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Outdoor and Experiential Learning:
An Holistic and Creative Approach to Programme Design

Andy Martin, Dan Franc and Daniela Zounkova (2004)
Outdoor and Experiential Learning PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:
Outdoor and experiential learning has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years. Educators and developers in the Czech and Slovak Republics have been unexpected leaders in the field; the result of isolation of the country under communism and a unique mix of culture and geography. This book offers a guide to the theory and techniques, pioneered by the Czechs and Slovaks, including the the concept of dramaturgy, a process involving elements of learning psychology, role play and theatre that concentrates on physical, social, creative and reflective/emotional learning states. It also includes a full set of guidelines for designing outdoor and experiential events, along with complete instructions for 30 games. The authors provide design opportunities to be more creative in the development of young people, as well as older learners and those involved in corporate management education. (extract from the publisher's description)

BOOK REVIEW BY ROGER GREENAWAY (October 2004)

Outdoor and Experiential Learning: An Holistic and Creative Approach to Programme Design

CONTENTS

Part I Theory (30 pages): Methods and Application: The evolution of an holistic process; Theoretical underpinnings of dramaturgy; The five stages of dramaturgy.

Part II Practice (50 pages): Course and Games: A team approach to programming; Running 'enhanced courses'; Using games in the programme; Game logistics.

Part III Games: Description and Logistics (100 pages); Games introduction; Social games; Physical games; Creative games; Psychological (reflective/emotional) games.

KEY QUOTE

Translated from Holec (1994) in an article about Outward Bound Czech Republic (formerly the Vacation School Lipnice where 'dramaturgy' developed)

OVERVIEW

This book has plenty of appealing ingredients:

However, some of these appealing ingredients fall short. For example, for some games the instructions cannot really be described as 'complete' (as stated on the back cover) because they still require a lot of creativity on the part of the staff team who manage the games. [There is nothing wrong with expecting staff to be creative and skilled in improvised drama, but 'complete instructions' makes it seem as if the book gives you all you need.] Also, I am not convinced that the reminders about safety deal fully enough with the kinds of safety issues related to the more emotional and psychological exercises. The usual advice is that at least one person in the staff team should be "trained in a psychological discipline or working in a caring profession". Perhaps such a person should be involved at an earlier stage of game design to tone down some of the more extreme games or shorten them in order to increase the safety margin without spoiling its essence? I do not think that the safety advice is as 'complete' as it should be. But if this book is considered as a book of stimulating ideas rather than as a book of 'instructions' then it scores much better.

It is a unique book that is difficult to place in relation to other fields. The authors mostly describe the practices of these 'enhanced programmes' in relation to Outward Bound even though the Vacation School Lipnice in the Czech Republic (where these ideas developed) was only adopted by Outward Bound in 1993. The authors quote a Singapore newspaper that referred to these programmes as 'Artward Bound'. This is because Outward Bound Schools in various countries have been developing similar 'enhanced programmes' under the name of 'Intertouch'. This connection partly explains why the staff are consistently referred to as 'instructors' even though their roles in some games might more accurately be described as 'actors', 'animators', 'play leaders', 'therapists', 'group facilitators', 'safety officers' or 'task masters'. It is difficult to find one label to fit all these roles (and more) but 'instructor' seems an odd choice. Maybe the original Czech word for 'instructor' loses something in translation?

DETAILS

I happen to have played two of the games in the book. 'Las Vegas' was great fun with an excellent game structure. It depends very much on the two game leaders performing well - which they did. The other game I played was 'Wars of the Roses' - another excellent game structure, but it was not the best occasion to play the game as it is a spying game that (naturally) breeds suspicion and mistrust (we were trying to play it during a conference where strangers were getting to know each other and build friendships). I can see other well designed games amongst this collection of 30 but there are also several that do not appeal to me because they are too basic- such as running round a 150 metre track tied to a partner, or because they are good ideas taken too far. But with a little inventiveness you can easily adjust the difficulty of most games.

