, looking at this stuff, I would sort of equate with mindfulness as well. It's like, it's like pick your physical health problem, pick your psychological problem. Chances are going outside for a while is going to help you out. Similar to the data on mindfulness that we've seen for more than 20 years. So some of the psychological benefits of exposure to nature include increased capacity for directed attention, increased positive emotional experiences, reduced anxiety, reduced depression and physical health benefits are numerous as well.
Improved recovery from surgery, physiological stress reduction, better self-reported health, lower disease, morbidity and even mortality effects. You know, small effects at scale but still still quite significant in a number of studies. And in addition to directly facilitating psycho emotional well-being and restoration, natural environments also influence health by providing attractive locations for people to socialise and to exercise, which are, of course, both if you're a public health official, social support and physical activity, sort of top of the list. And spaces in nature to do that, public spaces are really important. So as we wrestle with our urban and technological lifestyles and our dissociation from the natural world, we can feel confident that outdoor ed at UWC is really more relevant to students lives than ever.
The learning experiences in outdoor and are multifaceted but one core articulation of the programme, as Chris and I were talking about just 45 minutes ago, is cultivating connection with nature We're happy to answer more questions about our study and our methodology later. But for now, I just want to give you a few highlights over several years of surveys, interviews and participant observation on expeditions with Grade Six and up, we've seen really clear and systematic student development in regard to this quality of connection with nature.
Students have positive experiences receiving the beauty of nature, these restorative, positive emotional experiences, and they're also able to cultivate the kind of connection that makes them committed to care. So it's this reciprocal relationship that people talk about as foundational for a new environmental or ecological ethic. As one student reported after her Grade Seven kayaking trip, seeing the amount of trash washed up on the beach in Cebu, which is otherwise gorgeous,
I feel guilty because I knew that some of it could have been my fault. I realised that something needs to change or else will harm the world even more. After helping to clean up some of the trash, I felt a little better because I was helping to make our world a better place." And another student reflects, "After my trip I felt even more connected to nature.
And after seeing so many animals and wildlife, I learned much more about how little actions can affect the entire ecosystem. It was amazing to work with other people who shared similar interests to me, so we all supported and helped each other learn." Of course, that intimates the interconnectedness of a lot of these qualities that students are gaining on outdoor expeditions as well.
Importantly, we also find that these boosts from a feeling of connection with nature from before to after expeditions are associated with increased psychological well-being measured through kind of standard scales in the field, and that these effects persist one and two years later. So we see longitudinal effects that are that are quite provocative.
So controlling for how psychologically well students were doing at time A and controlling for how connected to nature they were and a number of other things, the boost in the expedition predicts subsequent one and two years later, well-being down the road. Many students are directly telling us that this is the case in their retrospective accounts and that's a good method, too.
But it's heartening to see it in our quantitative longitudinal data also. So while outdoor education takes place outdoors of course in nature, the curriculum is is designed to impact student learning in many different ways. And one of the core purposes of our research has been to look at the extent to which, or the manner in which student experiences and outdoor expeditions facilitate the development of the student profile.
So this is the profile that, you know, most of you are familiar with. It consists of a set of character strengths and virtues developed by your own Lizzie Bray and others. That's integral to student success and socio emotional development, including being committed to care for shaping a better world, both socially and ecologically, acting courageously in unfamiliar situations,this quality of resilience and participating cooperatively and communicating effectively in diverse social contexts.
Efforts to develop these traits occur across the campuses and across programmes and at all stages of development. And the Outdoor Ed program is no exception. In our research, we found that students develop multiple elements of the profile directly on trips, and that students who internalise the profile to a greater extent also experience higher psychological well-being and, though a smaller effect, higher academic performance.
So that's that's a little bit of of an aside because we're looking at this stuff separately than even the outdoor ED program as well. But it shows how well anchored the profile really is in students being well and performing well academically. One of the most frequently experienced profile traits on UWCSEA expeditions, and it's really truly classic to outdoor ed in general as Mike has talked about and we'll talk more about, is resilience. So resilience is about taking risks, about acting courageously and optimistically in the face of uncertainty, about taking the plunge and persevering. Here we see some jetty jumping in Malaysia and images that reflect endurance through a long kayak or a long hike or a long sail.
