Technology on the Trail 2018 Workshop

A GROUP 2018 Workshop

Workshop date: January 7, 2018

Position papers due: October 27, 2017

Agenda | Talk Details | Work Sessions


The Technology on the Trail workshop will examine the encroachment of technology into hiking and outdoor adventures, with a focus on identifying and developing ways for technology to support positive and mutually beneficial connections among people. These connections include both intentional ones helpful in collecting scientific data, supporting the environment, maintaining safety, and sharing via social media.  We will also explore more opportunistic connections, such as those that are leveraged when tracking and sharing biometric or geotemporal data. With the inclusion of technology in places where it is not used and sometimes not welcome, there will be mismatches of ethics and values that must be considered in the design and use of technology.  The workshop will examine existing and emerging challenges of bringing technology onto the trail and reflect on ways to understand, design, and deploy appropriate technological solutions moving forward.


Description of Workshop Theme:

The Technology on the Trail workshop will examine ways that technology is (and often intentionally isn’t) used in hiking and other outdoor adventures, with a focus on supporting communication and connection between people. Technologies such as mobile phones, GPS systems, online maps, biometric devices, wearables, and augmented reality provide possibilities for collecting and sharing information during outdoor activities, and hikers have written about their experiences with technology in extended hiking settings [Dix 2013; Dix & Ellis 2015; Harmon 2015].  These technologies often are not designed for extended outdoor trail use, and indeed there are difficulties and tensions for outdoor settings that do not exist in urban areas [Cuff, Hanson, & Kang 2008]. The workshop will reflect on ways that technology has influenced trail experiences, and it will look ahead to how emerging technologies can be selected, designed, and deployed to appropriately meet extended outdoor needs.

The workshop will focus on connections that are both intentional and more opportunistic. Intentional ones are helpful when collecting scientific data, supporting the environment, and sharing via social media. Certainly scientific domains like plant pathology, weed science, weather and climate change, education, and health and fitness all have demonstrated benefit from technology use, particularly in outdoor settings away from urban areas [Yeh et al. 2006; Bonsignore et al. 2013; Polys et al. 2017; Wang et al. 2017]. However, technology use adds challenges and technology adoption can be difficult to encourage. And the communication and social media tools that people rely on in urban environments are difficult to abandon when on the trail, yet technological and social issues arise when these technologies are used in an outdoor environment for extended times.

We will also consider more unintentional and non-interruptive technology use, such as tracking and sharing biometric or geotemporal data. Just as technology tailored for drivers like Waze and Google Maps leverage information collected from mobile devices [Wang et al., 2016], the devices that are (or could be) carried by hikers can collect and share information that inform others about challenging trail conditions. This type of scenario represents both opportunities that may arise in carrying tracking and recording devices as well as ethical issues related to sharing data from sparsely-populated trails. We will consider the balance between opportunities and responsibilities during the workshop.

Important in the consideration of technology on the trail is the role of notifications generated by the technology, particularly the ways in which attention can be diverted in ways that are interruptive and unwanted. Prior work suggests a need to understand the balance between attention allocation and task utility, most recently and relevantly in domains related to walking and hiking [McCrickard et al. 2003; Rogers et al. 2004; Posti et al 2014; Esakia et al. 2017]. The workshop will explore the balance between the costs and benefits of tech-based notifications, and how designers, builders, and users can assess them based on their own values and scenarios.

The workshop will examine existing and emerging challenges of bringing technology onto the trail and reflect on ways to understand, design, and deploy appropriate technological solutions moving forward. In addition, this workshop will also examine tensions in how technologies represent particular values and beliefs, with a focus on what constitutes legitimate activities in hiking and outdoor cultures [Harmon & Mazmanian 2013; Su 2017]. We view the workshop as a time for reflection on the many technologies that already exist in extended trail-related situations, and a time to consider the future that we want for technology on the trail.

This workshop builds on an initial workshop held at Virginia Tech in March 2017. The initial workshop allowed us to identify key themes, innovative research methods appropriate for this area, and some prior research and researchers. With this workshop at GROUP, we seek to tap into the wider community of researchers investigating this area, particularly those interested in community issues that arise on the trail with relation to technology.


Aim and goals:

This workshop will allow people interested in the technology on the trail theme and the GROUP community to connect and share ideas, projects, and results. We expect the workshop to be a launching point for future efforts related to the theme. Toward that end, we put forth the following goals for the workshop:

  • Connect people interested in the topic area, facilitate idea exchange, and identify collaborators and collaboration opportunities.
  • Craft and advance projects based on the idea exchange that occurs at the workshop.
  • Further a growing repository of information related to the workshop topic area.
  • Produce a special issue of a journal to serve as scholarly output for dissemination of results related to the workshop theme.


Names and backgrounds of the organizers:

Scott McCrickard is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and a member of the Center for HCI at Virginia Tech. He is the director of the Technology on the Trail initiative, running an initial workshop at Virginia Tech and maintaining a blog of reading reflections, stories, projects, and other information related to the theme. His research focuses on awareness and notifications, with applications generally developed for mobile devices for areas in which appropriate notifications have great potential value like health and wellness, assistive technologies, educational situations, and technology on the trail.

Michael A. Horning is an Assistant Professor of Communication and co-director of the Social Informatics area of the Center for HCI at Virginia Tech. He served as a discussant for the initial Technology on the Trail workshop and led one of the breakout sessions. His research focuses on the social and psychological effect of communication technologies. He designs, develops, and evaluates web and mobile software solutions for support of communities.

