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ECU adventure provides lessons in GPS

(Dec. 3, 2004)   —   There is a place at East Carolina University that's like no other. Most would call it the West Research Campus. But for the dozen students in Alice Anderson's class who are learning the language of GPS, the former Voice of America site became known as North 35 degrees 37.913 and West 077 degrees 28.837.

"Got that?" asked ECU student Shannon Jennings, who rattled off the reading from his Global Positioning System device after finding a Tupperware container full of plastic insects somewhere in the middle of the 600-acre property. The students scribbled down the numbers in their notebooks or popped them into their PalmPilots as part of the assignment for their Institutional and Recreational Sanitation Class, EHST 4300.

With the hope of teaching the students how to use GPS in a practical way, Anderson crafted a lesson with James Blalock of ECU's Center for Wireless and Mobile Computing that took them on a treasure hunt at ECU's West Research Campus. The students, armed with GPS devices, were provided clues to locate the treasure hidden somewhere on the property.

"We have been working with ECU's Wireless and Mobile Computing Center, making use of technological devices in our field work, because a lot of students are getting into fields that require them to know about GPS locators," Anderson said. Anderson's mosquito vector research, for example, relies on GPS latitude and longitude coordinates to specify where mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus are found.

A glitch kept a pair of laptop computers from providing more detailed clues to the students on this particular afternoon, but they were still able to glean hints from a worksheet, enabling them to bound into brush and wetland in pursuit of the prize. While this particular GPS exercise was more grounded in education, it mirrors what some folks do for fun. Known as geocaching, people around the world are now hiding treasures in remote locations and posting its GPS coordinates on a web site (, inviting others to seek it out. The world of marketing is using the technology to entice potential consumers. Auto manufacturer Jeep, which lent two vehicles for the ECU adventure, has got into the game and has hidden keys to a new Jeep somewhere in the U.S. wilderness. Whoever finds the keys wins a Jeep.

Jacob Hopper, a senior environmental health major, said the trip to the West Research Campus helped him become more familiar with using GPS as an informational and navigational tool.

"In our field of study, they're using this kind of equipment more and more," said Hopper, who plans to return to the Coast Guard. "Part of our class has to do with insects and vector control. So when you do find a species of insect, you can't just say you found it in Craven County. They want to know exactly where you found it."


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481