Evaluating the impact of an outdoor adventure education intervention for primary school children perceived to be vulnerable
Donnelly, Orlaith (2013) Evaluating the impact of an outdoor adventure education intervention for primary school children perceived to be vulnerable. DAppEdPsy thesis, University of Nottingham.
Existing evaluation research has presented equivocal findings regarding the efficacy of outdoor adventure education (OAE) interventions for vulnerable young people. The evidence-base is weakened by methodological limitations and a paucity of unified theoretical models. The current study presents an evaluation of the psychological impact of a naturally occurring OAE intervention for children perceived to be vulnerable by their mainstream primary school teachers. This study attempts to address previous methodological limitations and to facilitate a real-world application of the Adventure Experience Paradigm (AEP: Martin & Priest, 1986; Priest, 1992, 1993). The mixed-methods research design involves an exploratory qualitative phase, a randomised control trial (RCT, n = 38) and group interviews with participants (n = 27). The RCT forms the most significant part of the design, measuring the impact of the intervention on participants’ locus of control, self-perceptions and teacher-reported emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). The results show that the intervention did not have a statistically significant effect on participants’ locus of control or self-perceptions. There is some evidence to suggest that the intervention had a positive impact on teacher perceptions of participants’ EBD, however, these findings are limited by a possible Hawthorne Effect. The group interviews allowed the researcher to explore participants’ perceptions of the OAE intervention however, conclusions are tentative due to the surface-level nature of the thematic analysis procedures employed. Participants appeared to perceive the intervention in a positive light with emerging themes of ‘The Physical Experience’, ‘Outside Comfort Zone’ and ‘Competence’ identified. These findings appear to contradict the quantitative findings and offer support for the AEP. Overall, the validity of the quantitative findings is limited by low statistical power and ceiling effects as a result of sampling error. These limitations are discussed and the findings are interpreted in line with existing research and the AEP. Implications for future research and professional practice are also considered. The findings support the benefits of mixed-methods approaches and RCT designs in future OAE evaluation research.
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