The impact of an outdoor wilderness program on the participants' sense of connectedness to the natural world

Susan Jennings Johnson Nodurft


The main objective of this study was to determine the impact of an innovative, outdoor wilderness program on the participants' sense of connectedness with the natural world. Ancillary objectives looked at the impact of epistemological and pedagogical program elements, participants' people and place background experiences, and worldviews on this connectedness sense. The weekend program, based upon a philosophy of deep ecology, draws upon the Native American wisdom tradition and employs a pedagogy of myth, modeling and experiential learning. The researcher and fourteen volunteers primarily drawn from biology classes at a community college participated in the study. Snyder's (1988) four themes of connectedness and a heuristic qualitative design described by Moustakas (1990) were employed in determining the essence of impact. Data collection methods included pre- and post-questionnaires, audio and video tapes of the weekend, field notes, journals, and follow-up interviews. Upon completion of data gathering, three co-researchers were selected for focus study. Results of analysis are described in the form of in-depth profiles of the three co-researchers' experiences containing verbatim narration and common themes explicated from those profiles. Findings revealed that (1) the co-researchers experienced a deep and transforming sense of connectedness with the natural world, (2) a number of key program elements could be identified that facilitated connectedness, (3) childhood experiences played a significant role, and (4) pre-existing biocentric worldviews deepened as a result of the wilderness experience. Several important implications resulted from this study: (1) Transformative programs such as the outdoor program in this study, virtually nonexistent in mainstream environmental education, need to be taken seriously and efforts made to incorporate these types of programs in our public schools, (2) science educators need to examine and amend a belief structure which, in most cases, rests upon this culture's dominant rational-based epistemology in favor of one that rejects objectification of knowledge and includes the tacit dimension of knowing, and (3) instructional models for teaching training should include processes for self-actualization of the student-teacher and experiences for learning and implementing a connected pedagogy.