We've seen again and again that resilience, though, doesn't just happen with the specific skill or activity in the outdoors, that it can be deeply inspirational and there can be a lot of transference from what's happening in those specific environments in the outdoors to other areas in student lives. And I'm kind of finished my little part here with a couple of quotes on resilience from our research, our interviews and surveys with students.
One student reflects on his sailing trip, "Every single thing we did on the trip made me realise that I can meet new challenges with an open mind and be able to complete and overcome the challenge. I discovered that I can be brave, I can be strong. An especially good example of this was when I was the first person to climb to the top of the main mast."
Not sure it was this guy, but there he is. "At first I was very scared, but I got the courage to do it, and with the support of my peers down below, I was able to make it to the top. After climbing the main mast, I felt like I could do anything. I felt invincible. After that, I was ready to meet any challenge.
On the trip, I learned how to live." You can't ask for more than that. And another said, "Going on this expedition showed me that I could achieve amazing, absurd things when I pushed myself and has inspired me to pursue more challenges and experiences. Yes, I will continue to make many, many more mistakes, but I know now for sure just how important it is to get back up, dust myself off, and keep chasing the impossible."
Now, not every student emerges so eloquent and inspired after each trip, but over time, we witnessed how the outdoor ed experiences build upon each other and nurture the adventurous spirit that seems so essential to pursue the radical vision for peace and sustainability at UWC. So Mike's going to talk a little bit more..
Michael Gassner: What's been really interesting and fun and rewarding this year has been to speak with Grade 12 students who are just about to leave the school. And we first met these students when they were grade six kids, you know, down here and it's been really fun. So and talk spend a little bit of time talking indirectly about these interviews that I've been doing quite recently.
And we're at a point in this study where the first cohort of these students we spoke with in Grade 6 many years ago, they're about to graduate. Because of this we have a better understanding of what outdoor education expeditions mean to students over time. What they learn from them and what they take away with them when they leave the college, depending on what the type of trips they've done.
Resilience, social bonding, commitment to care for others, collaboration and connection to nature are among the most profound experiences realised on outdoor education expeditions over time, over the course of those six years, it's really important to note that this is not a one day one month or even yearlong snapshot. It's an intentional, acute accumulation of experiences over many years provided by UWCSEA
and their commitment to outdoor education. That is, instilled values that these students really hold dear. One Grade 12 student commented on the overall impact of their outdoor education expeditions by stating, "Aside from being fun, I would say the connection with," and I'm quoting exactly here, so I got a little likes in here, you know, that's the way it works.
"Aside from being fun, I would say the connection with like nature. We were near rivers in the forest. It was just us and nature and there wasn't a barrier in between." So here's an example of something a G 12 student is taking with them now from the Outdoor Education Expeditions now that they're about to leave you UWCSCA and this was just about a month ago I interviewed this student, I believe month and a half, maybe. "For me personally, my like, love for nature, these trips from middle school to high school, they were always the most memorable out of my, like, school years.
I just really enjoyed being able to interact with nature. What I've taken away with me, I think these trips really taught students in general how to be independent. Most of us don't live away from our parents, even if it's just one week. Now outdoor trips, because we were out in the middle of nowhere, we have to be we have to take care of ourselves really independently.
I think this is something I take away." So what I want to emphasise here is, particularly with these students, it's not just being with peers in a small group or being in nature. It's the combination of those. It's the combination of the two in a novel environment that creates impactful learning Another student said, "With only our peers and in nature as well."
Collaboration and resilience are prominent profile traits learned in combination with others on outdoor education expeditions. Another student commented, "I would say collaboration and resilience were things I experienced the most. On learning resilience, another student said, "In Cebu, we had to kayak around an ENTIRE island," with a heavy emphasis on "entire."
