Navigating Tensions Associated with Smartphone Use in Outdoor Recreation Settings


  • Craig E. Shepherd Instruction and Curriculum Leadership, University of Memphis
  • Trina Johnson Kilty Physics and Astronomy, University of Wyoming
  • Dan McCoy Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming
  • Doris U. Bolliger Counseling, Leadership, Advocacy, and Design, University of Wyoming



mobile device, smart phone, outdoor recreation, adult education, tensions


Smartphones are increasingly appearing in outdoor recreation settings despite controversy surrounding their appropriateness. This study examined the perceptions of eight instructors of an outdoor leadership development program regarding appropriate and inappropriate smartphone use, tensions and boundaries that arise during outdoor activities, and how those tensions are navigated. Results indicate that instructors often welcomed smartphones for photography, navigation, and limited communication. In addition to travel and down time, instructors allowed those who participated in program activities to use smartphones during main activities so long as it did not interfere with program goals, distract others, or present safety concerns, even in high-risk and back-country areas. When uses were deemed inappropriate, reminders of established policies, increased communication, and social policing by other group members often resolved concerns.

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Author Biographies

Craig E. Shepherd, Instruction and Curriculum Leadership, University of Memphis

Craig Shepherd is an Associate Professor of instructional design and technology at the University of Memphis. His research interests focus on the influence of technology in formal and informal learning environments. He is also interested in sense of community formation among learners.

Trina Johnson Kilty, Physics and Astronomy, University of Wyoming

Trina Johnson Kilty holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming. She currently works as a postdoctoral research associate for a National Science Foundation funded grant called Learning to Integrate Fundamentals through Teaching. Her interests include science education, teacher preparation, and mobile devices in outdoor education.

Dan McCoy, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming

Dr. Dan McCoy is the Degree Coordinator and Associate Lecturer for the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management program through the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. Prior to his appointment in the Haub School, he developed and ran the University of Wyoming Outdoor Program and served in other leadership roles in the Campus Recreation Department. Dr. Mccoy’s background and expertise is in higher education, outdoor programs, outdoor leadership development, and student success.

Doris U. Bolliger, Counseling, Leadership, Advocacy, and Design, University of Wyoming

 Doris U. Bolliger is a former professor of instructional technology at the University of Wyoming. Her research interests include faculty and student satisfaction, communication, community, connectedness, engagement, and interaction in online learning environments. Other research interests are the utilization of mobile technologies in informal settings.


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