Lander, WY – Wyoming Catholic College’s Outdoor Leadership Program (OLP) is planning a “virtual leader week” this year according to OLP director Catherine Milligan. The annual week-long field training and testing program for current students to become certified outdoor leaders for the school usually runs right after the end of finals. But due to the current uncertainty and Catherine said, “the benefits we’ve discovered from online learning, it will be held online for all participants this year.”

Near… (okay a little bit far away from) Grand Gulch, Utah

Implementation will be “a little complex,” Catherine told IIT, but “if it works well this could become the model not only for leader training trips but potentially for all trips.”

Here’s how it’ll work: Four current OLP staff members will be going out into the backcountry of the Utah Grand Gulch with a full slew of cameras strapped on to each of them giving 180-degree fields of view. Connectivity, sound, and “other sensory input tools” will be brought with them along with a novel miniaturized “internet blimp” to bring wireless internet to the deepest part of the “oxymoronic desert jungle”.

They’ll be in constant communication by this system with the twenty-four students expected to take the leader course, who will simply be in a week-long video call from home to them, and who will instruct their every move. Tying knots, setting up tents, reading a map, choosing which way to go, finding water, whoever’s up at any moment will simply tell the “instructor” what to do at any moment and the instructor will do it or attempt it, as Catherine continued “proving, honing, and testing the skills of the budding leader even better than if they were really doing it themselves. There will be time for lectures from the backcountry, discussions with Dr. Zimmer, and we’ll even have the students take turns giving bear calls over the internet as they would have done if they were there.”

Similarly, quizzes, questions, and oral tests will be administered and sprinkled throughout the week-long call from the backcountry to each of the participating students while those who aren’t leading at any moment will simply watch everyone, watch the camera view from the leaders they’re following, and prepare for their turn.

“Painless and effective, it’ll easily eliminate the most dangerous part of the trip, driving, for all the students,” OLP assistant director Charles Milligan added, something which the Risk Management Committee at the school, is “very excited” about.

Some students have complained already about the lack of “hands-on” experience, but Charles responded: “Doing the Outdoor Week in this sort of virtual manner is not only safer than doing out in the field for all the participants but is actually more hands-on, as students will be constantly typing, tapping, and the like, to communicate and practice their instructions. This may be so breakthrough that we can eventually make the same changes to the Freshman Expedition in a year or to if it all pans out.”