Technology Enhances Outdoor Education Research

Posted: December 2, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Patty Snellings

If you live in a house on a waterfront lot, would an understanding of the fish habitats in the water promote a protective kinship between you and your property? If you feel in harmony with nature as you watch moose panning for food in Lake Superior, would you delight in knowing that they feed beneath the surface with their eyes open?

These are the kinds of questions that drive Laurie Harmon, assistant professor of parks and outdoor recreation in the School of Recreation, Health and Tourism, to study human behaviors within natural environments.

When colleague Mark Gleason, a doctoral candidate at Michigan Technological University, invited her to collaborate on a project designed to expose the public to natural resources in the underwater world through the use of technology, she was eager to get to work. The team plans to submit a grant proposal next spring to the National Science Foundation to expand their research.

“People make social and psychological connections to their environments in many ways,” says Harmon, who joined George Mason earlier this year from Penn State. “We’re interested in finding out how technology influences how they relate to nature and whether or not technology helps them connect or build an identity with their surroundings.”

Their underwater research is aided by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), a user-friendly, robotic-like instrument attached to a 500-yard rope and equipped with lights, cameras and a mechanical arm for data collection. When the ROV is placed in the water, the operator uses a joystick and a video monitor to navigate the vehicle and observe what it sees.

Mark Gleason with the ROV
Mark Gleason, a PhD candidate at Michigan Technological University, demonstrated the ROV to Professor Laurie Harmon’s classes at the Prince William Campus pond.
Creative Services Photo

“The ROV gives us a way to examine the underwater environment, which, in turn, impacts the way we teach outdoor education,” says Harmon. The vehicle also is used to explore shipwrecks and archeological sites, she adds.

Gleason explains that the adaptability of the ROV makes it possible to get “up close and personal” with powerful animals like hippopotamuses and alligators, as well as difficult-to-observe larvae, zebra mussels and bottom dwellers. The vehicle also serves as an additional resource for underwater searches conducted by divers and law enforcement officers.

“It is a research tool that provides answers to legitimate research questions,” Gleason says.

Write to at