Great ideas taken a little too far? In 'Labyrinth' (a fascinating game of life where you live through many decades) participants may witness the death of their own parents (p.62). Rock climbing and fantasy are mixed together without any specific safety warning (p.65). 'In the Skin of John Malkovich' is a four hour role-play in which participants adopt the identity of somebody else in the group. The suggested modification is not to make it not shorter but longer, including "spending the night in the bed of the person they are impersonating" (while that person is in somebody else's bed - but why take impersonation this far?). In 'Stalker' (p.178) after being woken at dawn and being taken through rivers, swamps and ruins, and a demanding "sometimes dangerous" track, there is uncertainty and fear in the air. Stalker requires absolute obedience and says "From now on you are all nobody!" (p.179) (Where is the self-development?) 'Nexus VI' begins with this: "Participants are woken up abruptly in the middle of the night (approximately three or four hours before dawn) and each assigned their serial number." (p.173) 'Nexus VI' lasts four hours and is graded as the most demanding game in the book: "Physical, psychological and self-reflective aims involving extremely demanding run, vain 'journey to gain immortality', and reflection on one's life in the perspective of finality." (p.172)

Contradictions: "Well-timed sentences like 'You're the worst group I have had in this game' ... may mobilise some energy in the participants" (p.76) is followed by the advice on the facing page: "Do not compare your present group to previous ones". Some contradictions can be expected in a co-authored book, but surely not on facing pages! (Other contradictions are described in the self-development and reflection and review sections below.)

Stating the obvious: "During the game, look for signs in individual participants which hint that they may be getting out of their physical or emotional comfort levels." The signs to look for include "physical exhaustion", "tears" and "group hysteria". (p.80)

The 'dramaturgy wave' is presented as providing the main theoretical base for these 'enhanced programmes'. But 'dramaturgy' (as described in this book) really amounts to little more than being a template for the sequencing of activities. 'Dramaturgy' (as presented here) does not provide a theory of drama that explains the value of entering fantasy worlds, nor does it discuss the value and risks associated with playing various different roles. Nor does it explore the value and risks of prolonged role playing combined with prolonged physical activity in threatening situations when deprived of sleep. Some of the activities could take people a little too close to the confused states in which brainwashing readily occurs. In such heightened states of arousal and exhaustion people (of any age) are extremely vulnerable. The authors recommend that the more extreme exercises are not used with under 18s, but vulnerability does not stop at this age. This issue deserves much more attention and discussion in a book promoting practices that are designed to generate states of near exhaustion and high arousal as the primary means by which they aim to advance personal development. The peaks of 'dramaturgy waves' seem to be unnecessarily high, but my main point is that these issues are so central to the dramaturgy concept that they should be given far more attention in a 200 page book on the subject.

Confusion about what 'self-development' means. If such peaks were reached by participants' own choices and participants' own creativity, the approach would coincide more closely with a self-development philosophy. The authors claim (on page 51) that "programmes are focused on self-development" but the usual set up is that participants are players in a game (often a game of life and death) that is entirely controlled by the staff team (e.g. see pages 80-81). "Programmes are characteristically intense, fast-moving and full of unexpected experiences" (p.9). Yes participants can opt out (the book says) - but here is another issue that is central to any personal development programme: when games are designed to sweep sleep-deprived people along at an urgent pace, in the dark (or blindfolded), in the mud, and in scary places to achieve a mission while avoiding capture by the enemy, how exactly do people opt out, and is it better for their development to assert themselves and go against the flow or to get swept along? [Ironically it is stated on page 9 that the approach seeks specifically to enable participants "to go against the flow" - but I can't see how this is supported in the practices described.]

