Blog Contributor: Dr. Garrett Hutson
Brock alumna Liz Peredun (pictured above) and participating ESRC faculty member, Dr. Garrett Hutson, presented findings from the first comprehensive NOLS sense-of-place outcomes study at the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium in Martinsville, Indiana on January 13, 2018. The NOLS mission is to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment. NOLS leads wilderness expeditions for a variety of age groups worldwide with a focus on teaching leadership, outdoor skills, environmental studies, and risk management. One of the core environmental studies learning objectives at NOLS is for students to develop a “sense of place” by experiencing wilderness and exploring relationships with their surroundings. In the NOLS context, sense of place is defined as the personal relationship students develop with areas travelled during NOLS experiences. Sense of place is important to NOLS because articulating an environmental ethic and supporting students’ abilities in connecting with the natural world beyond NOLS is a goal of every course.
The purpose of this study was to explore how NOLS course participants report developing a sense of place after completing a course at NOLS Rocky Mountain in Lander, Wyoming. Data were analyzed from 511 NOLS students who answered the open-ended question: Did NOLS help you develop a personal relationship to the places you visited? If so, how? Overall, 72% responded affirmatively and responses ranged from general feelings of nature appreciation to specific curriculum-driven learning mechanisms. Learning mechanisms included the chance to engage in environmental studies, developing familiar rituals, participating in authentic experiences, time for reflection, and discussions on natural history and indigenous awareness.
Additional analysis is underway to explore links between sense-of-place development and other aspects of the NOLS environmental studies curriculum such as foundations in ecology, Leave No Trace environmental ethics, climate change, and transfer of learning. NOLS was a participating member of this study and plans to utilize these findings both to better understand the impacts of its programs and to improve the environmental studies curriculum.
Liz Peredun is a graduate of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies undergraduate program with the Outdoor Recreation concentration. Liz currently works as an instructor for NOLS in the Yukon Territory, Wyoming, and Utah and as a Program Director for Outward Bound Canada. Additionally, Liz works as a research assistant for this ongoing ESRC funded study.