The Great Big Walk was a multi-faceted public engagement project carried out by TA Loeffler. The project occurred during the winter and spring of 2014. The project received $1000 in funding from the Memorial University of Newfoundland Quick Start Fund for Public Engagement.
The project began with Physical Education students preparing curriculum and engagement materials that were then delivered during the second part of the project. These materials focused on a cross-curricular physical activity aimed at elementary aged students (grades 4-5). The second phase entailed a 67-day mountaineering and trekking expedition along the high route of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal with daily website, social media, map position, and audio updates from the field. The third phase included a visit to a school that followed the expedition closely and two public engagement presentations.
A MUCEP and an ISWEP student helped prepare the expedition engagement materials for the general public. These materials focused on the benefits of physical activity and in particular, walking. The members of the public were invited to engage in the expedition through a personal walking project. These materials were served up daily during the expedition.
The objectives of the project were many and varied. The first was to provide an informative and engaging experience to both schools and members of the general public. This objective was met through the delivery of 66 curriculum updates, 66 location updates, and 66 audio updates through TA's website, the Great Big Walk Facebook page, and Twitter. Additionally, two public engagement events were held, one in St. John's (75 people attended) and one in Twillingate (30 people attended).
The second objective was to inspire citizens of the province to become more physically active. This objective was met through the delivery of 66 physical activity instruction sets through TA's website, 66 sets of walking hints delivered through the Great Big Walk Facebook page, and through 66 audio reports of steps taken on the walk as well as kilometres covered. During the expedition, we received several messages relating to participants increasing their physical activity levels because of the public engagement portion of the expedition. In reviewing TA's website visitation statistics, February had 2163 views and 844 visitors, March has 3121 views and 892 visitors, April had 2402 views and 671 visitors and May had 2245 views and 694 visitors. These numbers demonstrate a steady and far-reaching engagement leading up to, during, and post expedition with over 10,000 views and over 3000 visitors to the website.
The third objective was to provide grade four and five teachers with an easily adoptable cross-curricular expeditionary learning curriculum that fit with both provincial social studies and physical education objectives. This objective was met through the delivery of 66 curriculum dispatches, 66 location updates, and 66 audio updates on TA's website. We also received questions via text during the expedition from schools and answered these daily from the field via audio update.
Additionally, TA paid a post-expedition school visit to Bishop Abraham Elementary School in St. John's to present on the expedition, show pictures, and field questions from the grade four students there. When asked to evaluate the project, this teacher partner for the project sent this response:
I am a grade four teacher and part of the Social Studies program is about explorers. TA Loeffler fits into this category quite nicely. I have been following TA on her adventures for the past several years. My students certainly enjoy seeing her many beautiful pictures. However the highlight has to be her audio posts. To actually hear her speak and tell all about the happenings of the day is simply the best! The students love listening to TA talk about what she eats, what the weather is like and all about the things she has seen that day. And then to be able to message her on the sat phone and have her reply to their questions means so much to the students. It makes the adventure come alive and seem more real to them. I always have her visit my class before she leaves and then when she returns.
The fourth objective was to provide meaningful and useful course assignments to students that can have real-life benefits and can also serve a need. The last objective was to provide training and experience to students in social media and expedition communications management. One of the student communication managers provided this unsolicited comment about her experience, "Hope you are getting back to Canada safe and sound! Your whole trip looked and sounded amazing. I feel so grateful to have been apart of it, and being able to share it for everyone else to see. I could tell throughout your entire journey how much it was inspiring people who joined in to share it with you...."