Understanding the Debrief Process in Adventure-Based Learning

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Exhibit Hall RC Poster Sessions (Tampa Convention Center)
Sue Sutherland, James Ressler, Paul Stuhr and Constantine Psimopoulos, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

The debrief is arguably one of the most important aspects of Adventure Based Learning (ABL). It is during this process that the participants make meaning of the experience through reflection and learning is transferred to other areas of the students' life (Joplin, 1995). The debrief process should be student-centered and guided, rather than driven by, the facilitator (Chapman, 1995). However, recent research suggests that too often debriefing is driven by the facilitator (Estes, 2004; Brown, 2003). The purpose of this study was to explore how the debrief is understood, valued, and employed by undergraduate physical education students enrolled in an ABL course.


The study occurred during a 10 week 4 hrs per week ABL course structured to introduce experiential learning and adventure based learning, the importance of sequencing in ABL, role of the facilitator, the importance of processing (brief and debrief), experience of activities, and facilitation of activities. Experiential learning as proposed by Jarvis (2004) guided this interpretive qualitative study. Data were collected through 40 observations, 24 face-to-face semi-structured interviews with ten undergraduate students, student reflection on their facilitation experience, and document analysis (reading assignment reflections, exams, and unit plans for all students enrolled in the course).


Line by line coding and constant comparison (Strauss & Corbin, 1984) were used to analyze the data. Trustworthiness was established through prolonged engagement, emerging themes were cross checked against all four data sources, member checking, peer debriefing, and negative case analysis. The findings suggest that the undergraduate students gained a technical understanding of the debrief process in that they understood the purpose of the debrief, the experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984), and the what, so what, now what sequence of questions used in the process. However, the observation of their facilitation indicated a range of practical implementation of the process from very student-centered to teacher directed. The techniques used to initiate the debrief process were very limited in nature with the quick whip and think-pair-share being the most common. A majority of the students observed had difficulty executing the transfer of learning during the debrief process.


Recommendations for PETE include: (a) providing more opportunities for experiential learning of the debrief process through consistent modeling and opportunities to lead a debrief, (b) more emphasis should be placed on the concept of debriefing “in the moment”, and (c) frequent occasions to critique facilitation of the debrief process.