Research in Outdoor Education


Outdoor pursuits trip programs are widely popular around the world (Attarian, 2001). Many of these programs are centered in colleges and universities, and may be either academic or extracurricular in nature. Participants in these programs engage in a variety of outdoor adventure recreation activities such as backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, sea kayaking, and caving. Outcomes of participation in these programs include (among others): enhanced problem solving skills; appreciation of the natural environment; increased self-confidence; accomplishment of common goals and objectives; and the development of positive group experiences and interpersonal relationships (Ewert & McAvoy, 2000; Martin, Cashel, Wagstaff, & Breunig, 2006).

These positive group experiences and interpersonal relationships can lead to an enhanced sense of community among group members (Mitten, 1999). Sense of community is characterized by sharing an awareness of group membership, influencing each other, fulfilling needs, and being emotionally connected (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). Group cohesion, or sense of belonging, attraction, and unity a group has toward its members (Wilson, 2002), has been found to influence the creation of community, and vice versa (McMillan & Chavis). In essence, when feelings of cohesiveness are present in a group, members tend to feel a greater sense of community. At the same time, those feelings of community enhance group cohesion.

Most outdoor pursuits trip groups have a designated leader or instructor. The leader is responsible for the protection of the natural environment, for the safety of the participants, and for enhancing the quality of the experience for the students or participants (Martin et al., 2006). Thus, the outdoor leader is in a unique position to influence the sense of community and group cohesion of that group. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of leadership style on the sense of community and group cohesion of outdoor pursuits trip groups.