Workshop Wrapup: Technology on the Trail Day 1

Today we kicked off the Technology on the Trail workshop at Virginia Tech.

The morning started with talks by our four invited guests: Allison Druin from the National Park Service, Alan Dix from Birmingham University (UK), Ellie Harmon from Encountering Tech, and Norman Su of Indiana University. The talks were very different, but all touched on the self-discovery that takes place when people go out on trails, and the evolving and sometimes contentious role that technology has with it.

Scott McCrickard’s giant selfie looms over Alan Dix during a discussion of the phenomenology of selfies.

The afternoon consisted of work sessions, when we delved into topics of interest. Steve Harrison led the first session, titled “Spectacle vs Experience”. Groups talked about the nature and phenomenology of the selfie, the mediation that takes place in technology on the trail, and the roles taken on in traversing trails. Michael Horning led the second session. It focused on seamfulness in nature, looking at different types (and subtypes) of trail users that exist. For example, hikers’ goals on the trail differ from hunters, and day hikers differ from thru-hikers.

The evening will feature a community reception in the lobby of the Moss Arts Center.  There will be posters about ongoing projects, exhibits of artifacts from a cultural probe on hiking, and a demo of a multi-person blog analysis tool applied to hiking blogs.

We will post the talks and the full findings from the work sessions in follow-up posts on this blog. You can tweet or follow tweets about the event at #VTechTrail.

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.


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 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.