Higher Education

, Volume 67, Issue 1, pp 105–121 | Cite as

Introducing the use of a semi-structured video diary room to investigate students’ learning experiences during an outdoor adventure education groupwork skills course

  • Sam J. CooleyEmail author
  • Mark J. G. Holland
  • Jennifer Cumming
  • Emily G. Novakovic
  • Victoria E. Burns


Outdoor adventure education courses are used in higher education to develop transferable skills such as groupwork and problem-solving skills. There is a need for exploratory investigation into students’ perceptions of this experience. This study aimed to develop an innovative qualitative data collection method, and to use it to explore students’ perceived learning processes and developmental outcomes when taking part in an outdoor groupwork skills course. Participants (n = 40) were undergraduate engineering students who were taking part in the 3 day residential course as part of their degree course. Students’ experiences were captured whilst immersed in the course, using a semi-structured video diary room. Participants entered the diary room at different time points throughout the course and responded to openended questions. Following a thematic analysis, students were found to arrive on the course with mixed feelings towards groupwork and expected learning outcomes. Activities were enjoyable yet challenging, revealing students’ weaknesses and demanding a range of skills and coping methods. The outdoor environment added novelty, risk and natural consequences. Students reported developing a range of skills in groupwork, adaptability, persistence, planning, problem-solving, time-management, communication, leadership, cooperation, group reflection and team spirit, as well as benefits to physical activity, self-confidence, self-awareness, peer and staff relationships and internationalisation. These findings provide a base for future investigation into the long-term impact on student development and skill transfer. The semi-structured video diary room yielded rich data, contributing to the literature by offering a simple, yet effective, qualitative research method that can be implemented in a variety of contexts.


Outdoor pursuits Higher education Transferable skills Life skills Employability Teamwork Collaborative learning Cooperative learning Qualitative research method development 



This project received funding from the Higher Education Academy, University Birmingham Sport (UBS) and the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Although the outdoor education centre is funded by UBS, the research was designed, conducted, analysed and written by independent staff; the other funding sources had no direct involvement in the research or preparation of this article. The authors would like to thank manager Norman Beech and his team at the Raymond Priestley Centre for their cooperation, along with Liam Deery and Tonia Horgan for their assistance with data collection.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 118 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sam J. Cooley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark J. G. Holland
    • 1
  • Jennifer Cumming
    • 1
  • Emily G. Novakovic
    • 1
  • Victoria E. Burns
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BirminghamEdgbastonUK

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