Giving disadvantaged adolescents skills to flourish: Random-control-trial intervention integrating developmental coaching with outdoor adventure education


Gwyn, Wendy Gelman 2020. Giving disadvantaged adolescents skills to flourish: Random-control-trial intervention integrating developmental coaching with outdoor adventure education. Thesis
AuthorsGwyn, Wendy Gelman
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The Helmsman Project brings a novel extracurricular program to high schools located in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage. Integrating a series of structured developmental coaching sessions with outdoor adventure experiences, this program aims to positively influence participants’ personal and social development through a range of outcomes, with a particular focus on building hope, resilience, and self-regulation. Outdoor adventure education (OAE) research has found the quality of program facilitation to have a strong connection with program outcomes. As coaching is a form of facilitated development, it was hypothesised that incorporating coaching into OAE would contribute to the experiential learning process and enhance program impact. Current research supports the effectiveness of both OAE and coaching for the development of important life skills. However, research in both fields is limited and what exists is undermined by criticisms of a lack of methodological rigour. This thesis investigates the effectiveness of The Helmsman Project program using a randomised controlled trial with 362 high school students from 11 schools located in Western Sydney, an area of socioeconomic disadvantage. The research outcomes include 41 scales from 11 measurement instruments, covering the broad constructs of hope, self-regulation, resilience, motivation and engagement, wellbeing, multiple facets of self-concept, and various life effectiveness skills. Study 1 evaluates the psychometric properties of the outcome measures by considering internal consistency reliability, factor structure and its invariance, and construct validity. In Study 2, data from the waitlist control group is used as a basis of comparison with the intervention group data from one pre-test and two post-tests, applying multiple regression analysis. The waitlist control group data also serves as an extended baseline against which to compare later results for the control group when they subsequently experienced a program. The adventure component of The Helmsman Project program is provided through three different modalities, two water-based and one land-based. The distinct effects of these programs are considered in addition to the overall effects of these programs as a whole. Moreover, a separate coaching program (without the adventure experiences) was offered, providing the opportunity to test the incremental benefits of the adventure component for The Helmsman Project program. This thesis also includes a qualitative study. Study 3 examines how 13 program participants made meaning of their experiences in The Helmsman Project program, using semi-structured interviews and the lens of constructive-developmental theory. A mixed-methods approach provides the most complete picture of the program effects and helps to further the evidence base for the benefits that OAE and coaching programs have to offer disadvantaged adolescents. Results from this research demonstrate some significant positive effects, particularly in developing hope, positive global self-beliefs, wellbeing, and other life effectiveness skills, including social effectiveness and open thinking. While follow-up analysis indicated general stability in the outcomes during the three-month period following program completion, some significant short-term positive effects were not retained over the long term. However, several new significant positive effects were evidenced, with some significant effects found in the follow-up period. In general, those scales of most relevance to the design and aims of The Helmsman Project program demonstrated the greatest effects. Moreover, aptitude-treatment interaction analysis suggests that for some outcomes these programs may provide greater benefits to those most in need, reinforcing the value in providing school-based OAE programs to disadvantaged students. However, the varied effects across programs also underline the complexity inherent in delivering these types of programs, and the difficulty of isolating the various program elements and their differential impact on outcomes. The qualitative results provide support for constructive-developmental capacity as a relevant individual difference influencing OAE program experiences and outcomes. This finding has implications for the design and implementation of OAE. By understanding these developmental differences, OAE providers can match processes and expectations more closely to developmental capacities and provide a better holding environment for learning and developmental growth. There is also an indication that for some participants the positive program outcomes occurred only with further experiences that prompted reflection on the program learnings and provided further opportunity to apply those learnings. Consequently, some program effects may take time. The findings in this thesis evidence the value in a mixed-methods approach to OAE research. Taken together, the quantitative and qualitative studies provide a more complete and holistic understanding of the relationship among OAE program elements, participants, and outcomes. Following a juxtaposition of Study 2 and Study 3, the strengths and limitations of this research are highlighted, as well as directions for future research and implications for educational policy and OAE research, design, and practice. It is hoped that the methodologically rigorous results from this multidimensional investigation contribute to literature, research, and practice in the fields of OAE and coaching psychology, and provide a platform for future study.

PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupInstitute for Positive Psychology and Education
Publisher's version
Publication dates01 Jan 2020
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