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The 35th AEE Conference has just finished up here in Little Rock, Arkansas. It's been such a busy three days that I've barely had time to keep up with the daily flood of emails while I'm gone from the office, much less do a daily conference Blog.
AEE is my favorite conference because it is the place where I get to see friends and colleagues from around the country and across the globe. Some of these people are folks that I only get to see in person once a year. For many of those people our history goes back decades.
My very first AEE Conference was in 1977 at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario when I was twenty-one. At that time I had no idea that Experiential Education was more than just the outdoor trips I was leading as a college student, it was a field with thousands of programs, academic degrees, scholarship, research, etc. While that first conference helped me in my undergraduate research in psychology studying the impacts of wilderness orientation programs, it's been the dozens of conferences, both International and Regional that I've gone to over the years that have really expanded both my vision of the field and my skills as an educator, facilitator, and outdoor practitioner. If you haven't ever been to an AEE Conference, then put it on your list of "must do's." The caliber of professionals in the field to network with and as presenters is the highest I've seen anywhere. Three days at an AEE Conference is like a week of personal coaching from the best in the business.
If you are planning for 2008, check these out:
International AEE Conference November 6-8 - Vancouver, WA, USA (across the river from Portland, OR)
AEE Regional Conferences
West Region February 29 - March 2, 2008 - Sly Park, California
Southeast Region March 14 - 16, 2008 - Cedar Mountain, North Carolina
Northwest Region March 27-30, 2008 - Randle, Washington
Heartland Region March 28 - 30, 2008 - Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Rocky Mountain Region April 4 - 6, 2008 - Gunnison, Colorado
Northeast Region April 11-13, 2008 - Hancock, New Hampshire (I'll be at the NE Region Conference, hope to see you there)
Mid-South Region April 11-13, 2008 - Talequah, Oklahoma
Mid-Atlantic Region April 11-13, 2008 - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
So let me give you a quick sketch of this year's conference. I'll start by looking at the various keynote speakers.
The conference began with a superb keynote address by Dr. Jasper Hunt, professor at Minnesota State University. If you aren't familiar with Jasper's work I strongly encourage you to read Ethical Issues in Experiential Education, one of the most thought-provoking books on how to integrate ethical frameworks into experiential education. Jasper took us through an exploration entitled "Unity through Diversity" exploring how we are united as experiential educators through a common sense of shared assumptions about how the educational process works and a common commitment to character development (moral education) of our students.
As Jasper does so well in much of his writing, he juxtaposes the philosophical ideas of one great thinker to another as a way of exploring the truths of both. In this case he looked at Descartes and John Dewey (often thought of as the 'father' of experiential education). He talked about Dewey's notions of Primary Experience - direct interaction, and Secondary Experience - reflection/study of the primary experience. He made the point that sometimes as experiential educators we embrace the primary experience that we may devalue the secondary experience. He gave the example of learning to load prepare your own ammunition for target shooting (build the cartridge with bullet and gunpowder) . If done incorrectly, the rifle shell can blow up in your face. We don't need to have a "direct experience" of this in order to learn (in fact we shouldn't). Rather, a secondary experience, like reading a textbook or manual on how to do this is much better than "experimenting" to see if you did it right. In his own way Jasper provided us with an excellent "Secondary Experience" of how we should think about experiential learning.
Most people will not know the name of this amazing woman, I didn't before arriving in Little Rock. To understand the importance of what Minnejean had to say you have to know that 2007 is the 50th Anniversary of the "Little Rock Nine" when nine African-American school children (Minnijean among them) faced down an angry mob at Little Rock Central High School and, under the protection of federal troops sent by President Eisenhower, helped desegregate the school in ways that sent ripples throughout the Civil Rights Movement. This remarkable woman, and the other eight who entered the school with her were true pioneers. She gave us a picture of the history and struggle for equal rights that continues today. She was given several standing ovations in recognition of her courage and commitment to Civil Rights.
The Kurt Hahn Address is presented annually at the conference to honor the exceptional people who make a substantial contribution to experiential education for a significant length of time. This year's recipient is a good friend and someone who I have incredible respect for, Dr. Nina Roberts a Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University. Her areas of emphasis include outdoor recreation, parks, urban programming, leadership, and youth development. She also is currently serving as the Project Director of the Pacific Leadership Institute, which connects urban youth with the outdoors. Nina formerly served as an Education and Outreach Specialist with the Natural Resource Program Center for the National Park Service. Prior to that, she was a Research Associate and Assistant Director of National Urban and Diversity Programs for the Student Conservation Association.
A thread that ran through Nina's address, and through all of her work, are the issues of social justice and multiculturalism. I can't think of anyone I know who "walks her talk" about these issues more passionately than Nina and she did so once again in her address. What is so wonderful about Nina is her ability to challenge people, and I mean really put you on the spot about whether you are addressing critical issues, and still do it with a smile on her face and real joy in her heart about working for change. Congratulations to Nina for being selected as this year's Kurt Hahn Address recipient and for all her great work.
What's a Playnote you ask? Well, since this is AEE, let's take a Keynote-level speaker, like Karl Rohnke, and give him a big room and a large group of people to play games with for an hour and a half and you get a Playnote. Karl has been an important "player" in the field of experiential/adventure education since people began to think of it as a field. He was a watch officer at Hurricane Island Outward Bound in 1967, and chief instructor at North Carolina Outward Bound until 1971. He left Outward Bound to become one of the founders of the Project Adventure program in Hamilton, MA, and worked there continuously until 1996. During his tenure at PA, he served as director and president of the company. Karl is also one of the founders of The High 5 Adventure Learning Center in Brattleboro, Vermont. Karl was the recipient of the 1990 Michael Stratton Practitioner Award, and in 2000, he presented the Kurt Hahn Address at the International AEE Conference. Karl has written over 15 books that relate to the field of adventure education, including The Bottomless Bag Revival, Silver Bullets, Quicksilver, and Funn 'n Games.
I can tell you that non one else can take a room of 150 people and let them play and learn with a few pieces of balled up paper and a couple other props in the unique way that Karl can. He has a special ability to open people back up to the play we experienced as children and at the same time, use it to reinforce lessons about experiential education. It was a a session of fun and challenge.
That's an overview of some of the large events at this year's AEE Conference. I'll be back blogging about some of the workshops I went to next.
Thank you for your post! The conference was a great success from the perspective of the folks in the AEE office. Glad to hear that you felt the same way. We all returned energized and exhausted all at the same time. While my 7 AEE International Conferences pales in comparison with your long time attendance, there was a buzz in the air unlike any that I have felt before. From the Accreditation Program's perspective, we got some great business done and made some fantastic connection with other associations such as ACA, NATWC and ACCT. While I am not sure that a "mega conference" is on the horizon, a strong need for more collaboration and communication was expressed by all parties present.
We look forward to following through on commitments and making continued progress in the upcoming year. See you in Vancouver, WA!
Oneof my favorite quotes about Leadership is from Lao Tse: When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally.
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