The Wilderness Laboratory: Research Run Through NOLS Rocky Mountain
You can learn a lot when you take a NOLS course- hard skills, such as navigation, backcountry cooking, and river-safety, and soft skills, such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. While these lessons have made NOLS famous, the school gains even more information through different research studies on our courses. Dr. John Gookin and the NOLS Research and Curriculum Department conduct studies each summer on courses running out of the Rocky Mountain Branch. Below Dr. Gookin provides some details on a few of this summer's studies.
Ironman Body Composition Scale- We use this scale to measure our students' and instructors' weight, body fat, and muscle mass in the arms, legs, and torso. It also measures their BMR (basal metabolic rate), and metabolic age. We take these measurements before and after the course for a ROCL (our month long rock climbing course), a SIC (NOLS instructor course), and a NALE (Naval Academy Leadership Expedition).Past studies have shown that everyone increases physical fitness (as measured by BMR) on their NOLS course, and that most students lose some fat. We have also found that some people add muscle while others lose it. We're doing this work now to look for a pattern of who adds muscle and who loses it on expeditions. This is a spinoff of the NOLS energetic study being done by Cara Ocobock, a doctoral student at Washington University.
Below, Outfitting Specialist JD Merrit tests out the Ironman Scale.
Social Climate Scale- A survey that students take in the field, this scale measures the social climate on our courses. Social climate is like EB (expedition behavior) at the group level through a sociological lens. NOLS hypothesises that a better social climate correlates with greater learning. Ben Mirkin, a doctoral student at the University of New Hampshire, is conducting this study.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in NOLS/Naval Academy Students- This study measures heart rate patterns related to stressful situations to see if this changes after a NOLS experience. The hypothesis for this study, proposed by BUDS, the US Navy SEAL School, states that people who successfully complete the NOLS program remain calmer and more effective under stress. This study gives an objective measure of stress repsonses that can accept or refute this hypothesis. A team of kinesiologists and sport psychologists, who do similar work with the NFL, are executing this study, and it is funded by the US Navy's Operational Stress Control project.
Ill-Structured Problem Solving- This study uses brief essays about how to handle dilemmas to measure six different factors which contain context specific factors, like how the width of a river may be more important in some contexts than others, depending on other loosely related factors. This study hypothesises that NOLS helps students improve in solving ill-structured problems. The staff of the US Naval Academy is conducting this study and it is funded by the US Navy's Operational Stress Control project.
The mission of the NOLS Research Program is "to support, develop, and disseminate knowledge that contributes to education, to the preservation of wildlands, and to the quality of the experiences of those people who visit wildlands." All of these current studies certainly align with this mission, and NOLS is excited to continue to support this mission by using our wilderness-based classroom and curriculum for further learning on a growing number of diverse fields of study.