BYU researchers study human-computer interactions outside

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In their HCI Outdoors study, BYU Professor Michael Jones and graduate student Zann Anderson examined how outdoor human-computer interaction affects recreational hiking.

According to the HCI Outdoors website, the research is to understand how people and computers interact outdoors.

Jones and Anderson said they started their research by 3D printing models of hiking routes through the mountains. They narrowed their research topic to how people interact with computers during recreational hiking experiences.

“Being outdoors is something that a lot of people really enjoy,” Anderson said. “From a physical/mental perspective, it can really rejuvenate our health and mental vigor and make us feel better. I also think it has some spiritual benefits.”

Kaylee Olvera poses for a photo in the Dolomites of Italy. As a photographer, capturing images is very important to her. (Photo courtesy of Taylor LeSueur)

The website also said the study “includes understanding the human experience of using interactive computing outdoors, as well as implementing interactive systems for outdoor use.”

The HCI Outdoors research community explains that outdoor applications range from leisure to work and can be used by a single hiker, a group of cyclists or even an elementary school class.

Jones recently co-authored a book, Finding Human-Computer Interaction Outdoors, with D. Scott McCrickard and Timothy L. Stelter on this emerging area of ​​research.

“As interactive computing enters outdoor activities, it is not clear what role this technology plays or should play,” the authors said. “The benefits of using technology in outdoor situations promise better experiences and better post-experience reflections.”

Kaylee Olvera and Hannah LeSueur look at how the picture went out together. Both like to document their hiking experience with photos. (Photo courtesy of Taylor LeSueur)

BYU student Jess Clark said she enjoys everything in the great outdoors, including running, hiking, longboarding, skiing and biking.

“I love it because the sun makes me a happier person,” Jess said. “If I’m inside too long, I get depressed. Being outside is good for everything.”

Jones said that hiking has been a popular pastime in the United States for more than a hundred years.

“Over the last five to seven years, we’ve made these little internet-connected phones a part of the hiking experience,” Jones said. “How does this affect the hiking experience from a historical perspective? More importantly, how should that affect the hiking experience?”

Matt Powley looks at the panoramic footage he just captured with his drone. He likes to document his outdoor adventures with aerial drone footage. (Hannah LeSueur)

Jones said that when they began their research on outdoor computer interactions, no one else studied it in the way they envisioned.

“Technology, especially computer technology, HCI being the name of the game, is becoming more prevalent everywhere we go because we have phones with us, which are essentially really powerful computers,” Anderson said.

Anderson said they started talking about what phones are doing with the outdoor experience and how people are using them.

Jones said they conducted several different studies to discover walkers’ patterns, which helped them gather insightful behavioral information.

“Results from [the survey showed] that 95% of people said they took a phone with them when they went hiking,” Jones said. “Back then, if you asked people why they went hiking, they said they should get away from it all.”

Clark said she enjoys using technology to enhance her outdoor experience.

A girl photographs the Dolomites with an iPhone. BYU Professor Michael Jones and graduate student Zann Anderson studied how outdoor human-computer interaction affects recreational hiking. (Hannah LeSueur)

“I always have my phone with me,” Clark said. “When I hike I use it for AllTrails, Music, AirPods and my Garmin watch which can track my mileage.”

Anderson said other people like to ditch their technology to ensure they can connect with the trail and the sounds of nature.

“People know what they want and what they’re going out there for,” Anderson said. “They’re already pretty conscious of the choices they’re making as to whether or not it serves their purpose.”

Brookelle Peterson poses for a photo in a garden. BYU Professor Michael Jones and graduate student Zann Anderson studied how outdoor human-computer interaction affects recreational hiking. (Photo courtesy of Taylor LeSueur)

Clark said she tries to be mindful of how often she uses technology as well.

“Sometimes I try not to wear my AirPods while running so I can better appreciate the nature around me,” Clark said. “It can be really distracting, especially when people text me – I’m always checking my phone.”

Professor Mike Call teaches his class outside to a group of BYU students. BYU Professor Michael Jones and graduate student Zann Anderson studied how outdoor human-computer interaction affects recreational hiking. (Photo courtesy of Taylor LeSueur)

Anderson also said that while technology can sometimes distract from the experience, people are finding creative ways to even use social media outdoors during long-distance hikes along the Appalachian Trail.

“There’s an amazing community culture around people who have been on the road for a long, long time,” Anderson said. “They get to know each other on the trail [using social media].”

He said it expands the community and helps people connect.

“They’ll even take things with them that will give them internet access when they camp out for the night and they’ll upload pictures or journal entries/blog posts about how it’s going,” Anderson said. “You can tune into what’s going on with people on the trail at any time of the year.”

Jones said that for some people, using technology, such as photography, is one of the main reasons they go on a hike in the first place.

“For me, it comes back to their intent,” Jones said. “For some people, carefully recording a video or a picture was what they intended – that’s why they chose to do it. For them it is an important part of the experience.”

He also shared how important time outdoors is to people at large, so much so that many are willing to fight to protect the wilderness and the open spaces to enjoy them.

“Psychological models show the benefits of spending time in nature,” Jones said. “The characteristics of an outdoor experience ensure that it has psychological benefits in your ability to function in everyday life.”

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