Pedagogical Approaches to Exploring Theory–Practice Relationships in an Outdoor Education Teacher Education Programme

May. 02, 2014

Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 42, No. 2, 167–185, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors have discussed pedagogical approaches to exploring theory and practice with pre-service teachers within an an Australian outdoor education teacher education (OETE) course.

The main participant target group comprised three teacher educators who were teaching or had taught within the OETE course.
Pre-service teachers were also involved in the study as secondary participants.
Face-to-face semi-structured interviews with the teacher educators, using mostly “open-ended” questions, were the primary data source.


Examination of the authors' teaching practice in light of theory–practice literature and the analytical framework revealed that our practice was largely “person-centred” and reflected the predominance of a practical interest.
Ongoing reflexive dialogue in which theory and practice, contextual factors, and underlying assumptions were deconstructed and scrutinised in relation to each other, sometimes critically, was a core part of this.
The focus of the dialogue was generally on meaning making, promoted through “unpacking” experience(s), raising self-awareness, and ultimately supporting the development of the pre-service teachers’ teaching practice, all characteristics of “practical” forms of educational practice.

The main factors discussed in this article include environmental factors (especially relevant to teaching and learning in outdoor environments), the potentially confronting nature of theory–practice reflection and some socio-cultural factors, including the perceived needs, interests, experience, and sense of “survival” of individual pre-service teachers and teacher educators.


The authors believe that more focused and explicit theory– practice examination might better support pre-service teachers’ theory–practice engagement and understanding.
In particular, they collectively identified the need for closer probing within the course, and in our teaching practice, of the following: the nature of theory, practice, and theory–practice relationships; mediating factors; alternative ways in which theory–practice relationships can be experienced and represented; and formal and personal theory generation.
The findings highlighted the importance of
(a) remaining alert to theory–practice dynamics in our teaching contexts and the factors that influence the pre-service teachers’ capacities and inclinations to engage in the level of probing suggested, and
(b) being able to judge the most appropriate times, places, and ways to facilitate this.

This has implications for how teacher educators might approach future theory–practice explorations, especially in wilderness settings.
They need to be mindful of how their own practices and conditions might influence which human interest predominates, thereby shaping the learning experiences of the pre-service teachers and how they engage with theory.
Thier responsibility as teacher educators to continually reflect on their own developing critical consciousness was also highlighted.
We need to examine the theory–practice nexus more closely in our practice and how we represent that through discourse.
In doing this, they need to recognise that exploring the theory–practice nexus is problematic in many ways, but particularly in the sense that it is difficult to draw explicit attention to theory and practice without objectifying them and/or reinforcing technical conceptions of how theory and practice relate.


The authors have highlighted the importance of four key pedagogical elements in terms of helping pre-service teachers understand and negotiate theory–practice relationships: the promotion of self-awareness; guided reflection; experience; and the fostering of a strong, safe community of learners.
These elements are relevant to other areas of teacher education besides OETE pedagogy, although they may be embodied differently in different areas.
The authors suggest that these elements are made possible through flexibility within courses, face-to-face contact, and opportunities for observing, participating in, and reflecting on/in relevant practice.
This discussion, therefore, importantly responds and adds to the mounting call within the outdoor education community for greater scrutiny of assumptions, theory, and practices commonly associated with outdoor education.
This is particularly important in OETE, where theories and practices, in all their complexity, are a necessary focus for aspiring outdoor educators’ learning.

Updated: Nov. 04, 2015