A personal introduction to the
Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center

James Neill
Last updated:
25 Aug 2003

Hello & welcome

I'd been collecting outdoor education articles for years...

Didn't know much about the web

Outdoor education contributes new understandings of the human being

Conceptual & practical problems

The birth of wilderdom

Current site & the future

This website aims to be a friend, beacon, home, & resource

Hello & welcome

Hi, welcome to the Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center. 

This preface explains the ideas behind the website, how and why it came about, what you can find, and where it might head in the future.

I'd been collecting outdoor education articles for years...

At last count, I've got about 5 filing cabinets and 40 boxes of outdoor education articles, books, theses, etc., plus about a gigabyte of outdoor education publications, programs, photos, etc.  When I took up a position at the University of New Hampshire teaching outdoor education, in 2001, I figured it was a great opportunity to get some of the most useful materials online.

I didn't know much about the web

I didn't know much about the web, but in the end, it's pretty easy.  Made plenty of mistakes, had lots of great ideas that turned out to be flops, but I maintained a commitment to getting new material up at least every week and, if possible, every day.

The site needed a clear focus

I realized from the outset that the site needed a clear focus.  It was to be a place which collated the available information about our academic understanding of outdoor education and related programs.  In particular, the site was to provide good quality information about philosophy, theory, research and evaluation of outdoor education programs.

Outdoor education contributes new understandings of the human being

I have always felt challenged to help outdoor education contribute new understandings of the human being; thus, for me, whilst outdoor education is interesting in and of itself, it is really because of the light that outdoor education can shed upon the human being that I toil over the ideas.

Why is it that we are so drawn (and so need) the learning that only seems to emerge from being at the edge of adventure?  And what, exactly, is the nature of the human relationship with nature?  These are a couple of the underlying questions with which these pages, as a whole, are concerned.

Within outdoor education, I believe, are some important remnants of our psychological past and clues to our future evolution.  What's more, outdoor education is not just an idea, it is very practical approach to a kind of education and human experience which can be profound, but only if the programs are well conceived and executed, which is an achievement somewhat rarer than one might think.

Conceptual & practical problems

There were many conceptual and practical problems I faced, including:

  • how to include and account for all the "related programs" e.g., environmental education, experiential education, outdoor recreation, adventure therapy, etc.

  • contributing unique, new content which is integrated with existing online material

  • making good quality information readily accessible to an international audience at minimal cost

The birth of wilderdom

The site was hosted on the University of New Hampshire server for about a year and then switched to a domain name that Jackie (my wife) and I developed.  It was a fun couple of days of brainstorming - and we came out with www.wilderdom.com.

This was an important conceptual moment, because I have always sought to understand not just outdoor education per se, but outdoor education in the context of the broader fields of education, society, politics, technology, psychology, history, biology, physiology, etc. 

The wilderdom website and my work is not only about outdoor education.  Wilderdom means many things -- a place of sanctuary in nature.  It may come to mean a physical place, but the concept can be carried in one's heart (e.g., as a treasured memory or an imagined hope), expressed in a photograph or art, and spoken or written about.  It tries to capture the elusive, sometime fleeting, but persistent sense that we, deep down, intimately connected with the natural world, but that many of us forgotten exactly how.  Wilderdom as a web domain brings these sentiments together, in a somewhat eclectic series of pages which, in addition to outdoor education, includes:

  • Human Evolution - Pictures and Timelines of what life was really like

  • Facts about the World, Universe, & Human History & Activity

  • Peace & Outdoor Education - how and why outdoor and experiential should become politically activate and target the need for peace

  • Wilderdom vignettes - short, poetic pieces on adventure, experience, nature and wilderdom

Other key outdoor education websites

It was important to be clear about other outdoor education information websites there were -- basically there was (and is) 6 key sites:

  • The Outdoor Network

  • OutdoorEd.com

  • Active Reviewing

  • Association for Experiential Education

  • Institute for Outdoor Leadership

  • Adventure Therapy Web

None of these sites, however, provided direct, substantial content on academic aspects of outdoor education, I had piles of information, experience, and, best of all, the opportunity.

Looking back, I was naive about the web and made just about every mistake that I later found spelt out in advice for webmasters.  But the web is very forgiving - many mistakes can be fixed in a matter of minutes.

Current site & the future

The current collection of Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center numbers around 350 pages which are roughly at "version 2" stage.

Version 1 pages were just thrown up the web, even if rough and often with several errors and usually with limited content.  But often nothing else existed on the web, so I figured it was better to make information.  This also helped me determine which of the pages attracted the most interest.  For example, I found out that the page on Experiential Learning Cycles was popular.

Version 2 means that I've re-worked the page with a 2nd draft of the content, checked the links, and improved the layout and usability of the page.

For Version 3, which will probably be done by the end of 2003, the pages are optimized for search engines, more sub-headings are added, and the layout continues to be improved, including making use of more photographs and diagrams.

In the future, once the content has had further drafting and peer review, several of the pages may be turned into journal publications, or possibly a book.

All in all, this website aims to be a friend, beacon, home, & resource

All in all, the Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center aims to be a friend, a beacon, a home, and a resource for those interested to learn more about what makes humans and outdoor education tick.