Finding Adventure in Education That’s Taught Online

Stephen Mullaney

April 28, 2020

So, here we all sit, settling into another sequential week of sequestered sheltering and supreme seclusion, many of us working from home and many of us not. As a certified teacher with a license in EC, ESL, AIG and Classroom Education, and as a member of The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education’s (NCOAE) leadership team, I admit I was caught off balance by the virus named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes, named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Like getting smacked upside the head by a wayward surfboard.

This stay-at-home edict forced me to search, find, and deliver a completely new approach to educating my students. And I had zero time to waste. There were students to contact. More important — I had to learn ways to communicate with them face to face and get them engaged through online platforms. And I felt the pressure to do all of this ASAP!

I quickly discovered that my side was already behind — and hindered by handicaps. The major hurdle? I have never owned a cell phone. Essentially, I’m a caveperson. Then I remembered what it is we outdoor and adventure educators constantly preach to our students: Step out of your comfort zone and adapt in the time of coronavirus.

It was time for me to do just that. Over the first few weeks operating under shelter in place orders, I learned how to use Zoom for video conferencing and Google classroom for creating, distributing, and grading assignments in a paperless way. I also quickly adapted and learned how to use additional online platforms to connect with students, co-workers, and community members. And through this process, I learned that our new and hopefully temporary wilderness is the Internet, where we continue the exploration of creativity and the delivery of instruction. 

Below was my checklist to guarantee powerful instruction and an element of adventure for my students:

  • I borrowed a camera
  • Learned to shoot video, edit that video and record voice overs
  • Learned how to navigate instructional platforms and insert content
  • Became more critical of my instruction and worked toward improvement

The result, I believe, was an adventure in education — taught indoors, fueled by innovation.

Lev Vygotsky Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development

This is probably as good a place as any for me to introduce you to Lev Vygotsky, an early 20th century Russian psychologist, best known for his sociocultural theory for education. He believed parents, caregivers, peers, and the culture at large is responsible for developing higher-order functions. In other words, social interactions play a critical role in learning, and we learn best through such interaction and dialogue.

Lev Vygotsky Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development

Vygotsky said our culture influences the learning process through imitation, guided learning, and collaborative learning. So, if you ever had a great teacher, mentor, or friend help you master a task or concept and move beyond your current limitations, this Russian’s theory was likely a help in that process.

Ah, you say, but these days we’re supposed to be practicing physical distancing!

Yeah, we know. So, it was high time for me to learn how to use platforms for communication during a global health pandemic, such as the one we’re experiencing right now. The answer for me was to apply what we know currently to future situations in order to make steps towards mastery. And if we really want to accomplish this, we need help — scaffolding by others gives us support and hold us accountable.

Here’s what I came up with as a plan of action for housebound teachers and learners:

  1. Decide what you want to learn or what you need to teach (for fun or work).
  2. Make a plan and stick to it.
  3. Choose a platform in which to engage.
  4. Be consistent and work efficiently toward your objectives.

Help is Available in the Realm of Adventure-based Distance Learning

If you or your organization is looking for custom, long-distance learning opportunities, please contact us here at NCOAE, where we’re known for designing custom programs to meet your exacting needs.

Meanwhile, below are a few links to sites offering FREE information on skills you can develop at home. And, much like Vygotsky’s theory, maybe you can pass on these skills to your family, friends, or class. Because, maybe like me, it’s time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

For Your Own Safety, Please Learn These 18 Basic Knife Skills

Inside the Whimsical but Surprisingly Dark World of Rube Goldberg Machines

The 5-Minute Guide to IPA Food Pairing

Former FBI Negotiator Teaches the Art of Negotiation

About the Author: Stephen Mullaney is the Director of School Partnerships at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). He has worked domestically and internationally with schools, organizations, and wilderness programs. His classrooms have ranged from dilapidated trailers at overcrowded, underfunded schools to the Himalayan mountains and everything imaginable in between. His past students include gang members/prisoners, education majors, college and university professors, and pioneers in the field out outdoor and adventure-based experiential education. Stephen’s philosophy is to focus on the development of positive working and learning environments. He brings more than a quarter of a century of education experience and understanding of human nature to any organization, whether it is an education institution or a private company. His writing has appeared in adventure sports/education journals, magazines and on the web. Stephen prefers to arrive by bicycle and sit in the dirt.

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