I finished my last undergraduate course on Saturday afternoon, submitting an essay on the “positive and negative aspects” of volunteered geographic information (VGI) for my class on geocaching. Here’s the definition of geocaching from geocaching.com, in case you missed my last post:
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.
The class was a great way to finish my B.A. The week went by quickly, with lectures the first couple of mornings to provide context and practical assignments taking up most of the rest of the time. (The practical assignments involved learning how to operate GPS units in the field, learning how to work with GPS data on computers, and learning how to create our own geocaches, before actually doing so in small groups. Other marked assignments included a final exam and the essay I submitted Saturday.)
We (students) had fun in several ways:
- It was nice being outside every afternoon, in sunny weather – especially after it cooled down mid-week. Being outside is not only fun, but good for my mental and physical health.
- We got to explore campus. Even after a year studying at UVic, I hadn’t spent time exploring some of the places at the edge of campus. One of the benefits of geocaching that was mentioned several times by the instructors is that this activity can help create “a sense of place”: while participating in a fun activity, people can learn about, form memories in and build associations with the areas in which they live, as well as more distant places.
- We learned new skills and engaged in challenging “treasure hunts,” so there was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of each day.
- We met and formed friendships with new people.
Clearly, having fun has lots of side benefits. I also learned a lot – about what GPS is, how it works, the history of satellite navigation, and competitors to GPS; about the mathematical models used to create navigation systems and maps; and about various kinds of field work that can be carried out with GPS, including both scientific and social science research. It also forced me to think about issues of how VGI (of which geocaching is one example) can help create a sense of place, protect the environment or build/connect communities.
Part of the reason that I learned so much (and so well) was because of the excellent instructors, who designed the course well, lectured on interesting topics and created useful assignments to aid in learning. Jed Long and Darcy Gray are PhD students in the department of geography at UVic, and are excellent teachers. They conveyed the material well, and designed the course to allow us plenty of opportunities to work on group projects and extend our understanding of the material. They also seemed to have fun teaching the class. How could they not, with such a fun topic?
I was so inspired by this course, that I now want to participate in geocaching as a recreational activity. But I’ve also starting thinking about what else I might use GPS for in my daily life. A classmate showed me some GPS data that she had uploaded to the internet from a GPS wristband that she wears when she runs. Connected to a heart rate monitor, it provided a whole bunch of rich data about her workouts. I’d like to do something similar with my cycling, to track my exercise. I could also collect rich data about my interactions with the city as I walk, take transit, spend time at the library or go to work, creating a personal map of daily life. This may not be interesting to anybody else, but it might be a good tool for personal understanding. This will have to wait until I get a job.
All in all, this was an inspiring course and a fun way to finish my B.A.