The Cottonwood Institute’s educational philosophy is based upon two major tenets: environmental education and service-learning. We wanted to take the opportunity to define these and other pedagogical approaches and techniques used to teach our educational programs. These definitions offer a very broad explanation to complex terms, but attempt to synthesize these key terms into understandable tidbits of information.
Environmental Education – Environmental education incorporates experiential teaching methods to educate students about the natural systems and functions of our planet, issues affecting the natural world, and gives students an opportunity to formulate their own opinions on being active to protect the environment. In the modern and technological age, people have become more disconnected from the rhythms of natural world than any other point in time. “The term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe what happens to young people who become disconnected from their natural world. Louv links this lack of nature to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.” Source: No Child Left Inside. For information about nature deficit disorder and the No Child Left Inside movement to address this problem, please Click Here. For more information about Environmental Education best practices, please Click Here.
Service-Learning – Service-learning offers a unique approach to community service and volunteering. Community service and volunteering can have a negative connotation because it is often used as a method of punishment when students or citizens get in trouble with the law. Service-learning seeks to link service with a real community need, and promotes civic engagement while having a real application to the curriculum students are learning in the classroom. Waldstein & Reiher (2001) define service-learning as, “a pedagogical approach to education which links community-based service with academic goals through critical reflection” (p. 7). For more information about service-learning, please Click Here.
Experiential Education – Experiential education has three primary components: action, reflection, and transfer. Students learn by engaging in hands on experiences that create new learning. Students then reflect on this new learning to make the experience even more personal. Finally, the students incorporate this new learning into other areas of their lives to complete the “transfer” of knowledge. According to Proudman (1992), “experiential learning combines direct experience that is meaningful to the student with guided reflection and analysis. It is a challenging, active, student-centered process that impels students towards opportunities for taking initiative, responsibility, and decision making” (p. 241). For more information about Experiential Education, please visit the Association for Experiential Education.
Outdoor Education – Outdoor education incorporates experiential teaching methods of action, reflection, and transfer in an outdoor or wilderness setting. Throughout this thesis I will use the terms outdoor education and adventure education synonymously. However, I think that adventure education is representative of a broader category, or umbrella, which encompasses both outdoor and environmental education. Adventure education also incorporates indoor challenge and teambuilding activities, which does not necessarily fit into my paradigm of outdoor education. While there are many opinions about the distinctions of adventure education, outdoor education provides students with an opportunity to develop wilderness skills, awareness and appreciation for the natural world, and offers an opportunity for group development and personal growth through a series of physical and emotional challenges in a supporting environment.
Community – The term community has a multitude of interpretations. Some people define community by their friends and family, by a geographic location, or by a common hobby or trait. For the purpose of this thesis, I view community as a deep relationship that begins with a group of committed individuals – committed to each other and to a common cause. But community goes beyond a small group of committed individuals. Demonstrating a strong sense of community is also defined by active participation in civic, political, and social activities and by actively expanding one’s social networks.
Civic Engagement – Civic engagement refers to how people exercise their duties and responsibilities as citizens and how they are linked to their community. Civic engagement is contingent upon people being actively involved with their community on a variety of levels. According to the report The New Student Politics: The Wingspread Statement on Student Engagement (2002), college students from around the country presented a different perception of civic engagement:
The manner in which we engage in our democracy goes beyond, well beyond, the traditional measurements that statisticians like to measure us by, most notably voting. Indeed, student civic engagement has multiple manifestations including: personal reflection/inner development, thinking, reading, silent protest, dialogue and relationship building, sharing knowledge, project management, and formal organization that brings people together. Cultural and spiritual forms of expression are included here, as are other forms of expression through the arts such as guerrilla theater, music, coffee houses, poetry, and alternative newspapers (p. 1).
Social Capital – The concept of social capital refers to the social connections which members of a community share and can be characterized by social networks, companionship, mutual support, cooperation, trust, fellowship, sympathy, and good will. Social capital is measured by political participation, civic participation, religious participation, connections at school or in the workplace, informal social connections, altruism, volunteering, philanthropy, reciprocity, honesty, and trust (Putnam, 2000). To put it more simply, social capital looks at the social and civic networks of a community and attempts to measure how well individuals, families, and members of a community interact with one another within those networks.