Contributing to change? Responding to future-focused issues through education outside the classroom.

Funding year: 
2 years
Victoria University of Wellington
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2019
Project end date: 
March 2021
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Andrea Milligan
Research team members: 
Dr Sarah Rusholme
Research partners: 
School partners: Corinna School; Newtown School; Island Bay School; Wellington East Girls’ College Informal education provider partners: Dowse Art Museum; City Gallery Wellington; Zealandia; New Zealand Police Museum; Museums Wellington; Ministry for Culture and Heritage; City Gallery Wellington; National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; National Library of New Zealand; Government House Wellington; Wellington Zoo; Capital E.


Project description

This project explores how education outside the classroom can enhance children and young people’s exploration of, and responses to, significant societal and environmental challenges. Working with four primary and secondary teachers, and 10 informal educators, this project investigates how the cross-curricular themes of ‘future-focused issues’ and ‘active participation’ are conceptualised and enacted through education outside the classroom. The project explores how closer collaboration between teachers and informal educators, and stronger connections across classroom and informal learning experiences, could support children and young people’s critical, creative and democratic engagement with issues that face them and society.


How can educational experiences in public spaces such as museums, libraries and eco-sanctuaries support learners to address pressing social and environmental issues? This project explores how collaboration between teachers and informal educators can better assist learners to respond to future-focused issues through education outside the classroom. The project aims to provide insight into: The meanings and practices that teachers, informal educators, and students associate with future-focused issues and active participation through education outside the classroom.

  • Forms of collaboration between teachers and informal educators that support learners to critically and creatively respond to future-focused issues,
  • The kinds of learning experiences that enable learners to make connections across formal and informal educational settings, explore wider societal debates, and offer spaces for response.
  • The project will produce recommendations and practical examples that have a material effect on teacher and informal educator knowledge, collaboration and practices across New Zealand, in ways that improve learning outcomes.

Why is this research important? 

Education outside the classroom holds the potential to enhance young people’s critical and active participation in relation to complex future-focussed issues. We know something about how formal and informal education partnerships can engage children and young with future-focused issues, one example being New Zealand’s Enviroschools programme. However, very little is known about how short-term collaborations between teachers and informal educators, often around ‘one-off’ visits within a learning sequence, can help students to focus on issues and enhance participatory outcomes. Furthermore, what students actually learn and retain from visits remains unclear and very few studies have investigated the learning gains when experiences outside the classroom take place across more than one site. This research examines how maximum, curriculum-linked value could be ‘extracted’ from classroom and informal education experiences in order to enhance the transformative potential of education outside the classroom.

What we plan to do 

Using a collaborative action research methodology, this two-year project will (i) track student learning across pre, during and post-visit learning experiences in Year 1 and Year 2. The team will gather, analyse and reflect on pre/post visit work samples, during-visit observations and formative assessment information, and pre/post visit (at five weeks) focus group interviews. Where practicable, teachers will gather student voice from the wider class (such as a student advisory group or whole class learning reflections). Alongside this focus on student learning outcomes, we will (ii) document how teachers, informal educators and students conceptualise education outside the classroom, future-focused issues and active participation, and (iii) identify strategies that enable effective collaboration between teachers and informal educators. The data sources for these aspects of the project include reflective journals, interviews with informal educators and teachers, and project team discussions. The data will be analysed using a combination of document, thematic and cross-case analysis.

Contact details

Dr Andrea Milligan (Project Leader), Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education,, (04) 473 9614

Dr Sarah Rusholme (Project Leader), Research Associate, Museum & Heritage Studies, 0221770414