Collaboration: The virtual and the real world. What the muggles don't know

Have you heard of geocaching, letterboxing, the bookcrossing or the Degree Confluence Project? Ordinary people spend their time on treasure hunts that combine high technology such as the Internet and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) with doing puzzles, reading books and clambering into hideaway places. The possibilities of these activities in our schools are only as limited as our imagination. This article will introduce some of these activities.

Geocaching, letterboxing and the bookcrossing are strange terms: portmanteau words that try to convey a marriage of the real and the virtual. They are ways that 'real' people (not just kids) combine the collegiality of the web with real world activities. All are variations of old children's games of treasure hunts. Maybe some enterprising teachers and students could get involved, as they all have incredible possibilities for 'real' involvement with the world around us, and with other people who are not necessarily involved in education. It is often refreshing for students to realise there is a world outside school where people learn and try things just for fun.


Letterboxing is an old English sport that combined orienteering, hiking and treasure hunts. Originally on Dartmoor in 1854 a walker placed a glass jar in a remote location for other hikers to find and place their visitor's cards in, as explained in The History of Letterboxing (Dartmoor Letterboxing, 2005). Later, boxes containing postcards to mail and a visitors' book were marked on maps for energetic walkers to find. Now, boxes of all kinds (often handmade and beautiful) containing a rubber stamp (also often handmade) and a guest book are hidden in out-of-the-way places that ordinary people will not see.

Many letterboxing locations are established throughout the world. Clues are conveyed through clubs, word of mouth and on the web. Sometimes finding the box and using or copying the stamp is enough; sometimes there are all manner of cryptic clues to decipher! Letterboxing has a high-tech variation called geocaching.


Geocaching is an activity where individuals place (or hide) articles in all kinds of places around the world for others to find using GPS. This is then reported on various websites. It is a free high-tech treasure hunt where you use your GPS receiver to find caches hidden by other players (Geocaching Australia, 2005). All you need to take part is a GPS receiver, access to the Internet and a sense of fun and adventure. People compete with others in groups or as individuals.

Many use articles that provide pieces of a puzzle, which can be put together to find the 'treasure'. The treasure can be as small as a film canister or as large as public sculpture! On the various websites there is often advice on terrain and crowds, other helpful hints, additional codes to decipher and logs about how individuals found the cache. The term 'muggles' is now often used to identify those who are not in the know. Just to confuse things, items are often moved a little or replaced with other objects. The idea is that you may take the object in the cache as long as you replace it with an object of the same or larger value. Often people add extra 'treasure' to make life interesting. Many treasure hunts rely on particular knowledge eg about films, books or art.

There are variations such as in geodashing, where the items are only in place for a month. Players use GPS receivers on a playing field that covers the entire planet Geodashing (GPSgames, 2005). Other variations are Podcaching, using mp3 players (Podcacher, 2005) or EarthCache (Geological Society of America, 2005) a specific educational variation where each cache has geological information.

One very interesting co-operative variation is the Degree Confluence Project (2005). The goal of the project is to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world and to take pictures at each location. People from all over the world have already submitted thousands of photographs. Have a look at the hundreds of photos taken already in Australia. Maybe you can add one or two on your travels!

These activities certainly have potential to let outdoor education, geology and geography students hone their navigation skills, and let society and environment students develop their awareness of history or urban development. Other students can use these activities to hone their skills in almost any subject area depending on the clues placed and answers required.


Bookcrossing (Hornbaker, 2005) can be seen as a variation of these activities. This 'game' encourages readers to read, register, and 'release' books for others to enjoy. Precise details of the location are not always required, as sometimes the 'release' is to give a book to someone. Books are registered, given an ID then tracked as people find them, read them and log their location in the journal on one of the bookcrossing websites. The aim is to share books you have loved rather than put them back on your own bookshelf! The activity does not restrict sales of books as many people buy copies of books they read from being released. Many people buy two copies of great books, one to read and one to set free! There are many places all over the world where you can look for a 'free' book, for example Go hunting in Perth (Hornbaker, 2005).

While it might seem an individual activity confined to web conversations, there are also people in groups all over the world who get together to talk about books they have read - books they have captured and released. The Bookcrossing Meetup Groups site helps locate groups, as does Bookcrossing Australia!

This activity seems ready-made to encourage children to read and share books in a local area and further afield. Certainly, reading the inspired journals of many ordinary people all over the world can only encourage our students.

You can read more about these activities at this collection of links: Collaboration: The Virtual and the Real World (Horton, 2005). Of course collaboration on the internet is not confined to these activities. Students and teachers have many specific projects that link them together worldwide, ranging from email projects to videoconferencing, for example, Collaborative Projects: Co-operation across the World by E-mail and Video (Horton, 2005). And there are also ways you can use the web to get to a place when it is too expensive or dangerous to get there in reality, for example, Virtual Experiences, Experiments, Exhibitions, Tours and Quests (Horton, 2005).

Rosemary Horton, Teacher Librarian
P.L. Duffy Resource Centre.
Trinity College, Perth Western Australia


bookcrossing Australia!, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265413

bookcrossing Meetup Groups, Retrieved July 2005 from

Dartmoor Letterboxing (2005) The History of Letterboxing, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265507

Geocaching Australia (2005), Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265430

Geological Society of America (2005)
EarthCache, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265440

GPSgames (2005) Geodashing, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265450

Hornbaker, Ron (2005) bookcrossing, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1146717

Hornbaker, Ron (2005) Go hunting in Perth, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265500

Horton, Rosemary (2005) Collaboration: The Virtual and the Real World, P.L. Duffy Resource Centre, Trinity College, Retrieved July 2005 from

Horton, Rosemary (2005) Collaborative Projects: Co-operation across the World by E-mail and Video, P.L. Duffy Resource Centre, Trinity College, Retrieved July 2005 from

Horton, Rosemary (2005) Virtual Experiences, Experiments, Exhibitions, Tours and Quests, P.L. Duffy Resource Centre, Trinity College, Retrieved July 2005 from

Jarrett, Alex (2005) Degree Confluence Project, Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265464

Podcacher (2005), Retrieved July 2005 from
SCIS No: 1265456