Using Outdoor Adventure to build resilient learners for a 21st Century University Entry
Concerns about young adults' growing mental health problems and disengagement from university have been attributed to their declining resilience. This poses a serious challenge to every HE institute; all are facing a unique array of demands on services at a scale never seen.
As part of sponsored PhD programme, my thesis explored the value of residential outdoor adventure programmes for helping to induct new students into the School. One of the main outcomes of the work was the change in inductees’ psychological resilience, assessed immediately before and at the end of a one-week programme. Psychological resilience was chosen because it reflects adaptation in a range of domains associated with higher rates of course completion and better academic attainment.
Importantly, the study also addressed the principle planned components of the programme that all participants would experience during their week away. This was undertaken to identify the most potent elements of that provision for predicting enhanced psychological resilience. A further innovative component was to address psychological resilience in a comparable group of students whose induction was completed ‘at home’ in the university.
Conducted over five years, full data were secured from over 2,500 inductees. Using multivariate analyses helped overcome many of the statistical problems affecting previous studies. As expected, significant positive gains were reported in the resilience of inductees attending the programmes (ES=0.38, 6.29% increase). Compared to students inducted at university, this represented an 8.35% greater increase in resilience (ES difference = -0.526). In the 'at home' group resilience declined.
From over 30 active programme components, heightened resilience was predicted by more regularly (i) experiencing freedom, (ii) mastering new skills, (iii) developing new relationships and (iv) managing uncertainties. Importantly, females reported greater increases in resilience than males. This blend of embodied, meaningful challenges provides a template for helping university inductees' to re-adjust, grow and persevere.
An extensive article covering this work has been submitted to The Journal of Higher Education; full publication of findings will be presented in July at the HEA National Conference.
John is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Outdoor Education (OE). As an academic and outdoor practitioner, he leads undergraduate courses and modules on Masters programmes in OE. His area of research centres on positive psychology and resilience building through adventure.