ERIC Number: EJ853342
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Mar
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
Conference Attendance Patterns of Outdoor Orientation Program Staff at Four-Year Colleges in the United States
Bell, Brent J.
Journal of Experiential Education, v31 n3 p405-409 Mar 2009
One purpose of professional conference attendance is to enhance social support. Intentionally fostering this support is an important political aim that should be developed. Although many multifactor definitions of social support exist (Cobb, 1979; Cohen & Syme, 1985; Kahn, 1979; Shaefer et al., 1981; Weiss, 1974), all distinguish between an affective component (e.g., feelings of support, affirmation, emotional security) and an instrumental component (e.g., tangible access to resources, influence, technology to solve problems). This study integrated the distinctions between affective and instrumental support into Putnam's theory of social capital (2000), which he defines as "social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them" (p. 19). This provides a way to help clarify the challenges to developing the political aims of outdoor education. Although smaller, more intimate professional conferences may increase affective connections, they limit instrumental support because small conferences lack a critical mass of people (or finances) able to influence governmental policy, regulation, and funding access. This point has been the subject of recent commentary on outdoor education listservs (i.e., Miner, 2007; Erpelding, 2007). Discussants wondered why outdoor educators do not concentrate efforts to fewer professional associations and conferences. These concerns are a call for more instrumental support, seeking to influence such areas as funding, policies, and the stature of outdoor education. For example, the political efforts of service-learning advocates throughout the 1990s led to increased funding and legitimacy for the movement (Seaman & Gass, 2004). Although, smaller conferences might meet the affective needs of outdoor educators, instrumental needs are likely to be hampered unless a similar political initiative is more deliberately pursued. This claim is not unique to outdoor education, as it reflects a national trend in the United States; although the number of new professional associations, the primary sponsors of conferences, is growing, average membership in these associations is decreasing (Putnam, 2000). Therefore, both conference size and attendance patterns are possible indicators of social support development in the field of outdoor education. However, little is known about conference behaviors patterns of outdoor educators. This project surveyed collegiate outdoor orientation program staff in the United States to seek evidence of the trend Putnam describes. We chose outdoor orientation program staff because these programs often work outside of the normal parameters of the college or university (traditional student affairs or academic programs), and these staff have few on-campus mentors, heightening the need for social support. These programs also face real programmatic threats both internally and externally. For example, newly appointed university administrators have shut down long-standing, successful programs, unconvinced of their value (Bell, 2008), and land managers have proposed limitations that will significantly alter program curriculum. Response to such challenges may be strengthened by a unified voice from a critical mass of program staff, raising the profile of outdoor orientation and coordinating strategic responses to regulatory agencies. The primary research question was whether the conference attendance behaviors of outdoor orientation program staff would show participation at one specific conference, or if conference attendance is decentralized, mimicking the national trend Putnam (2000) identified.
Descriptors: Psychological Needs, Outdoor Education, Attendance Patterns, School Orientation, Professional Associations, Social Networks, Social Capital, Conferences (Gatherings), Social Support Groups, Politics of Education, College Faculty, Surveys, Educational Trends, Educational Policy, Educational Environment, Experiential Learning, Participation
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A