The experiences on Cebu - I know trips aren't on there anymore, but this is the data up to date that we have. Obviously, COVID shutdowns things a little bit. The experiences on Cebu were really impactful for many. Oftentimes after the fact I had a number of G. 12 students look back on their trip and "Oh boy, it was tough at that time.
But you know, I think that really taught me a lot." OK many students talked about how important collaborating and caring for each other was during the challenging times and how it not only helped develop resilience but also other profile traits. And just briefly regarding COVID, the lockdowns, the quarantines, a G 12 student I spoke with commented, "I think these outdoor ed trips, they really teach you how to be alone sometimes how to be content with not really doing anything but being relaxed and OK with being alone.
So I think they may have helped with dealing with the quarantine." Another student commented, "Nature can teach us how to be alone sometimes." So I know this is in the forefront of a lot of people's minds that UWCSEA, and I wanted to briefly kind of wrap things up slowly with a look at local and overseas. Local, maybe not versus in combination with an eye toward sustainability,
we wanted to conclude by mentioning some of the trade offs as mentioned by students. So this comes from students, not necessarily us through the data. With exploring nearby nature compared to accessing environments abroad. In doing so, we'd like to float the idea of an ecologically sustainable adventure paradigm that is developmentally appropriate. Informing future Outdoor Ed practice at UWCSEA - a paradigm being the lens through which someone or an organisation views the world.
That's really what informs your practice.
We would argue, to keep a developmentally and an ecologically sustainable focus, but don't lose the adventure it's really not about dualism, but about a synthesis of the two. From a human development perspective, also, think about where and when it's appropriate for a trip to focus more on adventure or sustainability or a synthesis of the two. When to go abroad?
When not? Is G7 the best time to focus on resiliency? Maybe, maybe not? Is Grade 8 the best time to foster the seeds of independence and self-management? Maybe, maybe not. But what students are clearly saying at the G12 level that we've recently interviewed - the adventure components are important to them, it's getting out there, it's going without knowing sometimes even at the time in grade six or seven, they weren't so sure about it.
Lastly, we wanted to mention some things you are more likely to get overseas and more likely to get locally, again, as described by students. And this is not an all encompassing list. This is just some highlights. Local trips really have the ability to reduce your carbon footprint. I think we all know this, not travelling far and wide. Developing an understanding of Singapore, what Singapore has to offer beyond the urban. One student mentioned "Adventure does not really have to happen outside the place you're living."
Develop collaboration and communication, but maybe at the expense of a greater connection to nature.
Local trips might reinforce the too familiar and may appear more contrived. They may have the feel of recess or a field trip instead of an expedition. On the other hand, overseas trips that have overnight components have the ability to develop greater self-management, independence, potentially resilience and connection to nature. They really get students out of their comfort zones and develop skills to navigate what we call a VUCA world, and they put Singapore in a different perspective.
The increase novelty challenge, problem solving situations and adaptability. They provide unique context for learning to occur and students learn to go without knowing. It really keeps the mysterious, the tremendous awe and the fascination I mentioned before. But there's tradeoffs either way.
And in closing, you know, just in a sentence or so the transformative experiences on these outdoor education expeditions over time, that have contributed to a huge amount of learning in so many ways are really an integral part of what makes UWCSEA education so distinctive. I've done a lot of outdoor ed work myself in a lot of years, and I'm kind of speaking off the cuff right now.
I think you have something really special here, and I think it's something to hold on to. Thank you very much.
Cameron Hunter: Thank you so much, Michael and Chris, for that provocative and inspiring talk. I think we have time for some questions. One, two, one or two questions. Yes, please.
Speaker 4: Yeah, that was really, really interesting. And currently I'm head of Grade nine and this is the grade that I thought would be quite interesting. I don't know whether it's come up in your studies. They are the ones who've missed out on virtually all of these outdoor trips. They missed out because of volcanoes and haze and two years of COVID. This year, they were supposed to have all the amazing grade nine trips and I know Oli and co are working really hard to make something happen this year.
But I wondered if you spoke to those in order to kind of get a contrast between those who have experienced it at our school and those who have not.
