Hill, who is Sustainability and Outdoor Education lecturer at Ara Institute of Canterbury, is calling for a rethink of outdoor education that takes into account the other opportunities offered in the great outdoors.
He calls this “post-activity outdoor education”, and says it probably draws together critiques from a few different people involved in outdoor education over the years.
“It’s about de-centering the idea of activities from outdoor education,” he explains.
“Activities can sometimes detract from the broad learning opportunities that are available when people get outside classrooms and get into natural environments.
“Some of the research that we’re finding now here in New Zealand about education outside the classroom is that schools really value outdoor learning for more than just activities, for a whole range of other things which are really important to schools and to students [like] engaging students positively in learning, helping students to learn about themselves and about others [and] that idea of authentic or real world or applied learning.”
Post-activity outdoor education also calls for having a greater focus on the places we’re in, instead of the activities we’re doing, including taking account of people’s impact on the world and getting to know not just flora, fauna and geography, but the cultural history and stories of places.
“...understanding that in places like Australia and New Zealand, we have a colonial past, and we have histories that go much longer than just a colonial past, so what were the stories that were in these places long before European settlers arrived and helping to understand how they shaped the world that we live in and shape our responses to the places that we live in,” Hill says.
As well as culture, the post-activity theory can help inspire a love for the outdoors in students, and encourage them to think about how they can contribute to its sustainability.
“I think helping students to understand the world we live in, and particularly the local places we inhabit and how we impact on those places ... is really important but also how can we learn to take better care of the places we’re in, how can we contribute to the improvement of places and of ecosystems?”
For this reason, he says it’s vital that students are also introduced to the less pristine places too – not just the postcard-perfect tourist hotspots.
“Helping students to see the underside of the way we live is actually really important.
“It’s really easy to put your wheelie bins out once a week, and for your trash to be taken away and disposed of and you completely forget about it.
“It’s really easy for young people to be disconnected from those systems, just the same as it is easy for them to go to the supermarket to buy food and not realise where the food comes from.
“So in some ways, helping students engage with some of those more degraded or less pretty places, often in our built-up and urban environments, is an important part of helping them to learn to care for a better future, not only for the environment but for communities as well.”
Hill adds that this isn’t to say that traditional outdoor education activities are not compatible with a love for the natural environment.
“This is an important caveat: I haven’t met a single person who paddles rivers or who climbs mountains or who goes bushwalking who doesn’t have a sense of love and care for those places, and in fact often you’ll find it’s paddlers who are fighting to save rivers from hydroelectric dams and other forms of development, it’s hikers and bushwalkers who are often fighting to save particular places.”
He says there is a movement afoot of teachers thinking more carefully about the places they and their students explore: place-based education, or place-responsible education, which focuses on getting students to engage more with place.
This is an extension, he explains, of what is already happening in classrooms around Aotearoa.
“In New Zealand we’re seeing a lot more effort and energy being put into culturally-responsive pedagogy, culturally-responsive education, which is engaging more carefully with, in our case, a Te Ao Māori worldview, perspective and knowledge and engaging with Māori as partners.
“We’ve seen developments in these areas for a number of years, and so my framing of the term ‘post-activity’ is to try and capture some of those things that have already existed, but perhaps give some impetus to future changes as well.”
Hill has some advice for teachers looking to implement post-activity style outdoor education into their own EOTC programs.
“Part of it is ... knowing your local place really well - knowing what’s on your back door step and how you can engage students in those places.
“We’re currently doing a lot of research looking at schools’ use of education outside the classroom across New Zealand, and one of the [things] we’re finding is that cost is one of the key barriers, along with the time that it takes teachers to organise things.
“So, I think the more that you can look at local, low-cost sorts of activities that are easily accessible, that don’t require too many resources, that’s one aspect of it.
“The other is really utilising some of the educational talk that is currently more in vogue.
“There’s a lot of talk at the moment around student engagement, curriculum enrichment, authentic learning, deep learning, and there are movements that schools are picking up on in these areas, and getting students into local environments, learning about them in a real hands-on, experiential, embodied way, really contributes wonderfully to more meaningful, engaged and authentic learning for the students.”
Part of this, Hill explains, also involves the language that teachers use to talk about their learning when they take students outdoors.
“We’re not just ‘going biking’ today, or ‘walking today’, but rather we are engaging with particular places around particular issues or particular enquiry questions, and we’re doing so to really enrich the students’ learning and to engage in a hands-on way learning these particular things.
“Linking to curriculum in really strong ways is also an important thing for schools.”