The Wetfoot Blog

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mark's Activity of the Month

Thinking Beyond “Conventional” or “Traditional” Experiential Activities

I think it’s a good idea to find out as much as you can about the history of adventure and experiential education if you have the desire to work in this industry.

If you do, the first thing you might find is that the idea of something called the "adventure," "experiential," or "outdoor" education field is a recent construct. In fact, the idea that we might see balls, ropes, canoes, cables and pulleys as part of some unique industry is a really, really new concept.

I remember talking to someone who would be considered by many to be an early pioneer in all of this, and he laughed at the idea that someone could get a degree from a college in something called, “adventure education”. He also found it interesting that many people do consider it an industry with standards and "traditional" tools. He said, “Heck, we were just doing stuff we thought could help people learn. Maybe there’s a whole bunch of other things that work better.” Personally, I have taken that to heart.

In the early days of my work I didn’t have a ropes course or anything remotely like it, so creativity was essential. I developed some things that seemed to work by consulting a whole lot of people that were trying some unique things themselves, and I just kept trying and changing until the stuff seemed to have the impact I was looking for. I always got the feeling that everyone else I knew was doing the same.

We would all convene a couple of times a year at the fledgling Association for Experiential Education Conference or The T.E.A.M. Conference at Northeastern Illinois University to discuss what we had discovered and learn a few new things. Then we would go back out to try it again. Really that’s how everything started in the beginning, anyway. We were adventurous because…well…we were in uncharted territory and every new activity was an adventure for participants and ourselves most of the time.

Most of us had struggled in the "conventional" educational settings as students and teachers and we just knew there HAD to be a better way. We found by trial--and sometimes error--that there really was a better way. It was exciting.

Now, I also know that back in the early days we had none of the risk management standards that we have now. Real risk was probably higher then—that was for sure. I don’t want to go back to that at all. Standards are good for a lot of things. However, what we ALL can keep in our hearts is that desire to breathlessly search for new ways and new innovations.

“Group Juggle” is a great activity. It’s just a tool though. It’s not “traditional” in any way, really. It’s just a great activity that works in some situations and settings. On the other hand, what is the next group juggle? How can you do it better?

In fact, I believe you do not NEED a ropes course to do really good experiential education. If you do…great…just don’t get hung up on it. Remember it is just a tool. Used right, and in the right situation, a tool like that can do great things. Use it in the wrong way, and it can cause GREAT harm (even if it used safely).

My challenge to you is stop thinking of tools like this as traditional or even necessary all of the time. I think that’s dangerous. What is the next new innovation? What unique skill or talent do you know (or that you can learn) that can be the next great step forward. Maybe its music, drums, hip hop beats and rhymes, theater and art, storytelling…whatever you know and have a passion for. Use it, teach it, develop it and frame it, etc. In other words, follow in the footsteps of the early pioneers with all of their passion and vision. Great things will happen if you do.

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