Outdoor Recreation Management

Outdoor Recreation Management students develop leadership and communication skills while playing games

At nine o’clock on a chill December morning, you probably wouldn’t expect to see a group of college students kicking shoes in the air, trying to get them to land on a desk. For Outdoor Recreation Management students, however, this is a fundamental part of their education.

Group Dynamics and Facilitation (ORM 201) is a required class for the Outdoor Recreation Management major. The program prepares students for leadership and teaching positions in the outdoor industry, so in addition to earning certifications and learning how to participate in various activities, graduates need to know how to direct groups.

“In the class, we talk about group dynamics and managing groups, working through conflict, and facilitating group activities,” said Katie Wall, the program coordinator for Outdoor Recreation Management. “The fun games encourage the students to think about how groups work.”

Early in the semester, every student in the class chooses a few teambuilding activities they want to lead and researches how each is played. The students consider how the size of the group and the relationship between members might affect the group dynamics, and pick games that would benefit the specific audience. The students then practice leading the games in class before putting their skills to the test in actual group settings, including other classes and various campus departments.  

The group they worked with on this particular morning was another Outdoor Recreation Management class. The ORM 201 students arrived at the outdoor classroom early with various props to use for each game and had a quick discussion at the beginning of the class period to decide whose activity would be first. They settled on a game often used as an icebreaker during these teambuilding exercises.

The class of about 20 people was divided in two, and ORM 201 students held a blanket up to separate the two sides. One at a time, a member of each team would approach the blanket. When the blanket dropped, both people would race to be the first to say the other’s name. Whoever lost the contest had to join the opposing team. The activity helped people interact with classmates they may have never spoken to before, encouraged the class to learn everyone’s names, and energized the group.

“The first activity got everybody to wake up and have the initiative,” said MJ Doyle, a junior majoring in Outdoor Recreation Management and Business Administration. “There were a lot of nerves floating around. After we got the hang of it, it got a lot easier, and we started working together.”

Many groups, from corporate offices to athletics teams to families, use teambuilding exercises to learn more about how the different members function so that the group as a whole can work better together. The activities help identify weaknesses and strengths within the group and help the group practice problem-solving techniques.

Another game required the class to break into groups of four or five and try to build the tallest freestanding Lego tower. Most of the teams took a straightforward approach and put together a sturdy base before stacking the bricks as high as they would go, but one team thought outside the box. Right at the end of the time limit, a student took his team’s tower and ran to the top of the nearby hill, technically making their structure the tallest. Nothing in the rules of the activity prohibited this, so Wall and the ORM 201 students congratulated his creative thinking.

After an hour spent jumping across the pavement on pieces of paper, making animal sounds with their eyes shut, and the previously mentioned shoe kicking, the class was much livelier and had started to communicate better. It was also a good preview of what was to come, since many in the class would need to take ORM 201 in the near future.

For ORM 201 students, directing these games means learning how to take ownership of a group activity, developing their leadership skills, and helping teams reflect on the activities with a debrief after each one.

“I used to be very closed off,” said Catie Crump, one of the students leading the activities. “This class has shown me I can be a leader one day.”

Since ORM 201 is a required course, all Outdoor Recreation Management majors will have to take it before graduating. The class can be nerve-wracking for students who aren’t used to speaking in front of a group or giving instructions, but Crump says the coursework and practices help overcome those challenges.

“Don’t be afraid to get out there,” she said. “Katie Wall always has your back.”  

By Emily WebbDecember 17, 2021