Study looks at impact of outdoor programs on Year 9 students - Education Matters Magazine
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Study looks at impact of outdoor programs on Year 9 students

A study due to be released later this year will offer an insight into the impact of outdoor youth programs on adolescent development and wellbeing.

The protocol for study by the Outdoor Youth Programs Research Alliance (OYPRA) was published in the International Journal of Educational Research.

With support from the Australian Research Council, OYPRA was founded in 2009 to undertake a high-quality research to evaluate the benefits of outdoor, camping and nature-based programs on the resilience, learning and wellbeing of young Australians.

In what it states is an international first, OYPRA connects researchers from Australia’s top universities with state governments, not-for-profit community organisations, and key representatives from the outdoor industry. Its members include the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, University of Melbourne, Deakin University, University of Oregon, the Australian Camps Association, the State Government of Victoria, the Outdoor Education Group, the Outdoor Council of Australia, YMCA Victoria, Outdoors Victoria, Operation Newstart, United Church Camping and Outward Bound Australia.

The study took place in Victoria from October 2015 through February 2016 and involved about 400 Year 9 students, aged 14 to 16. The findings are expected to be released later this year.

Dr Ian Williams, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said OYPRA’s research was integral for improving outdoor learning programs across Australia and internationally.

“Most people agree that outdoor learning programs support personal development and learning new skills. Now, through world-first research undertaken by OYPRA, we hope to understand how nature-based education programs are beneficial to young people,” Dr Williams said.

“The extensive research undertaken by OYPRA will help inform policy and practice, and lead to more strategic investment in Australia’s outdoor programs for learning, health promotion and positive youth development.”

The research measures the short- and long-term impacts of outdoor education by comparing the wellbeing of year 9 students who participated in purpose-designed outdoor program against those who did not.

Each group of students completed surveys on five occasions: twice before camp and three times after for those who attended. The surveys covered topics including health behaviours, psychological strengths, emotional difficulties, interpersonal connectedness, nature relatedness and the camp experience.

Using the findings, OYPRA hopes to determine whether students who participate in camps show sustained improvements in wellbeing and what elements of the outdoor program create those benefits.

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