The half page on reflection and review presents an interesting case for active reviewing, but the authors also favour avoiding reviewing 'at times' to allow the activities 'to speak for themselves'. I accept that some forms of educational drama can achieve this (for example by placing people accustomed to being 'helped' in the responsible role of 'helpers') but dramaturgy does not seem to include the concept of providing people with fulfilling roles to act out. The authors see 'review' (defined as 'facilitated, structured reflection') as optional but 'reflection' (presumably when neither facilitated nor structured) as 'an integrated part of the dramaturgy'. I struggle to understand these distinctions because dramaturgy itself is highly facilitated and structured. I am further confused by their apparently favourable mention of an argument which implies that reviewing is best not included in programmes because few of us review our day-to-day activities. But what of the argument that people might benefit from doing things on programmes that they don't normally do day-to-day - such as reviewing - or even dramaturgy? Are these really the kind of arguments on which a new generation of outdoor experiential learning is to be developed? The issue returns on page 80 where we learn that "the basic aim of the review has been described elsewhere in this book". I don't think so. With no mention of 'review' in the index, it is difficult to follow this vague cross-reference. All I can find is a criticism of the concept of reviewing as a 'taken-for-granted' associated with the old ways of experiential learning.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

The book's own summary and conclusion states that the outdoor approaches of indigenous cultures (Czech, Norwegian, Maori and Australian) "have much to offer the constructed and commercialised fields of outdoor and experiential education of Western Europe and North America". But how does this square with the fact that the programmes described in the book are themselves 'constructed' and 'commercialised'? The programmes are constructed using the dramaturgy wave, the games are incredibly creative constructions with the indoors and the outdoors converted into film sets to stage these happenings. As for 'commercialised', the participants fly in from around the world to take part in the international version of these programmes (staffed in part by volunteers) and the authors themselves state (on page 49) that "the courses need to be modified for professional development programmes into three to four day versions to be successful commercially". How can the Czech style of 'experiential programming' (as described in this book) be likened to the Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv (simple living outdoors)? They appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum - with friluftsliv at the unconstructed, non-commercial end.

The book begins with an attractive description of 'Kalogathia' meaning beautiful and benign. This Greek word is said to capture the essence of the Czech way described in this book. I suspect that the actual practice of the Czech way and Kalogathia have been adapted in their meeting with Outward Bound traditions. It is clearly a potent mixture, but the way in which it is presented is, in my view, too confusing to provide a sound basis for 'the next generation of experiential education programmes'. The staging of these events looks more like the turning back of the clock with its military style staff briefings (p.71), its extensive use of competitive tasks, point scoring and nasty surprises, and its lack of consultation with participants about the programme - other than allowing them to opt out of what is being offered. The possibilities of creating fantasy games based on films and books are well demonstrated, but in my view more attention should be given to the story lines and roles available especially when it is suggested that losers in one game can be given 'lower class' roles in the next game (p.115), and when there are so many roles for victims. This is the hard school of development: rolling tractor tyres in a race round a hilly course (Camel Trophy), carrying people on stretchers for several miles (Princess Shin-Sho), crawling through narrow gaps in the dark with instructors throwing cold water over you (Poseidon), a two hour obstacle course wearing blindfolds (Triffids), a surprise wake up and run in the dark (Nexus VI).

There are some gems of creative ideas (most of the 8 'creative' games), but overall this book feels like military training being reinvented. It does not feel like the next generation. There are better ways of combining arts, drama and the outdoors in personal development programmes - without depending so much on high intensity survival challenges.

Reviewed by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training, October 2004

Another review: you may also like to see this review of 'Outdoor and Experiential Learning' by Duncan Martin (Liverpool John Moores University) and Karen Bassett-Farnbank (Theatre Wild) published by IOL and available on the IOL website

Outdoor and Experiential Learning:
An Holistic and Creative Approach to Programme Design

Andy Martin, Dan Franc and Daniela Zounkova (2004)
Outdoor and Experiential Learning PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:
Outdoor and experiential learning has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years. Educators and developers in the Czech and Slovak Republics have been unexpected leaders in the field; the result of isolation of the country under communism and a unique mix of culture and geography. This book offers a guide to the theory and techniques, pioneered by the Czechs and Slovaks, including the the concept of dramaturgy, a process involving elements of learning psychology, role play and theatre that concentrates on physical, social, creative and reflective/emotional learning states. It also includes a full set of guidelines for designing outdoor and experiential events, along with complete instructions for 30 games. The authors provide design opportunities to be more creative in the development of young people, as well as older learners and those involved in corporate management education. (extract from the publisher's description)

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