understanding school-based outdoor learning and learning for sustainability through ethnography


I am currently undertaking my PhD at The University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage’s Magnus Magnusson Studentship. This page will serve as a place for me to informally share the process and outputs of my research as it progresses and to reflect on my own experiences.



There is increasing interest in how early childhood experiences of nature, outdoor learning and the socialising effects of education contribute to the development of citizens with the required characteristics and motivation to build sustainable futures. In the face of global climate crisis and alongside emerging discourses about children’s changing experiences of the world, Scottish society expects schools and teachers to perform a range of social functions. One of these is creating opportunities for Learning for Sustainability, a unique mix of global citizenship education, education for sustainable development and outdoor learning. My research looks at the phenomenon of outdoor learning at school, with a view to better understanding the intra-actions between teachers, children, environments and these three elements of Learning for Sustainability. By focussing on the ongoing relations and processes, I hope to identify accounts that can inform how we help children come to know the world in more sustainability-minded ways.


Much research in this field focusses on 'connection to nature’, 'nature-relatedness’, or people’s ecological identity, and while I do see value in developing quantitative measures for these outcomes, my own study aims to investigate the messy, complex entangled material-discursive processes at play during school-based outdoor learning at a local level. To do this, I am working closely with two schools, using a research assemblage that involves the methodological tools of ethnography, and particularly visual and sensory ethnography, to ‘rebuild’ and story the relations that emerge through this type of learning.

The research aims to investigate the material-discursive processes at play during school-based outdoor learning, with a view to developing an understanding of how early childhood experiences of outdoor learning might relate to learning for sustainability. The objectives of the research are to:

  • Investigate how children and teachers come to know the outdoor environments in which they are learning.

  • Identify potential pathways and barriers to learning for sustainability that emerge during school-based outdoor learning.

On this section of the website, I will document the progress of my research as I develop realistic methods and ethical procedures for use in primary schools. I will also post blog articles that present elements of my work in an accessible format and reflect on my own experience of the research process.