Ontario Outdoor Integrated Curriculum Programs: More than "just a fun semester"
Integrated curriculum programs (ICPs) in Ontario consist of two to four secondary course credits taught by a single instructor to a cohort of students for a semester. ICPs often have a focus on outdoor and environmental education, and emphasize experiential and integrated learning. Despite challenges that such programs face (such as instructor burnout and limited administrative support), their prevalence has grown, with about 100 programs as of 2015 compared to 30 in 2000. While research provides evidence to suggest positive outcomes of outdoor ICPs with regard to the student experience, it has primarily focused on current students. Research investigating the long-term impacts of ICP experiences, and across multiple programs, is limited. Thus the purpose of this study is to explore further the long-term influence of a variety of outdoor ICPs on students’ lives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight former Ontario ICP students (4 to 13 years post-program) representing six different programs. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically using an inductive approach. The findings suggest that former students representing a variety of outdoor ICPs recall their experiences positively, even years later. During their programs, former students valued the sense of community they experienced, the educational approach, their personal growth throughout the semester, and the instructor. Outdoor ICPs also resonated with participants beyond their respective semesters, leaving them with a lasting connection to the program, influencing their academic and career goals, and driving them to enact environmental consciousness.