After meeting with a large number of educators, public historians, Civil War enthusiasts, and others interested in supporting the Civil War Augmented Reality Project, we’ve realized that what makes our Project special is the way in which we’ve tailored our ideas to meet several specific challenges in education, technology, and public history. So, what are the challenges, and how does our Project meet them?
Challenges to meet..
- Historic sites rarely offer real interactivity
We love the way in which a large number of historic sites are trying to bring 21st century technology to their visitors’ experiences. However, we’re concerned about the use of the term “interactive” in describing many user experiences.
Many of these “interactive” activities involve electronic tours or a set of touchscreens where visitors choose the video clip they’d like to see. While electronic touring is certainly a part of the Civil War Augmented Reality Project, we see the real purpose of our Project to provide true interactivity. Visitors will be given a story about real people and given the ability to choose their way through the experience, and learning through the process the real story in comparison to the chosen story. What better way to understand the challenges met by past individuals, and how those individuals were a part of the grander narrative of a historic site?
- The internet has not really “knocked down the classroom walls”
When the technological revolution of the end of the 20th century brought the web to classrooms, excited educators like ourselves were transformed. Many of us believed that the connectivity to the rest of the world effectively “knocked down” the walls of our classrooms. While the connected classroom was incredibly revolutionary, we don’t feel that the process has gone far enough.
Connected classrooms, though important, have not inherently encouraged an exploration of the outside world. Power wires and desktop computers still hold up the classroom walls. We feel that the next technological step, the use of augmented reality in education, effectively will dissolve the walls.
When the walls are gone, the world, in responsible hands, becomes the classroom. Not only the classroom, but also a museum and library with artifacts, documents, structures, and stories to explore. Rather than being organized by time period or the Dewey Decimal System, the new world museum will physically add the “place” to time and subject.
- Physical activity is an integral part of learning
Educators understand the importance of the integration of physical activity in the learning experience. However, that activity was usually restricted to the classroom, playground, and gym. Physical activity can also be effective in increasing student achievement through traditional “academic” subjects.
We feel that the Civil War Augmented Reality Project promotes physical activity through the encouragement of movement from place to place, and also in interactive scenarios where the users race to meet a time limit or compete with other users.
Health experts also have encouraged such practices, and the outdoor spaces of the United States could be both gym, library, and museum. As we like to say, “Get off of the wire and into the world.”
- The educational value of AR vs. the number of persons who would actually experience it
If the vast majority of the public do not have smartphones and are not aware of the possibilities of an augmented reality experience at historic sites, how can we expect to produce applications that actually see use?
Firstly, we don’t see our applications as existing just for smartphone owners and just for the younger “digital natives.” We strongly believe that the benefits of augmented reality are not to be restricted to students and technology early adopters. Our applications are meant to be fused as a natural part of the site to which they are attached. They will involve outdoor interactivity, but also require users to explore the indoor areas of sites through the use of coded “markers.” We also see the availability of hardware for use by visitors to be an important way to invite the general public to experience our applications.
Secondly, our Project has an outreach objective. The development and placement of augmented reality viewer installations will serve to publicize the Project’s applications, and lessen the technological anxieties of much of the general public. What better way to encourage the exploration of nearby historic sites- by letting people have a peek at the world museum?
- The number of communities with ignored but valuable stories to tell
In the realm of historic tourism and public history, not all sites are equal. Due to varying funding and location, some sites are visitor-rich, while many struggle to survive. We feel that this variance damages history education. The public is led to believe that some historic narratives are more important than others, and that historic experiences are held in orbit around high-visitation areas and the often short-lived, singular historic events promoted by those areas.
We feel that responsibly designed augmented reality can serve as an equalizer. Once the world becomes the museum, the public is offered exciting and thought-provoking experiences throughout a region, and throughout time periods.
Gettysburg visitors can be drawn, through interactive personal stories, from the battlefield to the town. The general public will discover that the CIvil War affected every city and town in Pennsylvania, and that the experiences of Pennsylvanias before, during, and after the conflict are valid history worthy of attention. If the values of historic sites become more equalized by the extension of historic experience into the outside world, the large number of struggling and underfunded historical institutions in Pennsylvania will directly benefit.
- The land ownership and zoning controversies in public history
How can the Civil War Augmented Reality Project positively affect the protection and maintenance of historic locales?
We believe that public participation in projects that geographically locate sites, people, and events in real space will lead to a greater public appreciation of the value of public land and building ownership.
We feel that knowledge of the past is inherently linked to real, outdoor places. Augmented reality applications like ours will reinforce this connection. The public, we feel, will in turn be more proactive in the protection of historic places.