How Long is Long Enough?

Bungy JumpOn a recent airline flight I forgot my iPod.  This left me baldly exposed to conversations I’d rather not have been privy to.  For example, a woman in the seat behind me went on at great length effusing over the life-changing experience she just had during her vacation.  She made a bungee jump.  This person elaborated in grand style, enthusiastically and loudly, regaling her seatmate on how the bungee jumping experience truly marked a new beginning for her. And maybe it did.  After all, for her the experience held the hallmarks of adventure as one researcher defines it: “A state of mind that begins with feelings of uncertainty about the outcome and always ends with feelings of enjoyment, satisfaction or elation about the successful completion of that journey.” Boy, she sure was elated.  She stayed elated for the whole flight.  How I missed my iPod.  It may have been all for naught, sitting in front of Madam Bungee, had it not started me thinking: This sense of adventure, the perceived risk of stepping out of one’s comfort zone as one steps off the dock and onto a tall ship is a key part of our experience.  My bungee friend clearly had taken her own step out of her comfort zone when she stepped off that platform and onto nothing.  But is one step enough?

The academic literature on adventure programming cites a wide range of opinion on how long a program needs to be effective.  One of the few articles I’ve found specifically discussing sail training (in this case, in the United Kingdom) states that a voyage much shorter than seven days is too short to gain full benefit from the experience.   (Click here for the article).  Many of us have in sail training experience the fourth-day epiphany.  That’s when students suddenly “really start to get it.”  So, maybe “less than seven days” could be hedged as more of a “seven plus-or-minus three” kind of number.  If we’re willing concede less than seven days and lower the miminum to four as the magic number of days of exposure, can we continue to whittle down the minimum effective exposure length?  Let’s don’t forget the after school programs that sail afternoons as little as once a week.  Surely we’ve seen positive results in these exposures, as well. What is the magic number?  Is there one?  Does it depend on trainee traits?  Venue?  What advantages do more days bring?  How do we measure results to answer these kinds of questions?Post your thoughts here by commenting below.                        — Posted by Eric J. Shaw, Ph.D., ASTA Education Director

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2 thoughts on “How Long is Long Enough?

  1. Tony Arrow September 28, 2006 / 3:50 pm

    I completely agree that there is a miminum time frame needed to get a student crew past the initial confusion and learning curve to the “epiphany” point. My personal experience of this is about 5 days.

    However, I believe if you shift focus away from the team work and character building aspects and more into tangible hands-on, experiential academic components, and tie them in with pre-sailing classroom activities, you can still provided effective day programming. And because the need for ship life orientation is greatly reduced, you can get more quickly to the hands-on, academic activities.

    I find that 2-4 day programs are just to short to reach the epiphany point.

    In setting up programming for the Spirit of South Carolina, we found ourselves charged with developing programs that reach as many of the students of South
    Carolina as possible, while at the same time, delivering truely effective and worthwhile programs.

    As your article lays out, these are somewhat mutually exclusive goals. With consultation of some of the many excellent educational minds in the ASTA community, we came up with the following plan.

    Daysails:
    -Academics compliant with state education standards

    -Pre-sailing activity components, available online, and required for participating in the daysail

    -Post sailing wrap up activity. Built into this activity will be a component that measures how successful the student were at learning the state education requirements.

    The pro is that we believe we can deliver a unique and effective way for students to learn required materiel. The con is that the strenght of the shipboard environment as a character building tool is not nearly as effective as longer trips

    As a rule, we will not do 2-4 day programs. The only exception being that a group of students could otherwise not have the experience.

    The remainder of the programming will be 5 days and above and contain both character building and academic components.

    The organizations that have inspired our planning for day trips are Living Classrooms and Soundwaters. For longer trips, Sea Education Association and Ocean Classroom Foundation.

  2. Brian Larsen Stafki October 12, 2006 / 1:21 am

    I agree after much experience with both day trips and extended trips (mostly land-based EE curriculum) that 2-4 days really is the epiphany point were students are comfortable (mostly) to be truly receptive and engaged in the academic learning process.

    If we are using the shipboard practices as an example of stewardship and the ship as a true floating classroom, how are we best focusing the education beyond the “walls” of the classroom and into the depths below?

    What academic content pieces is the Spirit of South Carolina try to cover? Anything related to Marine Ecosystems or Stewardship?

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