Steve Harrison is an Associate Professor of Practice in Computer Science, director of the Human-Centered Design Program of the Graduate School, and co-director of the Social Informatics area of the Center for HCI at Virginia Tech. Among his varied research interests is the way in which ICT is re-shaping the idea of being on the trail.

Ellie Harmon is an ethnographer, researcher, writer, bicyclist, and hiker. She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 and the Appalachian Trail in 2008, writing about her experiences as part of her dissertation and professional papers. She has a PhD from UC Irvine, where she conducted ethnographic research about constant connection and digital disconnection, and she completed a postdoc at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She currently researches and writes about people and technologies as a freelance consultant through her company, Past projects explored new technologies in the context of philanthropy and social change, microbial science, and everyday life.

Alan Dix is a computing professor at Birmingham University and researcher at Talis Ltd., working on most things that connect people and computers. He is first author of a widely-used human computer interaction textbook. From mid-April to July 2013 he walked the complete periphery of Wales, over a thousand miles. The walk was a personal journey, but also a technological and community one, exploring the needs of the walker and the people along the way. He is continuing to work on writing and collating data, toward addressing a dual practical and academic agenda: to explore through personal experience the information technology needs of the walker with particular focus on the use and limitations of mobile technologies in areas where mobile phone coverage is at best patchy, and to work with local communities in order to understand how information technology might address their needs, and if not, what fundamental challenges this raises for research.

Norman Makoto Su an Assistant Professor in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington. Academically, his interests lie in human–computer interaction (HCI), computer–supported cooperative work (CSCW), ubiquitous computing, organizational/management science, and science & technology studies (STS). He studies people’s relationship with technology and how this relationship has and can be changed. He has studied a wide range of “users”; most relevantly he examined the dialectics of fair chase practices of hunters through interviews and observations of hunters in the American Midwest. Methodologically, he is an opportunistic researcher.

Timothy Stelter is a Ph.D. Candidate at Virginia Tech.  His research interests lie in human-computer interaction, particularly in how technology can be used in extended outdoor situations. He serves as a graduate research assistant in the Social Informatics area within the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech.


Suggested reading:

Dana Cuff, Mark Hansen, and Jerry Kang. 2008. Urban sensing: out of the woods. Commun. ACM 51, 3 (March 2008), 24-33.

Alan Dix. 2013. Mental Geography, Wonky Maps, and a Long Way Ahead. 2013. In Proceedings of the GeoHCI Workshop (workshop at CHI 2013).

Alan Dix and Geoffrey Ellis. 2015. The Alan Walks Wales Dataset: Quantified Self and Open Data. Journal of Open Data as Open Educational Resources, 56-66.

Elizabeth Bonsignore, Alex Quinn, Allison Druin, and Ben Bederson (2013). Sharing Stories “in the Wild”: A Mobile Storytelling Case Study Using StoryKit. ACM TOCHI 20 (3).

Andrey Esakia, Samantha M. Harden, D. Scott McCrickard, and Michael Horning. 2017. FitAware: Channeling Group Dynamics Strategies with Smartwatches in a Physical Activity Intervention. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ’17).

Ellie Harmon. 2015. Computing as Context: Experiences of Dis/Connection Beyond the Moment of Non/Use. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Irvine. 2015.

Ellie Harmon and Melissa Mazmanian. 2013. Stories of the smartphone in everyday discourse: Conflict, tension, and instability. In Proceedings of the 2013 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’13).

Nicholas Polys, Jessica Hotter, Madison Lanier, Laura Purcell, Jordan Wolf, W. Cully Hession, Peter Sforza, and James D. Ivory. 2017. Finding frogs: using game-based learning to increase environmental awareness. In Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on 3D Web Technology (Web3D ’17).

Norman Makoto Su and EunJeong Cheon. 2017. Reconsidering Nature: The Dialectics of Fair Chase in the Practices of American Midwest Hunters. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’17).

Scott McCrickard, C. M. Chewar, Jacob P. Somervell, and Ali Ndiwalana. 2003. A model for notification systems evaluation–Assessing user goals for multitasking activity. ACM TOCHI 10, 4, 312-338.

Maarit Posti, Johannes Schöning, and Jonna Häkkilä. 2014. Unexpected journeys with the HOBBIT: The design and evaluation of an asocial hiking app. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’14).x

Yvonne Rogers, Sara Price, Cliff Randell, Danae Stanton Fraser, Mark Weal, and Geraldine Fitzpatrick. 2005. Ubi-learning integrates indoor and outdoor experiences. Communications of the ACM 48, 1, 55-59.

Gang Wang, Bolun Wang, Tianyi Wang, Ana Nika, Haitao Zheng, Ben Y. Zhao. 2016. Defending against Sybil Devices in Crowdsourced Mapping Services. In Proceedings of MobiSys 2016, 179-191.

Haitao Wang, Xiaoyu Chen, Nicholas Polys, and Peter Sforza. 2017. A Web3D forest geo-visualization and user interface evaluation. In Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on 3D Web Technology (Web3D ’17).

Ron Yeh, Chunyuan Liao, Scott Klemmer, François Guimbretière, Brian Lee, Boyko Kakaradov, Jeannie Stamberger, and Andreas Paepcke. 2006. ButterflyNet: a mobile capture and access system for field biology research. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’06).