Technology on the Trail GROUP 2018: Work Sessions

The work sessions will consist of discussions, activities, and other explorations into common themes touched upon in the talks that seem central to the “Technology on the Trail” theme.  Sessions will be highly interactive, with lots of opportunities (and expectations!) for all participants to share ideas and contribute. Please note that some themes are still in flux and may change as the workshop approaches, so check back often to revisit themes.


We expect the workshop to live up to the “work” portion of its name, establishing relationships between workshop participants early on but using most of the time to advance our collective knowledge regarding the workshop goals. Activities will build in part on position statements that are submitted; listed here are some candidate activity categories.

Identifying roles

An initial activity will engage all participants toward identifying roles of trail-goers. Examples may include scientists who work outdoors, people who hike for fun or exercise, scouts who hike to learn, mushroom foragers who hike to find food, and many more. We will group them in multiple ways, evolve some into simple personas, and consider the relationships between pair and groups of the personas. We expect that this initial activity will encourage people to think about the many reasons that people may choose to bring technology on the trail.

Channeling conflicts

While people generally envision technology as an invention to solve a problem or make an activity easier, many trail walkers are specifically looking for the natural challenge that hiking through wilderness poses. As one would expect, conflicts between the technologists and the purists arise.  This activity will explore how these cultural norms around technology develop, and how technology has evolved in ways not intended to make hiking easier. While supportive technologies might seem helpful, such as precise GPS locating, they have the potential to create divisions in the community between people who use them and people who spurn them. Communities can also develop rifts between the “old-timers” and the “newcomers” to an activity, and because many people hike far from their homes, an “outsiders” vs “locals” dynamic can also come into play. This work session digs into the cultural significance of technology both within and between communities of people.

Brainstorming beginnings

When it comes to technology on the trail, many people have preconceptions about how hikers feel about both their own usage and the usage of others. Activities like reading a book cause vastly different reactions when one is reading a paperback vs reading on a Kindle. Both direct and indirect social interactions on the trail are affected by technology, and the very presence of technology outdoors can change the experience of a hiker. The researchers and other attendees of this workshop have a broad range of experiences with hikers, trails, and other outdoor communities. Together, we can compare and contrast our own understandings of those who do and don’t use technology on trails. This work session will dig into the mindsets of hikers through a series of cultural probe activities.

Lunchtime hike

The lunch break and the fortuitous conference location makes possible the opportunity to put into action our morning findings. Workshop participants will be invited to try out (physically or imagined) a technology that could be brought onto a hike while taking an out-and-back walk starting from the conference venue. Technology possibilities that many participants will have may include still/video cameras, step counters, and smart watches. But participants can also undertake their hike using an imagined technology, or a different role. The conference location is known for hiking, bird watching, and shell collecting along its beaches. A few minutes at the end of the lunch break will be dedicated to sharing pictures and videos and to reflecting on thoughts and findings. (This was the most fun and perhaps most popular activity of our first workshop!)

Science and education on the trail

Smartphones and Internet-connected devices are changing the ways that data are collected in outdoor trail settings, and the widespread ownership of these devices make possible a role for the crowdsourcing of data collection on trails. However, it is important for trained scientists, technologists, and educators to craft experiences that will be useful and enlightening to those who undertake them as well as productive and valid in terms of the data that are produced. This session will explore the kinds of data and experiences can be collected and crafted, toward understanding the types of experiences that are best suited for technology on the trail. The session will provide hands-on opportunities to explore tools and data that are in use in the field, and to speculate about the types of tools that could be developed with emerging technologies.

Prototyping with paper (and more)

Building on the roles identified in the opening session, and integrating findings from other sessions, this session will result in focused creative prototyping. We plan to start with simple sketches but provide crafting materials for more complex prototyping of mobile and wearable technologies that may be feasible in the near future. This session will encourage participants to focus their creative efforts within realistic boundaries toward prototypes that address opportunities for which technology can play a role.

Paths toward progress

The closing workshop activity will draw together all workshop attendees toward identifying future directions. Session leaders will put forth promising directions from each of the prior sessions, and participants will present ways that they can further develop the ideas identified during the activities. We plan to attach names to ideas and follow up with the participants to identify progress.