Study shows benefits of conservation field work for students

Underwater lessons on field trip

Underwater lessons: remote field expeditions can have a positive effect on students’ personal growth

Remote field expeditions can have a positive effect on students’ personal growth and leadership plays an important role in maximising this personal growth, according to a new study.

Conservation biology field expeditions are valued for the positive effects they are assumed to have on the personal growth of student participants. The impact of these experiences on the personal development of students, however, is poorly understood.

A study was carried out to 1) empirically evaluate the impact of expeditions on personal growth, and 2) examine the aspects of leadership that maximise the positive impact of expedition experiences.

On expedition

In post-expedition questionnaires, students rated themselves significantly higher on self-esteem, global self-efficacy and career development

We examined personal growth in undergraduates who participated in a conservation-focused expedition with Operation Wallacea. Questionnaires that assessed personal growth were administered to students before, during and after their expeditions to the remote Indonesian island of Hoga. Questionnaires included items based on transformational leadership theory regarding the behaviours of the expedition leaders.

In post-expedition questionnaires, students rated themselves significantly higher on 1) self-esteem, 2) global self-efficacy, and 3) career development suggesting that this expedition had a positive effect on personal growth. Furthermore, the leader behaviours of 1) fostering acceptance of group goals and to a lesser extent 2) inspirational motivation and 3) appropriate role modelling were associated with improved global self-efficacy.

Positive results

Overall, the results suggested that remote field expeditions can have a positive effect on students’ personal growth and that leadership plays an important role in maximising this personal growth.

The identification of important leader behaviours in an expedition context provides an opportunity to improve the selection and/or training of expedition leaders in order to maximise the gains to the personal growth of students who go on expeditions.

This work provides a baseline for future studies of the factors that impact the career trajectories of students who participate in remote ecological field expeditions.

This study was led by Lisa Delissio of Salem State Unversity and Calum Arthur of Bangor University, Wales. Madeline Bain (University of Essex), Susan Case, and Mildred Hoover (Salem State University) contributed their efforts to the project. The work was supported by a grant from the Council on Teaching and Learning at Salem State University.

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