Workshop Wrapup: Technology on the Trail Day 2

The second day of the Technology on the Trail workshop at Virginia Tech consisted of a pair of work sessions and a workshop wrapup.

The first work session, led by Nicholas Polys and featuring John Munsell and John Jelesko, looked at science on the trail. It delved into the challenges of taking technology outdoors, balanced with the opportunities that it provides. Of particular concern are problems of cleaning up “dirty data” from erroneous readings. It’s great to get more people involved in data collection, but without knowledge, training, and high-quality equipment, we run the risk of collecting erroneous data.

The second work session, led by the project research associate Grace Fields, focused on her cultural probes. We got to try out some of her “would you rather” probe questions, e.g., would you rather hike on a rainy 60 degree day or a sunny 30 degree day. It was noted that these aren’t opposites (they aren’t meant to be!) and often the answer is “both”. Other probes and, importantly, some early probe results were presented. The results really drove some interesting conversations, and also highlighted the need for follow-up interviews or focus groups to delve deeper into the “why” behind the responses. Alan Dix noted that probes are better at putting forth questions rather than answering them, making it important to discover the key questions that emerge from looking at the probes.

The wrapup sought to both look back as well as look forward. There were great ideas shared about possible partnerships, follow-up events, opportunities for funding, and venues for writing. At this stage of the initiative, it is important to cast a wide net and to work in directions that meet real needs for people and organizations that care about trails and that see value in technology. All are encouraged to share ideas and help out!

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The Cascades (a bit frosty around the edges)
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Chewbacca (Norm) and Yoda (Scott) staying warm
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Steve Harrison offering date and fig cake to Alan Dix and the masses

As a quick addendum and final photos: Day 3 saw us match our efforts to our talk, as we hit the trail for a hike to the Cascades. Ten of us made the 4-mile walk in below freezing temperatures to view the iconic waterfall and continue our conversations.

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Understanding Technology on the Trail: Updates on the Workshop, Cultural Probe, and Community Outreach

We’ve been busy lately setting up workshop logistics and talking to interesting people, so we thought we’d post a brief update with current happenings.

Workshop

With just 3 weeks left until the workshop, we’ve been promoting the workshop and getting colleagues excited. The agenda for the day has been posted, and there’s now registration to get us a headcount for food.  Titles, abstracts, and speaker bios are coming soon. Specific topics for work sessions are being developed, including areas like hiking communities and deciphering data.  Input is welcome, either via comments or direct email!

Cultural Probe for Hikers

Gracie has also been rolling out her cultural probe study with participants both locally and around the country. The probe box contains six activities she designed in hopes of teasing out how hiking fits into the lives of participants and how they feel about technology in relation to the outdoors. The study takes place for roughly a month as participants complete the activities on their own time in any order.

A brief description of the activities:

  • Would You Rather… – a short series of this-or-that choices to set the tone of the probe (we snuck a few of them into the registration form too!)
  • Scavenger Hunt – a list of 20 prompts challenges participants to find examples of various tech and/or trail moments, such as social media comments on hikes or examples of technology they think is overrated
  • Streaming Live from the Trail – a future fiction scenario of a platform that livestreams virtual reality experiences from the trail and the challenge to come up with popular channels
  • Hike Club – a hypothetical club which acts like a book club except with hikes, so members hike separately and meet to discuss it
  • The Indoor Hike – a challenge to attempt to recreate the experience of “a hike” but in an indoor setting
  • Scrapbooking – several themed pages in a scrapbook with crafting materials provided

Gracie is still actively recruiting participants, so email her at sgrace@vt.edu if it sounds like something you might be interested in! The only requirement is that you consider yourself to be a “hiker”.

Talking with the Community

As our plans and research have developed, we’ve been talking with people locally who have a vested interest in trails and the outdoors. There’s no shortage of hikers around here thanks to all the wonderful trails and parks nearby. There are groups that go hiking, of course, like the Boy and Girl Scouts, Venture Out, and the Outdoor Club at VT.  But there are also groups that come to work for or volunteer on our local trails. Some organizations support our local trails, like Appalachian Trail Club and Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other organizations wind up on the trail as part of a program or activity, like some Honors College programs.

We hope to feature some of the viewpoints from these various conversations in posters to be displayed at the reception during the workshop (March 2nd 5-6:30). It’ll give people something to wander and look at during the reception, showcase the diverse local perspectives, and start conversations.