Graduate Study

Research Topics & Ideas
for Graduate Theses in Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
15 Mar 2003

Ideas, topics, and strategies for outdoor education research theses and advanced studies projects

Thesis or project?
Get a cooperative, committed supervisor
Get going early and explore ideas for thesis topics
Until your proposal is approved, everything can change
List of possible outdoor education thesis topics
Other recommended sites

Thesis or Project?
Before deciding on a research thesis as the way to go, always check out the other options.  A lot of Masters programs offer professional project alternatives to the research thesis.  Often, professional projects, independent studies, or internships, offer a more relevant and useful learning task.  Whatever the case, the thesis or project is meant to function as a  capstone learning task which extends a student in the process of acquiring new knowledge.

Some factors to consider are that taking on a research thesis include that it always takes longer than planned, the quality of the students' experience and the research produced  is highly dependent on the individual motivational level of the student, the student's academic ability, and the motivation, experience and ability of the supervisor.  Thus, it generally takes an able, motivated student working with an able, motivated student on a topic of mutual expertise and interest for a highly successful piece of research to emerge and for a high quality educational experience to ensue from a graduate thesis.  Students and faculty should consider a thesis topic and relationship carefully in the early stages.

Get a Cooperative, Committed Supervisor

Half the battle is getting the right supervisor for you.  A common underlying problem  is that the supervisor and the student do not work optimally together.   Build open relationships with potential supervisors.  Top academics do not necessarily make the best supervisors.  For example, find out how often and for how long a potential supervisor is prepared to meet with you.  Approach potential supervisors based on them having similar interests and on your level of confidence in being able to work productively with that person.  You should feel to discuss the possibility of doing research together without feeling compelled to follow through with any particular supervisor.

Get Going Early and Explore Ideas for Thesis Topics

Get going early with thinking about possible thesis topics.  Explore ideas with classmates, look through journals in the library, etc.  Brainstorm a list of possible topics  Then approach potential supervisors to discuss your ideas and get their feedback.

Ultimately, thesis topics emerge from dialogue between student and supervisor.  Rarely does a student come up with their own, independent research for a thesis which isn't modified by the supervisor, and rarely does a supervisor present an idea to a student which the student doesn't modify.  Thus, good quality dialogue must take place between student and faculty until an agreed upon research question is developed.

Until Your Proposal is Approved, Everything can Change

Generally speaking, until your thesis proposal is officially approved by your thesis committee, everything can change.  The topic can be changed by you or your supervisor, and your supervisor can be changed.  Once your proposal is approved, you are contracting to do that thesis.  If anything significant about your proposal changes, you need to renegotiate with your thesis committee.

List of Possible Outdoor Education Thesis Topics

  • What are the effects of outdoor education on outcomes such as: moral development, self-constructs (such as self-esteem, self-confidence, self-concept, self-efficacy), social constructs (such as social capital, social support, communication, and teamwork), academic qualities (such as academic self-concept, academic performance), physical well-being (such as physical fitness), psychological well-being (such as optimism and life satisfaction), and dysfunctions (such as truancy, mental illness, etc.) of participants?  For a list of 40 previously measured types of outcomes in outdoor education, see the meta-analytic study by Hattie, Marsh, Neill and Richards (1997).
  • What is the role of particular program (e.g., program philosophy, type of organization), group (e.g., group size, gender mix), instructor (e.g., facilitation style, training), and individual (e.g, personality) factors in determining particular outcomes (such as those mentioned above)?  For a review of literature on the main categories of possible process factors, see the article by McKenzie (2000).
  • What is the history of a particular aspect of outdoor education?  A historical or delphi study could be conducted.
  • What is the future of a particular aspect of outdoor education?  A historical or delphi study could be conducted.
  • Meta-analyses of the effects of particular types of programs or processes.
  • Develop of new research methods (e.g., Experience Sampling Method, idiographic methods) and new research tools (e.g., Life Effectiveness Questionnaire) can constitute a focus for thesis work.
  • Replication studies can be also make for excellent graduate thesis.  This is where you use the methodology of a previous study in a new study in order to examine the validity of the previous study's findings in a different context.
  • What is the effect of reflective journal writing during outdoor education programs on participantsí personal development?
  • For more....Questions to Ponder in Outdoor Education

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