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Sue Waite

 Name: Sue Waite


Age range:51+

Research institution: Institute of Education, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Plymouth University

Research career length: 12 years

Research Council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Location: Plymouth, England

Brief summary of research: Outdoor and experiential learning, learning outside the classroom, learning outside formal education, affective education

School qualifications:
10 ‘O’ levels A-levels: French, English, Spanish

Qualifications post-school:
BA English/Psychology, Keele University
PhD studentship Keele (Uncompleted)
Postgraduate Certificate in Education, University of Plymouth

Career path:
Higher Scientific Officer at ESRC Social Affairs and International Activities committees
Administration Sussex University
Playgroup chairman
School governor
Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant
Research Fellow
Associate Professor (Reader)

How do we know whether one teaching method is better than another? And what are the influences of social and emotional factors on the quality of the experience for students? Sue Waite studies how learning in different settings has an effect on young people.

My research in outdoor learning stems from an interest in how social and emotional factors underpin all learning. Not every pupil thrives in school, and my research is helping to reveal the relationship between where learning takes place, what is being learned and how adults can best support learning.

“Our rapidly changing world makes it more important that we are critical and creative users of knowledge.”

My research career has been influenced by a number of factors. As a child, my favourite books included the ‘What to look for’ Ladybird nature series (in spring, summer, autumn and winter). My father was head teacher of a rurally based residential school for 'maladjusted’ boys, and I was brought up with lots of outdoor space to roam in. Through my childhood in this school, I became aware of the complex difficulties that some young people face and how learning outside formal education might better support them. I think these factors continue to guide my specific interests in education research in outdoor and experiential learning.

In my current role, I design and lead projects, carry out fieldwork in schools and other settings, and write numerous funding proposals to enable the research to continue. I analyse rich qualitative data and present findings at conferences and in academic publications. I also supervise postgraduate students in my field of interest. My favourite part of the job is fieldwork, when I get to hear and see directly what people say and do when learning in places outside of the classroom. I also find developing theories about what contributes to learning in these contexts a very satisfying part of my work. Recently the opportunity to complete the circle of research and create impact has arisen within the Natural Connections Demonstration Project funded by DEFRA, Natural England and English Heritage. It is one of the largest outdoor learning projects in the UK. This highly innovative 3 year Project (2012-2015) working in more than 200 schools across the South West of England is intended to increase the number of school aged children experiencing the full range of benefits that come from learning in natural environments. A rigorous evaluation is an integral part of the project and this will add substantially to our understanding of the factors that support outdoor learning.

Research can be sociable and collaborative, such as within the delivery and research team of this project, but it can also be rather solitary. The pressure that researchers are under to publish their work can create competition. I think the best work emerges in teams, where everyone can both challenge and build upon each other’s ideas, helping us to become better critical and creative researchers.

My life as a researcher has enabled me to travel to some amazing places to draw on different cultural perspectives, for example as part of a current ESRC International Partnership Award. For sustainability reasons, we are encouraged to tag on annual leave to make the most of our travel opportunities. I did this following a conference in Australia in 2009 and fulfilled a lifetime ambition to float over the Great Barrier Reef. Wonderful!


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