Chris Wolsko: We hear where that's at at the moment, but we we specifically haven't done interviews with that cohort. But you know, in the absence of a sort of a control group design, and there's of course lots of conflict with COVID. But, we've surveyed them and we have a lot of open ended kinds of questions.
And so we're, we haven't looked at that data yet, but that's happening. It just happened the last few months that we're, we're aggregating that data. And we're going to be we may follow that up with some interviews, but that's that's absolutely an interesting comparison. And those poor babies.
Michael Gassner: Yeah, I'd just mention that's a really good question. Some of the grade 12 students that I've interviewed recently, you know, they obviously didn't get to do project week and these kind of things. And yeah, it was a big disappointment with them. But I've also found that by and large, your students here, they roll with the punches, they take the positive and they keep going.
It's really neat to see in a way, you know, they can be saying, oh, you couldn't do project week and also terrible and don't get that at all, you know, and by this time, having seen them from grade six, to grade 12, you know, we recognise each other. And I think they're quite open. They don't hold back too much anymore.
So but it's something we're really cognisant of especially and I know the Outdoor Ed Department is these folks that have had three or four years with nothing, you know, and then they're going to be you have to gradually work them up again.
Speaker 5: It's probably not a question, but I'd like to share a reflection that I heard about. I think I heard it from Ellie Alchin, but I think it's a very insightful reflection which came from our early years colleagues. And they realised that probably for decades in education we've been teaching children "eco-phobia," fear of the natural world. In the classroom we've emphasised endangered animals and melting icebergs, and we've taught children to be scared of the natural world.
So they're determined now to teach "eco-philia" love of the natural world instead. And I actually see children as young as four years old around the campus getting their fingers in the dirt, examining the shapes and colours of leaves, noticing insects and so forth. And I can easily imagine that that's vitally important to set them up for a future where they are genuinely curious about the natural world and naturally inclined to look after it and because if we teach them eco-phobia, we're asking a lot of them, then when we stick them out on challenging expeditions et cetera.
So sorry, not a question just just sharing.
Chris Wolsko: Appreciate the observation and I, I like to watch nature documentaries with my kids some of the time and I find myself yelling at David Attenborough because these are all "oh my gosh," and "how do they make it?" You know, it's not just like it's a scary place. I mean, maybe it is, but that is like the whole package but it's it's nature.
It's really difficult to survive in nature. It's a scary place. And we need we need separation from it. And, and thank God we have all that we have so that we don't have to, you know, confront the horrors of raw nature and sort of the is that the worldview that I feel like is is quite indoctrinated in a lot nature documentaries.
So I think it's a really, really profound observation that you're making. And to the extent that we could flip that around to, as you said, eco-philia failure, we would all be better off.
Michael Gassner: Yeah. I mean, how many times if you look at young children's storybooks, how many times do you see the words "spooky forest" or "spooky jungle?" You know, language carries meaning over time. That's how we learn.
It doesn't have to say spooky forest.
Chris Wolsko: Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness, man. Yeah.
It's a myth.
Cameron Hunter: Yeah. It's time for one more. Possibly. Yes.
Student Speaker 6: So thank you, sir, for your speech. I'm in Grade 11 and we will be having our project week just two days later. Yeah, this time we actually get it. But still, it's local it's in Singapore. So I think me and a lot of friends of mine are thinking to do some kind of outdoor trips during the summer.
Or maybe in a gap year after graduating from Grade 12. So we just want to ask that is there any organisations to contact that you can recommend us? Because families, parents, they only trust schools and organisations, so they never allow you to go out yourself.
Michael Gassner: Thank you. I can, I can take that one. I think your best resource is one chair to your left and two chairs to your left. Right there, Oli and Chris probably have a list that is miles long and I would trust them very much. And the rest of the Outdoor Ed team. I would ask them.
Cameron Hunter: I think is appropriate to end on a student point of view, thank you very much and thank you Chris and Michael, for that great talk.
And I'd also like to thank you for the work you've done, not just for this talk, but also for the eight years in the study. It's a really important thing that we're doing and we really appreciate it. Thank you very much.