Reading Group Summary: Rogers’ big picture of theory and practice


This week focuses on two easy-to-read papers that set the stage for this topic. We’ll spend this session talking about the goals for the reading group, and how the papers help identify issues, concerns, opportunities, and solutions regarding technology on the trail.


  • First meeting logistics
    • Goals for the group: explore core ideas for TotT and build a foundation for papers, research, proposals, etc.
    • Introductions
  • Attendance: 5 people (1 professor, 3 graduate students, 1 undergraduate student)
  • Summarize papers
  • Discuss papers


One of our papers was from 2011 and one was from 2005, so the changing context of digital technologies was a theme that came up in our discussion. Kids these days touch technology more frequently than before, such as personal iPads or kid-oriented games like Pokemon Go. People also use smartphones far more often and there are apps for almost any aspect of the outdoors, e.g. stargazing or identifying plants, but we talked about the effect of putting a piece of technology between the user and nature. Our ability to use search engines on the go to answer many questions or solve logistical problems also changes the landscape of TotT.

We discussed aspects of the Ambient Wood project in depth. Although it occurred “in the wild” and not in a lab, the environment of the project was still very intentionally structured which we found to be an interesting dynamic. It’s still not an experience that would happen spontaneously in any woods. There’s a tension between giving children information in various forms, which is the point of the learning activity, and distracting them from the natural experience itself, which is the point of being outdoors while doing it. We talked about this from the angle of a person passively receiving information versus actively exploring to find that information. One suggestion was that having a more passive attitude left the mind more open for unexpected information, and another was that individuals would have a difference preference and both ends of the spectrum could be included.

Ambient Wood felt preferable when we compared it to traditional forms of field trips we’ve experienced, such as being given a list of 8 questions on paper to answer while freely walking in the woods. We talked about the limits of still having a defined set of tools and interactions for the learning activity, such as lacking spontaneity or motivational force.

We also tied in a few points from the novel A Walk in the Woods which two of us had read, such as how the detailed maps of northern trails gave the author a far greater appreciation for the context of the places he was hiking through. So how does knowing the context of a natural interaction or process affect the children as they’re looking at it in the woods? One of us noted that children are remarkably good at making connections between classroom knowledge and outdoors experiences (even if they’re not always correct).

We agreed that the second paper about theory “in the wild” seemed to draw influence from, though not specifically talk about, experiments such as Ambient Wood. We agreed that we wanted to read more about the wild theory approach since our paper of choice was rather short. One of us described a disconnect between the papers from designing “for” a natural environment versus designing “in” a natural environment, which goes back to our initial conversation about how Ambient Wood felt very structured despite being outside.

We also discussed the apparent gap between the paper’s themes of moving from this x to that y. One member suggested the paper seemed a bit strong on invalidating lab experiments and controlled environments. We ended the talk with the idea of research switching from influencing people to trying to understand them in context.