Outdoor Education Online

April 28, 2021

Alex Tooke (Texas A&M Commerce, 2018) feeds his passion for outdoor education through his graduate program. While pursuing a master's degree in exercise science, Tooke works for the Commerce’s campus recreation department as an outdoor educator. He teaches classes like rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and, more recently, gardening in the outdoor adventure program.

When everything shut down due to the pandemic, Tooke’s department had to figure out how to reach students, cover material and keep students engaged. “Like most businesses, we had to go virtual and it's been a really fun challenge to tackle how to teach hands-on skills and subjects virtually where it's just a video,” Tooke said.

Most classes are entry-level and free to students enrolled in the university. “We try to meet the needs of all students with whatever background they have on a subject. If it's mountain biking, we start out with riding a bike, bike safety and road safety, even if we're only going to be on the road for two seconds to get to the bike trail. We cover wearing a helmet and signaling all the way up to eventually hitting jumps and up and down hills and changing gears appropriately. We try to do the whole gambit, but our big selling point is that it’s free. Student fees keep everything running with access to all the wonderful things that we have.”

The courses didn’t translate easily to an online format, but Tooke was ready for the challenge. He called on his experience as a high school news anchor and set to work. After making a few videos, he realized he needed better software with better editing abilities, better music and subtitles allowing him to create more polished videos. He dove into research relying heavily on like YouTube videos, articles then talking to experts.

His early videos focus on skills like rope-tying and gardening as opposed to rock climbing and mountain biking, but the videos found a niche audience and helped keep students engaged at a time when they couldn’t gather for classes.

At Commerce, the outdoor adventure program has always worked to engage students. “We're affiliated with the university, but we're across the highway and people forget that we have a full mile mountain bike trail, and we have an 18-hole golf course and a full arsenal of mountain bikes and camping equipment and kayaks. It's been a hard push to try and make our outdoor adventure programs more accessible and more widely known.

While friends and family have been Tooke’s early supporters in adapting outdoor adventure to an online format, he is confident the programs are meeting a need and looks forward to continuing to offer outdoor adventure programs.

“A lot of people don't have access to mountain bikes or kayaks or camping, so I enjoy being in a position where I can make those things more accessible and make it easier for people to get outdoors—empowering people to take control and take ownership of their life and of their physical fitness and of their experience in the outdoors.”

Tooke is most fulfilled when he is helping build relationships and watching people grow and learn and he has seen the difference outdoor programs can make. “I know how important it is to get outdoors and be surrounded by nature and green and trees and set down the little blue screen for a minute,” he said. “I've seen firsthand in my life how important that is and I've seen in the lives of others. That’s what makes me happy.”