I just recently had a group of college students out in the woods for a few days, working on team building initiatives. The plan was to hike without the aid of trails, basically bush-whack the entire time we were out. To do such an activity the students made use of a topographic map, compass and GPS. And more importantly, they all needed the skills to use all three before going out. Group dynamics and team building was the main reason I had them out in the woods. It's what I wanted to teach them. Of course, they didn't know that's what I wanted to teach them. One thing that I've learned through teaching team building and group dynamics courses part-time at the college level for close to twenty-years - never let them know you're trying to teach such skills to them until the class is done.
Anyway, we went off through hill and dale for three days and I have to say it was one of the best teaching experiences I've ever had. Having the students work as a team and find their way through the woods was a perfect way to highlight the "hidden" course content.
First, there were the keeners who thought they knew everything, so they didn't bother to wait up for the rest of the group and ended up getting lost themselves (making everyone else very angry). Then there were the ones who didn't pay attention in the pre-class instruction and, when chosen to be the leader, got the entire group lost (making everyone very angry once again). There were the younger students who also had a tendency to use the technology we brought along more so then their own wit, which got the group lost again (making everyone exceptionally angry). And then there were the older students who leaned more towards wit then technology, which ended up getting the group lost once again (making them even more angry then before).
I guess it seems as if the students were lost a lot; or at least they believed they were. No worries though. I was keeping tabs on them all the time, and to be safe I also carried both a satellite phone and the latest device, SPOT (a personal locator beacon and satellite messenger). Equipped with a map, compass, GPS, satellite phone, my personal SPOT and a good dose of wit, I was able to provide an absolutely perfect learning environment.
SPOT was new to the class, but it definitely won their approval, and mine as well. The gadget gives you your own google-map site back home, allowing everyone back home to check out your location. That's cool. It can also send simple messages to everyone back at home. And if needed, you can push the "help" button or even "911" which sends your signal to a dispatch location that calls for help on your behalf, pinpointing your location through a satellite link within a four mile radius.
Thankfully I never had to use the SPOT. But what it gave me as an instructor was unmeasurable. Having the device gave everyone else back at home peace of mind, and allowed me to teach something more important than navigational skills - the ability to work as a team in a wilderness setting.
Check out Kevin Callan's web site: kevincallan.com
Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including his latest "Wilderness Pleasures" and "The Happy Camper." A regular keynote speaker at major North American canoeing and camping expos for over 20 years, he has received three National Magazine Awards and four film awards, including top award at the prestigious Waterwalker Film Festival. Callan lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the modern-day canoe.